Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Forensic Photoshop for the archives

This photograph shows numerous Cuban citizens arriving in Miami, Florida after being airlifted from Cuba in 1965. The U.S. Public Health Service oversaw all immunizations of these individuals upon their arrival into the United States.

In October, 1965, the Cuban government allowed citizens who opposed the new leadership to leave their country, and
emigrate to the United States through the Port of Camarioca, Cuba. Boats began leaving this port in large numbers, but by November 4, many became stranded when the Cuban Government announced that no further departure of Cuban citizens from Camarioca was permitted.
On November 13th, the U.S. Government began a sealift evacuation of the 2,000 stranded refugees at Camarioca using chartered vessels. The sealift was completed on November 24, when the last eligible Camarioca refugees were brought to the United States.

The shift from
sealift to airlift took place on December 1, 1965. The airlift operated on the basis of two flights per day, 5 days a week, carrying an average of 4,000 persons to Miami, Florida. In all, 9,268 refugees arrived from Cuba during 1965. Of these, 3,349 arrived in December via the airlift arranged by the United States and Cuban Governments. Image from the Public Health Archives.

So, you've been tasked with converting old negatives and adding the images to your agency's archives. Notice the image above. It's a bit flat and very soft. It can definitely use a touch of the Forensic
Photoshop work flow. With the goal of digitally preserving the image in its best form, we can start by connecting to our scanner.

I don't want to do anything much with the capture utility other than to make sure that the image comes in at the maximum limit of my optical resolution (turn off all noise reduction/sharpening in the capture utility ... as well as any auto image control functions). With the push of the button, the image ends up in
Photoshop (or Bridge - a topic for a later posting).

From here, the work flow is the same. You see from the image above that its flat and soft.
  1. We'll start with a touch of focus (either Smart Sharpen 100/50/1 or Optipix Refocus).
  2. We can use a temporary Threshold adjustment layer to find our white/black points. When we've found them, we can throw away the adjustment layer.
  3. Curves is the best bet for dialing in the lighting and opening up the contrast in this image. Getting the whites just right blows out the sky, so we'll mask that (paint with black).
  4. We can address the creative sharpening by building an edge mask, or we can use EasyMask and save a ton of time (see the "must have" links).
  5. There is some noise in the image (though not much). The Reduce Noise filter or Noise Ninja will help here, though you will barely notice the difference.
  6. We didn't fuzz out the image at all, so we'll move to the interpolation stage. Here, we're presented with either sizing the image up or down ... or leaving it alone. Remember to choose the correct interpolation method.
  7. Downsampling the image for this blog softened it up a bit, so I used a Overlay self-blend and a High Pass filter to sharpen things back up.
  8. The results are below.
If you have a lot of images from the same source and shot under the same conditions, much of this work flow can be automated to speed things up.

If you have someone in your agency who is tasked with archiving old images, recommend this work flow to them. Together, we can help preserve our past in the best light possible.

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