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The Debate Over the Ethics of Photo Restoration

At first glance, one might question how photography and genealogy are linked. The reality is, however, that a big part of genealogy and historical research is simply basic detective work.

To do a complete study of an ancestor’s past, a genealogist or family historian needs to put on their detective’s hat, turn over every stone and investigate every clue at their disposal. And old photographs just happen to provide a wealth of such clues — clues about what our ancestors looked like, where and how they lived, possibly what kind of job they had, what their likely economic status was, and what their hobbies were. Group photos, in particular, are also very helpful in solving mysteries about family relationships and other missing links.

So yes, collecting and studying old family photographs has become both an accepted and expected part of modern genealogy. This reality aside, however, what can be said about the growing trend of photo restoration?

Photo Restoration Defined

In the context of historical photos, “photo restoration” in the strictest sense, is defined as the practice of using tools to repair a photo to what one assumes was its original appearance. Typically, this includes repairing the evidence of tears, removing scratches or cracks, correcting fading or color damage caused by sunlight or other environmental factors, and removing stains, mold, or other damage that was not present when the photo was originally created.

In the past, such restoration efforts required a trained professional who used the likes of air brushes, natural hair brushes, erasers, charcoal, various pencils, paints and knives to work their magic. In today’s digital era, such photo restoration can be accomplished by anyone with a computer, a scanner, photo editing software (such as Adobe Photoshop) and a little patience.

Of course, as with anything, some individuals are more skilled than others at using such tools. This, and the fact that one person’s assumption of what the original photo looked like might not be the same as someone else’s, is what creates some of the controversy over what is commonly referred to as the “ethics” of photo restoration.

Differing Opinions Amongst Historians and Genealogists

There are some historians and genealogists who believe that ANY alteration of an original image is unethical — even if such alteration is simply repairing damage caused by time, the elements or neglect. Such purists believe that any damage to the original image simply explains the historical “journey” that the photo experienced over the years and should be preserved as the character of the image in its current form. They also question the judgement or ability of the restorer in being able to actually restore the image to its original form (as opposed to perhaps mistakenly altering some piece of the image that was historically relevant).

In contrast to the opinion of such purists, there are other historians and genealogists who actively support the practice of photo restoration. At the heart of their support is a desire to honor their ancestors by returning their photos to an unstained, untorn, non-discolored state and sharing such repaired images with as many family members as possible. Backing up their thinking on this are the efforts of art conservationists who have painstakingly restored the works of such masters as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinchi and Raphael. A family historian of this thinking could argue that, if the Vatican thought it appropriate to restore the painted walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come, then families deserve no less.

My Personal Opinion

Personally, I lean more to the camp of those who support and encourage photo restoration. After all, my entire approach to family history is from the perspective of discovering and preserving a family’s legacy for years to come — an approach that entails uncovering the story of our ancestors by piecing together the many details of their lives with both nuance and emotion. When looking at historical photos, I want to be able to see the details of my ancestors’ faces, the details of the clothes they were wearing and the details of the homes they lived in, without the distraction of scratches, torn edges and discoloration. More importantly, I want future generations to be able to see them in a similar manner, to understand them and to enjoy them as well.

All this said, I do have concern with a growing trend amongst some family genealogists to go beyond simply restoring a photograph and instead manipulating and changing the image to suit their whims. Personally, I don’t see it as productive to embellish historical photos with fancy borders and graphics. Worse yet, I find it troubling when some use Photoshop to remove certain individuals from a photo altogether or to add individuals who weren’t present when the original photo was taken. (I have encountered, for example, photos of families where sons or brothers who were away at war or who, in some cases had even died, were digitally “pasted” into family group photos as if they were present when the photo was taken. I see this as very problematic to a future historian who might not be aware that the photo was altered.)

In my opinion, sensitivity to how a photo appeared in its original form is critically important. Repairing tears, scratches, cracks, fading, discoloration, stains, mold or other damage that occurred over time is not inconsistent with historical principles of preservation. But such repairs should be conducted in a conservative manner; and copies of original photos (damage and wear included) should be made available to family members who request them.

