Digital Photography Techniques to Rescue Defective Photographs

Digital Photography Techniques to Rescue Defective Photographs

Published on 2015/09/22 - Text and Pictures by Alberto Mateo, Travel Photographer for The Last Footprint.

"Change is the only constant in Life." (Heraclitus).

The time when photographers were people who were behind photographic equipment passed away long time ago.  Nowadays we photographers spend more time in front of a computer screen than using our camera. We are expected to have different skills than in the past and have more tools than ever before to get, using the words of Ansel Adams, a "definitive print", even if that print is not going to appear on paper. For the better and the worse we live in the Digital Era, a time that has brought as many tools as headaches — Who has never lost some hours of work because of a virus, or beacuse the hard disk failed? But the good news is that we can recover pictures that in the film era were simply lost. The new possibilities have forced us to rethink our old habits, in special, when we are photographying in the field and when we are editing our work in the office.

Flamingos, Laguna Colorada, Altiplano, Bolivia.

One of the main problems any photographer has to face is to learn to edit his/her work. Editing is the process of SELECTING the good pictures and sending to the trash the bad ones. Even today storage is an expense (storage is cheaper than ever, but file sizes are increasing each year), and you have to get rid of your worse pictures to focus in the good ones.

The problem is that learning to edit your own work is a long process and your editing preferences change as you evolve as a photographer, so after some years you are going to save pictures that you would have sent to the trash basket when you were shooting your first shots. In addition, digital technology evolution has changed the game rules, and now allow possibilities to ‘rescue’ pictures that some years ago were simply lost like scratched photographs that not many years ago were simply lost.

The problem is that learning to edit your own work is a long process and your editing preferences change as you evolve as a photographer.

You can read on page 104 of the 1993 edition of Galen Rowell’s book “The Art of Adventure Photography” (a compilation of the essays he published on Outdoor Photographer Magazine) a reflection about the possibilities to repair a damaged slide in the years when digital technology was not in the hands of everyone.

He wrote that he had taken one of his ever favorite climbing photographs of his friend Ron Kauk under a rainbow in Yosemite Falls, but the slide had got burnt by the sun, so he tried to repair the slide in a digital laboratory.

Galen Rowell went to a firm in San Francisco specialized in film production to try to save the slide. The transparency was scanned producing a top quality (for the date) 24 Megapixel digital file, then they ‘sampled’ from one part of the picture to other and recorded the repaired film on a 4x5” slide. A photographer should pay for the process between 350$ and 650$.
“Ten years ago [referring to 1983]– he writes – the slide would have been a total loss for quality stock sales.[…] it was possible to repair any damage with a million dollar Scitex Machine but not to regenerate transparencies at a price that any individual photographer would be likely to pay to salvage images”.

In the moment of writing these lines (2015) most photographers are able to repair easily the texture back to the image in twenty seconds in a free editing software like GIMP or paying some bucks per month using Adobe Photoshop. The process of ‘sampling’ is well known in photography industry as ‘cloning’ and Nikon (the brand Galen Rowell used all his life) does not produce DSLR models under 24 Mpx. You can get a camera body that produces pictures this size for 500$.
One of my latest trips still travelling with Fuji Velvia 50 in my backpack was to Bolivia. Top 7000$ DSLR’s produced then 6 Mpx files, so the change to a digital body was still far away from clear. I was shooting flamingos in the Laguna Colorada under the conic shape of Cerro Fortaleza. The wind was unforgiving and threw my Nikon F80 that was mounted on the small Gitzo 01 tripod (that I use to travel light) to the ground. The back opened and sand entered where the film was located.

Laguna Colorada, Uyuni, Bolivia. Source: Google Maps


In spite of the heavy blow the camera continued working, but the sand that had entered the film receptacle scratched all the rolls of film I used that afternoon until I was able to clean the camera body properly after dinner. Scratches ran all along the film making it unusable, and I did not know how to use Photoshop at that moment to clone the scratches away. Some years later I was able to scan the film and save all those scratches at a very small price; the only real expense was my time.

What we can learn in 2015 about Galen Rowell text written 22 years ago is that technology in the world of digital photography is becoming a commodity.

What we can learn in 2015 about Galen Rowell text written 22 years ago is that technology in the world of digital photography is becoming a commodity. What was expensive and a privilege of few photographers a decade ago, is now in hands of anyone who owns an average 600$ computer. That is the good part, but in photography, as in life, everything comes at a price.

The drawback is all the time you have to spend in front of a computer screen to learn those skills. When Galen Rowell repaired his slide, a photographer was a person who worked behind a camera.

Nowadays a photographer is a person who works in front of a computer screen. We have regained the control in the final print that the complexity of the merciless color film process took away from our hands in the middle of the 20th century (before that moment, the simplicity of black and white process allowed photographers to finish and print themselves their own photographs), but these days any photographer has to know about Digital Editing Software, RAW Processing, Printing profiles, Digital Asset Management, IPTC, EXIF and XMP Metadata models…
Every coin has to sides. Our only option as photographers is to take advantage of the improvements that technology brings and forget the old ways of work.





1/125 would be the minimum I would use to freeze the movement. Remember: the nearer your subject is to the camera, the bigger the apparent movement that will be registered in the picture. My subject was very near my camera, so I needed a fast shutter speed.


With the extreme wide angle I was using (a 13mm, which is a 20mm) I had some depth of field guaranteed even at f4. Today with the D800, I'd have chosen a ISO 1600 to be able to close to f8 and get additional depth of field.

ISO: 100

Did not want to get a noisy picture, so kept the ISO as low as possible. [Read the Aperture section on this table to get additional comments.]

MODE: A - Aperture Priority

I set the apeture at 5.6 and checked what times did the camera marked. Around 1 second was ok to leave recognizble figures walking in the snow. Some movement looks nice on subjects of pictures like this one; better in my opinion than 'frozen' walking people.

Have you ever cloned any imperfection of any or your photographs?
Have you ever regretted (as I have) of sending to the trash slides that now would have been possible to repair?

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To be continued on "Shoot for the Future: Pano Stitching 2/2"


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