How do I take a digital copy of a very old photo stuck into a locket?
September 13, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I have a very old photo of a family member, Edward Mackintosh, who died during the First World War in the Quintinshill Rail Disaster. As far as I know it is the one remaining photo of him. Sadly it is in very poor condition. It is in a locket (photo) and has adhered to the glass. We're fairly certain that it isn't glued, but it has been worn my my Mum for many years and has suffered dampness and perfume etc, which has caused it to stick. I'd really like to take a good quality (or best possible) scan of the photo to give to my Grandfather. Is there any way to achieve this? Ideally I'd remove the photo from the glass so I could take it to a local photo shop for scanning. But if that's the wrong approach I'm happy to take advice!
posted by ElliotH to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's not the ideal solution, but have you considered taking a digital photo of the picture within the locket, then cropping it using photo editing software?

Personally, I'd prefer to have the photo out of the locket to scan it (or have it scanned professionally), but this might be an option if all else fails.
posted by tckma at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2013


That looks pretty dire. I'd consult an art conservator.
posted by jon1270 at 8:30 AM on September 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


I would not mess around with that personally, and I would have a professional look at it. There may be a way to remove it from the locket, but you risk scrapping off the emulsion, breaking the photo, or otherwise damaging it. Good luck.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:35 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You need to take it to a photo restoration service - they're not hard to find. Here's one at the location in your profile. If that doesn't work, just Google "photo restoration" + "your area."
posted by Miko at 8:42 AM on September 13, 2013


IANAPBIMO (I Am Not A Photographer But I Married One),

She would use a camera with a macro lens. Properly lit, with a camera on a tripod, a photo can exceed the quality of a scan. It avoids any chance of damage to the original.

Once you have the high quality image, a professional photo retoucher can clean it up in Photoshop and 'improve' it to get to a great final result.

I am told this is how they handle documents too fragile to be scanned or removed from frames.

Good luck.
posted by Argyle at 8:46 AM on September 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


I was about to write exactly what Argyle said. For example the Nikon 60mm macro lens exceeds anything you can achieve with a run of the mill scanner.
Adding: the use of a polarizing filter should take care of any, or at leat most of the reflections.
posted by Namlit at 9:05 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That looks pretty dire. I'd consult an art conservator.

Ditto. In photography terms, photographing artwork is a very specialized practice. I'm a photographer, and I know only enough about it to know that I don't really know anything about it. I know two of the firms in my area that specialize in it, and that's where I'd direct this question if I were in your shoes: a local expert. It's not a job for a run-of-the-mill photographer, even one who owns a macro lens.

Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 9:44 AM on September 13, 2013


My impulse would be to settle for a photograph of the photograph, and keep the original as an artifact. Worth noting, though, that the shape of the glass in the locket could distort any straight photography.

One tool used by conservators is an x-ray of a photograph. That seems to only be a tool that allows more knowledgeable treatment, however. The heavy sepia indicates the presence of elemental silver, for instance, and when it degrades, there's no going back. So I'm not sure any technique that touches, alters, removes, or tries to "improve" the original will work at all, and could easily destroy the original in the process.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 PM on September 13, 2013


She would use a camera with a macro lens. Properly lit, with a camera on a tripod, a photo can exceed the quality of a scan. It avoids any chance of damage to the original.

Once you have the high quality image, a professional photo retoucher can clean it up in Photoshop and 'improve' it to get to a great final result.


Yes, exactly. A flatbed scanner can give you 1:1 reproduction at best. A good camera with the right attachments and lighting can do much better.

Sadly, that photo is in really bad shape, so don't expect miracles. The best you can probably do is photograph it down to the grain level and very carefully enhance what you have.

Other options might be to enlist a photographer and take a variety of shots using different light and different filters to extract as much detail out of the thing as possible, and then combine them into a final image. The photograph might not have very much detail left when lit with normal lighting, but hitting it with the primaries and perhaps IR or UV might get it to reflect some unseen detail.
posted by gjc at 5:43 AM on September 14, 2013


A restorer/conservator can make professional recommendations and help you decide among the paths offered here, and will also know of other processes available to you.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on September 14, 2013


Thanks for all your answers. We managed to get a reasonably photo using a macro lens.
posted by ElliotH at 7:26 AM on September 21, 2013


You can also get photos like that digitally enhanced to make them appear much more easy to see - another thing you can Google for. It can make a dramatic difference.
posted by Miko at 9:46 PM on September 21, 2013


Wait...did you disable autofocus? Stop down properly? Use a tripod? This seems not entirely sharp. And as I mentioned before you need a polarization filter to get rid of the reflection on the glass.
posted by Namlit at 4:00 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Seeking to re-squeak dog's favorite toys   |   Just let the clients design the interface Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.