An example of a simple, conservative photo restoration.  (The contrast and tone were balanced; scratches and other surface damage were corrected; shadows were reduced and the overall image was sharpened.)  While the final product is not "perfect", the goal was for modifications to be as minimal as possible, while also allowing for faces to be brightened and the detail of the image more readily visible.)  [Appearing fourth from the left is my grandfather, Joseph Heuisler Tormey, Sr., with his parents and siblings.  The photo was taken in the spring of 1917, just prior to my grandfather leaving for France during World War I.]

An example of a simple, conservative photo restoration. (The contrast and tone were balanced; scratches and other surface damage were corrected; shadows were reduced and the overall image was sharpened.) While the final product is not “perfect”, the goal was for modifications to be as minimal as possible, while also allowing for faces to be brightened and the detail of the image more readily visible.) [Appearing fourth from the left is my grandfather, Joseph Heuisler Tormey, Sr., with his parents and siblings. The photo was taken in the spring of 1917, just prior to my grandfather leaving for France during World War I.]

Consider Adopting a Photo Restoration Protocol

With an eye towards conservative principles, I encourage genealogists and family historians to adopt a photo restoration protocol and to be consistent in following it.

Following is an suggested plan:

1) With the mindset of a preservationist or a museum curator, take steps to secure and preserve original family photographs in an archival-safe, acid-free environment. (There are numerous storage containers on the market developed for exactly this purpose.)

2) Consistent with the approach of such a preservationist, adopt a policy of not manipulating or altering historical photographs in a manner that goes beyond repairing damage. (i.e., Avoid the temptation to embellish or add something that wasn’t in the original photo.)

3) When scanning photos, save original scans in a master file (preferably in a non-degraded TIFF-type format and at as high a resolution as is reasonable, given the limitations of the scanning hardware you are using) Preserve such original scans as your digital masters and be careful not to save altered versions over them. (i.e., When using photo editing software to make repairs to a damaged photo, save such changes as a separate file, rather than overwriting your original scan.)

4) Don’t forget in your preservation efforts to be diligent about identifying the subject of each photo. (Who is pictured in the photo? Where was the photo taken? What was the date, or estimated date, of the photo?) Catalogue and mark the back of original photos with such facts using an acid-free medium, such as a soft, light-colored pencil; and clearly name electronic files with as much identifying detail as possible.


Like it or not, photo restoration efforts are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the world of genealogy. My advice to genealogists and family historians is to embrace the benefits made available with modern photo editing software, but to do so conservatively and in a manner that doesn’t detract from the legacy that your ancestors would want you to inherit and pass on to your own descendants.

Suggested format for citations of this article:
Tormey, Michael. β€œThe Debate Over the Ethics of Photo Restoration”, “Michael Tormey’s ‘Legacy Blog'”, posted May 1, 2013, ( accessed [access date]).


64 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is a great post. I am an archivist and I see both sides. Restoration is basically an artistic rendering of the image. The unmodified image would always remain the original record/photograph. When we make a digital copy or if I do a restoration here at home, that would be considered an access copy. Nothing should ever replace the original. The copy will help preserve the image for future generations.

    You raise some very interesting points and I hope that people listen to you. If anything you will get people to think about how they intended to preserve and/or how they may alter history by restoring images.

    May 2, 2013
    • Thank you or your feedback and kind words, Felicia!

      I, too, hope this topic prompts thought and discussion — as you are right, there is a fine line between preserving history and altering history.

      Thanks again,

      May 2, 2013
  2. I read this earlier and meant to comment and got pulled away into work. This is thought-provoking. I agree about restoring to what it would have been like when taken. A question came up about a photo I posted this week (before I posted it). I noticed that the date on the “mat” which looked original said 1891, but that was well past when the subject would have been the age he looked in the photo. The person who gave it to me to use believes it was “copied” by a photographer in 1891. I just assumed the 1891 was correct. Do you have an opinion about this? Anyway, I love your post, and the photo of the family shows so much personality.

    May 2, 2013
  3. Thank you for the positive feedback. Interestingly, I have encountered exactly what you are referring to (date discrepancies on old photos). At the timeframe you are referring to, it was quite common for professional photographers to retain negatives of their exposures — so that they could print additional copies at a later date for their customers who wanted additional prints. Common practice at the time was to date the photo as each print was made, which was quite often months or years after the original exposure was shot. In more modern times, as people began taking photos with their own cameras, we often see a similar issue with date discrepancies. In the 1960s and 70s, for example, when prints were developed from personal cameras, the edges or backs of the prints were stamped with the date of when they were developed. But, as you can imagine, film was often developed long after the photos were actually taken (because people typically waited until they exposed a full roll of film before taking it in to be developed). I first encountered this when looking through old family photos that were clearly taken on Christmas Day. And yet the photos were dated the following July or August. Just goes to show, we genealogists have to be real detectives and double check every clue!

    May 2, 2013
  4. Hi Michael,
    I totally love your blog. Thanks for the tips on photo restoration! Do you have a favorite photo that you like over all the ones you have restored?

    May 3, 2013
    • Hi, Beth!

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I’m not sure I have a single photo that I like more than another. They all tell a unique story! And each of them has a special place in my heart! But if I had to pick one, I suppose it would be a photo of my younger brother fom when he was a very young boy. The original photo was so damaged and discolored; and it was amazing to see it returned to its original form.

      I suppose I should do a follow up post and include a lot more examples of before-and-after shots.

      Thanks again for the feedback! Have a great weekend!


      May 3, 2013
  5. Preserving the longevity of a photograph for future generations is a great endeavor.
    This reminds me of the debates within the film world about restored and cleaned up films, i.e. releasing ‘high-definition’ versions of classics such as Casablanca, even though they were shot on grainy film. Is the texture of the medium and age part of the actual work, or should the work be set to the clarity of what we imagine it could be?

    May 3, 2013
  6. Reblogged this on My Voyage Through Time and commented:
    A great take on the ethics debate.

    May 3, 2013
  7. great post

    May 3, 2013
  8. Your post caught my eye because recently my sister has been posting old family photos on her fashion blog (showcasing old fashion!) and a very kind stranger restored them and emailed them to her. It was such a joy for my mom and her brothers to see the pictures of their parents and their childhood in such high quality. For that I think restoration is a plus. But of course we still had the original images as well, I couldn’t imagine changing those.

    May 3, 2013
    • What a kind gift that stranger did to restore those photos for your family! I agree that I would never want to lose or change an original. But isn’t it a wonderful feeling to see an old, damaged pic returned to its former glory?

      May 3, 2013
  9. When my mother was in high school in Ohio, school photos were black and white, and people used to “tint” them with paints. I have some photos my mother tinted, and they are very artistic and beautiful. I don’t know of anyone doing that any more. It’s kind of sad. The tinted photos are not only what she looked like at that age, but they also showed real painting talent. A good photo restorer has to be a skilled artist in the same way.

    May 3, 2013
    • I have not heard of colorized photos mentioned by anyone in along time. I have several in my personal collection and they are definitely amongst my favorites.

      May 3, 2013
  10. Great tip –save master (print and digital) and make a copy to restore the digital –conservative restoration in the purest sense of “preservation” of the original image itself.

    Preservation is great but so are family memories for those who are alive.

    I am professionally….a librarian (not any more, but previously for many years). For preservation I did take a photo to have it digitally scanned. Nothing special.

    What would you (or anyone) here have done anything differently?

    It’s only over 50 yrs. old. πŸ˜€ But highly valuable to myself and to my family. My mother has 6 children. There’s less than 5 photos in total where she is wearing that traditional Chinese dress here in Canada for half century even after having this many children, many photos later.

    So “value” and “preservation” is in the eye of the beholder.

    May 3, 2013
    • Jean,

      Thank you for your post.

      First, let me say… I LOVE your blog! And that photo of you and your mother is priceless.

      I absolutely agree that “value” and “preservation” are in the eye of the beholder. To that exact point, some of my own relatives did not value old photos and simply disposed of them.

      In your case, you have, through your blog shared with the WORLD your photos. To share your legacy that way is a gift to all of us who get a chance now to see them. And it certainly honors your mother and your beautiful heritage!


      May 4, 2013
      • Thanks for your kind words, Michael.

        My youngest sister/sibling is 10 years younger than I. I am the eldest. She has no baby picture (except as a newborn lying in hospital crib) where she is held. Youngest one of her is she is already nearly 2, sitting up right. Probably parents were just downright tired and stressed with many children . πŸ˜€ So even taking the photo at the right time in life, is so key for memories and life’s markers!

        Please remember that everyone. Don’t shy away when family members want to take a photo of you looking well/important times in life.

        May 4, 2013
  11. Agree with your post, and creating a basic protocol to follow would be a helpful guideline for people who are restoring old photos for the first time. There will always be risk (e.g. some of the past restorations of Michelangelo did not go so well), but that is a part of creation/preservation and the good will outweigh the bad.

    May 3, 2013
    • Good observation. There are indeed risks. And, indeed, the good outweighs the bad (in my opinion, anyway). Looking on the bright side, imagine 300 yeas from now the field day our descendants will have pouring through the TONS of material we are leaving behind (digital and not). In the face of all that we modernists will leave behind, anything that we will have successfully saved and preserved from the past will be a precious thing to our descendants.

      Thanks for your comment!


      May 4, 2013
  12. Very good stuff.

    I see one simple argument. Context vs. Clarity.

    The original picture gives such amazing context, you see a time period, you see a family, hell you see what time of year it is, yet because it’s so raw, you draw more simple conclusions. It makes you want to read/learn more.

    The cleaned up photo is what you get after a long project that required a lot of study, a finished product that makes only makes sense now that you’ve dug deep to find the answers.

    I guess it comes down to…do you want to be told the story or do you want to tell it yourself.

    May 3, 2013
    • Hi, Julius! And thank you!

      Your point about a photo drawing you in and wanting you to read and learn more is spot on! I did not address that topic in the context of my article, but it is a meaningful part of “discovering legacy”.

      In the case of the example photo that I posted, there are so many things that came from studying it. I was fascinated by the uniform my grandfather was wearing before heading off for war. That led me to studying World War I era uniforms (which was quite fascinating). I was curious, too, about what led my grandfather to decide to sign up for the war, but not his three brothers. This led me to researching World War I propaganda and conscription efforts (which could fill an entire blog by itself!). I was intrigued, too, about the nature of the photo. That is to say, there must have been a tremendous amount of emotion felt by the family that day (knowing that their son, their brother, my grandfather, might not come home). That led me to wanting to research World War I era family photography; and I discovered that it was a very common thing for families to take such photos with their loved ones in their uniforms. Lastly, I was intrigued by the location of the photo, as it is a different type of scene than the mansion of a home that the family lived in when my grandfather was a child. While not much of the home is visible, there is enough seen to know it was not mansion-like and palatial, as there previous home was. This led me to digging deeper into the family finances and the economy of that period of time (so much learned from that experience). Perhaps most meaningful to me, though, are the facial expressions that can be seen in the photo. I can spend hours looking at them and imagining their personalities and how they interacted with each other. (And the restored, more clear photo certainly makes this much easier.)

      Thanks again,

      May 4, 2013
      • Your reply is worthy of a post itself, you touch on something magnificent about historical photos – people will spend hours studying the details and “discovering legacy”. It is part of human psyche, wanting to understand our ancestors so we can better understand our source; where/how/why we are who we are.

        May 4, 2013
      • Thank you. πŸ™‚

        I must add, by the way, your China Sojourns photography is stunning!!


        May 4, 2013
  13. By the way, you must keep the original photo intact. Then you can alter it all you want, just keep the bench mark (the original photo) and remember what something was, what it must remain in history, even if you want to change it. No one ever got mad at improving a good idea.

    May 3, 2013
  14. Really interesting!! I cherish my family’s old photos. Many are in rough shape but I’d be hesitant to have them restored and lose their authenticity.

    May 3, 2013
  15. Val Mills #

    A very timely piece for me. I found a damaged 1960s photo today I want to include in my next book. I’m hoping professionals can do something to restore it to original status.

    May 4, 2013
    • Val, you would be amazed at what can be done with photos. Zooming in on very small portions and reconstructing them, literally pixel by pixel, is tedious and time consuming. But the results are remarkable when done properly.

      May 4, 2013
  16. Very interesting. One of the worst digital manipulations, for me, was a photo of my father, in which, my mother had the drink in his hand removed. So it looks like he’s grasping …air…My dad was a man that loved to socialize, and party. The drink in his hand was only natural.

    May 4, 2013
    • Thanks for sharing that, Ruth. A great example of the negatives of photo manipulation. I agree… to see the reality of the photo (whether or not your mother approved of the alcohol) speaks volumes about your father’s personality and, perhaps, even his struggles. But such things help us understand them so much better and, in so doing, perhaps understand ourselves better too.

      May 4, 2013
  17. If I can offer an anecdote of support for restoration I think the experience of those who lost everything in the 2011 Brisbane floods is particularly poignant. Insurance cannot replace photographs, and people sifting through feet of mud and silt from river water as the flood subsided were advised to not attempt wiping their rescued photos but to rinse carefully and then put them in plastic bags and get them to someone who could freeze them in a household freezer as soon as possible…..bizarre I know, but apparently the best way to save them so that they can be cleaned and restored. For many hundreds of people, as recently as 2011, what mattered most was not what the originals had looked like, but what could be salvaged from them. I really enjoyed your post Michael!

    May 4, 2013
    • Thank you very much for that feedback and for the great, real life example you gave! A disaster like that is something I have feared for years. And how interesting about the advice that was given to freeze the photos!

      Thanks again,

      May 4, 2013
  18. Good Morning: I like the proposed protocols. My only suggestion for improvement consists of this; add “Make multiple backups of the original digital scans and store in off-site locations” to #3. Vonn Scott Bair

    May 4, 2013
    • Thank you for that valuable feedback. I should definitely have included that in my list of suggestions!

      May 4, 2013
  19. Great post. I adopted a similar strategy when confronted with a batch of 1920s photo negatives recently and lovingly restored. I formed a protocol so that they were all processed the same way and in keeping with the state they were found. You can take a look via Carol@Travel on WP

    May 4, 2013
  20. excellent insights and ideas. Will share with my genealogy oriented family members. -Renee

    May 4, 2013
  21. That tension between ‘artefact preservation’ and ‘restoration’ is true of every artefact and relic we have of the past. The issue for me is simple; when these items – photographs, memorabilia, objects etc – were owned by those at the time, they were new. Pristine. We see them at the tail end of a long process of entropy. Photos, particularly, tend to disappear on us – and we don’t realise just how sharp and clear they actually were when new. To restore them we are in effect destroying what they have become, in order to make them what they were – well, what we THINK they were, sometimes. And is that a bad thing? In a way, yes, because it hides the way that these images of our past have come down to us. But it also restores the way they were seen back then.

    One of the best examples I’ve seen of this thinking is in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, where there’s a museum in an ‘Old Stone Store’ – one of the oldest settler buildings in the couintry. It’s been set up with artefacts which are not the old objects on display; they are new-made to purpose. And they look it. They also smell new – we gain, in effect, the subtleties that those of the day would have experienced. Something that doesn’t happen with mouldy old exhibits.

    May 4, 2013
    • Thank you, Matthew, for your insightful comments. Yes, there is definitely a tension between artifact preservation and restoration. And there are certainly pros and cons on both sides of the argument.

      Similar to the Bay of Islands museum you mentioned, I was in Kensington Palace in London a month ago. The portion of the palace that is open to the public is maintained as a museum. It is one of the most beautifully restored and maintained buildings of its kind. The newness of it, combined with its very historical elements, made it a much more impactful experience.

      May 4, 2013
  22. Amy Pond #

    This was an interesting article! I’m an archaeology student, and one of the issues that I know a lot of material culture-based archaeology deals with is where you draw the line with conservation – do you only take the steps needed to maintain the current state of the artefact, or do you go that step further and restore it to (what you believe is) it’s original condition? And does a restoration of an object or building make it less authentic? I’m always interested in reading about this sort of thing.

    May 5, 2013
    • Hi, Amy.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      That’s a great way to frame the debate. (i.e., Do you only take the steps needed to maintain the current state of the artifact, or do you go further and restore it to its original condition?) Of course, what’s great about working with antique photos in the digital age is that we can actually do both. That is to say, we can take steps to maintain and protect a photo from further deterioration, and we can also work to restore and reproduce a digital copy.

      In some ways, I would also relate it to paleontology. A paleontologist, upon discovering rare dinosaur bones, will retrieve and protect them. Sometimes, three dimensional molds of the bones are made to be able to reconstruct a skeleton for display in a museum. And sometimes, scientists will create drawings and perhaps even life-sized models of what they imagine the entire creature looked like. Certainly, some paleontologists miss the mark when making such models. After all, how can they know from bones what color the dinosaur was, or what the shape and texture of its skin was? Nonetheless, potential errors aside, without those models and drawings, would we ever really have a concept of what the dinosaurs looked like?

      Thanks again for your valuable perspective. And best of luck to,you in your studies! (As a kid, I always fancied that I would love to be an archaeologist.)


      May 5, 2013
  23. Add me to your list of admirers of this post!
    The genealogy bug hit me almost 3 years ago now. My immigrant grandmother was not sentimental and saved nothing, including photos and refused to share anything about her life before coming to America. I did manage to track down a living (slightly distant) relative who was more than happy to share her knowledge and also photos and 16 mm films which I had converted into DVD’s. (not the best quality but what was affordable for me)
    I have 4 sisters and 3 cousins who now have copies of the DVDs. Each of us has shared what ever we have in old photos but I have one in particular that no one knows (yet) exists. Our great grandmother in Italy with two of her 7 daughters. It is an original and I will not alter it. Scan and copy – yes because I think we each should have one, but to change that original? Never. It’s in nearly perfect condition, I see no reason to alter it.
    My family research became an addiction of sorts and I actually managed to find family in Italy. I leave next weekend and will arrive in Italy 100 years to the day that my grandfather arrived in America. My hope is to gain more information, history and details of the past. I also hope to get copies of any and all old photographs that become available to me.
    Thank you for a great informative and thought provoking post.

    May 5, 2013
    • How wonderful that you found family in Italy and are going for a visit! Italy is an amazing country. I found it to be so different in person than I imagined it to be. I don’t have any Italian heritage, but I am Catholic and wanted to see and experience in person some of the history of the church there. I have been there three times now and thoroughly enjoyed each visit.

      I wish you luck in your genealogy efforts. And I wish you a blessed trip “home”. May you discover a part of yourself that you will treasure forever!


      May 5, 2013
      • Michael,
        I too hope to add Catholic churches to my stops along the way. From what I have learned, Italia is a treasure trove of our religions history.

        Funny you mentioned discovering a part of myself…I did when I embarked on this historical journey and have strong feelings that what is to come will bring so much more.


        May 5, 2013
  24. kellyscott57 #

    Id like to see a photo and not have to or be forced to try to make out what the photo is ?? ever try to look at a damaged photo damaged by time???
    I love local history, and I love peeking back at history by photos , I think there are way to many as I call doo gooders trying to find something to whine about? I see nothing wrong with fixing photos as long as its it not damaging the photos?
    and you have some really nice photos on display here!

    May 5, 2013
    • Thanks, Kelly, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. And thanks for the kind words.

      May 5, 2013
      • kellyscott57 #

        any time

        May 5, 2013
      • kellyscott57 #

        this made me think of the photos I’ve seen in bad condition? good blog Michael!

        May 5, 2013
  25. veey good post Michael..very detailed πŸ™‚ reblogging it on mine as well so that more people can read πŸ™‚ thanks for sharing

    May 5, 2013
  26. Reblogged this on Talking Experience.

    May 5, 2013
  27. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Your writing is invigorating and so deserving of being spotlighted on WordPress.
    You have an authentic voice that is rare on this forum. Keep up the good have a fan in me and I will be following your blog closely. Bravo! Dennis

    May 6, 2013
    • Dennis,

      Thank you so much for those kind words! (Coming from such a superb writer as yourself — yes, I visited your beautiful blog — your sentiment is quite a compliment.)


      May 6, 2013
  28. I like to see old photos in as near their current state as possible. Yes, it can be frustrating when bits are missing but there’s not much you can do to restore what’s not there! My usual rule is that I play around with the adjustments until I am happy with the detail. I don’t like changing the contrast, brightness or colour saturation too much because they never look ‘right’ when compared to the original.

    Thanks for writing such an interesting and thought-provoking article.

    May 6, 2013
  29. This is an amazing post. Thank you. But what really struck me was your reply to juliusfredrick. I’ve been in the field of portrait photography for almost 40 years and have seen so much just in process alone. I have done quite a bit of restoration work, before and after the digital age. What the ability to scan your photos in high resolution does for the owner is give them an amazing opportunity to really examine all of the details. Even if you decide not to restore anything, the ability to see every little detail, to look at every square inch close up will often times give you answers to questions that have been on the back burner for a while.

    May 6, 2013
    • Thank you for this valuable feedback! And yes, you are right… The details that can be seen upon zooming in on smaller pieces of a photo can be very revealing!

      Thanks again,

      May 6, 2013
  30. Reblogged this on Fort Pelham Farm and commented:
    Wonderful blog post on photo restoration. A must read for anyone interested in their family legacy of photography.

    May 6, 2013
  31. Reblogged this on THE PARADIGM GROUP.

    May 8, 2013
  32. patriciarodrigues #

    Hi! I really enjoyed your post and I completely agree. I’ve recently started creating my family tree and I’ve been trying to get hold of as many pictures as possible. Mostly my grandparents seemed to keep their photos in plastic bags and boxes which means some of them are quite damaged. I’ve been restoring a few and trying to keep it as close to the original as possible. I’ve come across some restorations where people have coloured in black and white photos and drawn in backgrounds. Truly awful stuff! Just deflects from the point of finding details of what people and places were like at the time.

    May 8, 2013
  33. Reblogged this on joannix02's Blog.

    May 9, 2013
  34. Reblogged this on

    May 14, 2013
  35. Thank you for an interesting blog
    I am an obsessive genealogist and photographic restoration artist.
    I began restoring before computers and photoshop, with pens, paints.
    Right from the beginning, I never restored the actual original print. It is history.
    I would photograph the print and restore a copy, my ethics have not changed.
    When I have finished a restoration, the DVD always has a copy of the original and the restored image so that in years to come, family can choose which one they want to have a copy of.
    Being a genealogist, I am aware of the necessity to view original images for studying the past so when I restore badly damaged images, I only repair what is necessary.
    The usual saying of less is more is important.

    One of my restorations can be seen at

    Thanks again Kim

    May 14, 2013
  36. Nice post. Old photos are very closed to our heart, when you see any time all of our memories get refreshed.

    June 11, 2013
  37. MaryPat McManus #

    Hi Michael,
    I am a Tormey/Kohlhepp cousin and can no longer find I have other cousins who have become interested in our family history and told them about all of the work and research you have done! How can we find your website again?

    I recognize my grandmother, Mary Angela Tormey Kohlhepp, in the above photo of the Tormey family!

    Hope to hear from you!


    June 22, 2013
  38. Just saw your site… And I really appreciate the points you made regarding if we are restoring an image, how we need to conduct ourselves!
    Some images can look pretty good depending on the skill of the individual!
    However I do agree that one needs to be conservative when it comes to restoration, after all, restoring is restoring, not altering!!
    I should say, and I am sure that everyone knows this, if we do not restore today, to some extent, then tomorrow we may not have those images to share with our love ones!
    Which would we prefer?
    I am always interested in old stuff and love to see how they are restored!
    Thanks for sharing..

    December 9, 2013
  39. As long as one preserves the historical accuracy of the image and sticks to “restoration” and not “manipulation” photo restores can play an integral part in preserving family history

    April 14, 2014
  40. Hi
    Thanks for this article – I found it very interesting and agree with most of the posts.
    I’m a photo restorer and when restoring an old photo I try to keep it as true to the original as possible – other wise what is the point of doing it. I am not in favour of manipulating the photo to make it look different to the original and I am not in favour of those who think an old photo is ‘enhanced’ when done in colour! However I have previously coloured a photo for one client who’s grandfather suffers with Alzheimer’s disease – it was a photo of a football team that he played for and it was coloured purely to try and bring the memories back for him – which it did.
    There are a lot of old photographs out there which are over a 100 years old and due to the chemicals that were used in their original development are starting to fade and perish before our eyes, I for one am all for preserving family history as much as possible and photo restoration is one of the best ways of doing this before the original fades away forever.

    May 31, 2014

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