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Thread: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

  1. #1

    Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Hello! I'm curious if anyone here can share some tips on adjusting the clarity of scanned 8x10 glass plate negatives. I restore historic photos from the Library of Congress to turn into large-format prints and I thought I was doing a good job until I took a closer look at the images posted on Shorpy.com. The man who does the resoration for these photos - Dave Hall - really brings out the sharpness that you would see if you were looking at the negative itself. He uses the same TIFF files that I do, and Photoshop, too...so the source and equipment is the same, but I must be doing something wrong because mine aren't nearly as stunning. Here is an example :

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Above is the file that I restored. Here is the image on Shorpy :

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I'm probably searching for a flea's kidney here, but you can see the difference better when they are side by side.

    An article for the Times stated that : Every image republished on Shorpy has been color corrected, toned, and sharpened restoring the brilliant texture and jaw-dropping sharpness found in the original negatives and glass plates. [With] each image, Hall balances the exposure, correcting for the wear of time upon negatives.Hall doesn't modify the content of the images, either all of his adjustments are carefully limited to the standards of which the original photographers would likely pursue. He is, in effect, a master digital restorer, working as a darkroom printer of the time period would have done while preparing the images for public exhibition.

    So my question is what techniques would someone developing or printing from a glass plate negative use to bring out the details in the image that I can use on Photoshop? I hate to resort to "tricks" like unsharp masks and stuff when there may be a simpler way to bring out the clarity. Any help would be appreciated!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ShorpyTest.jpg  

  2. #2

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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Why does his have more contrast then yours?

  3. #3
    loujon
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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Salomon View Post
    Why does his have more contrast then yours?
    I thought his was the 1st image Bob? If so on my monitor the 1st image is the one w/ more contrast.

  4. #4

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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Quote Originally Posted by Louis Pacilla View Post
    I thought his was the 1st image Bob? If so on my monitor the 1st image is the one w/ more contrast.
    On my screen it was the 2nd.

  5. #5

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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    I have read that people who colorize these old photos can't start with Shorpy's black and white images because Shorpy does quite a bit of work on the highlights to bring them in, which makes them color up weirdly, and as I switch back and forth between the two examples, it is mainly texture or lack of same in the highlights that I see as the difference, which is primarily about highlight brightness and contrast, manipulated separately from the rest of the image. Otherwise, outside of the highlight areas, they appear almost the same to me.
    Thanks, but I'd rather just watch:
    Large format: http://flickr.com/michaeldarnton
    Mostly 35mm: http://flickr.com/mdarnton
    You want digital, color, etc?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stradofear

  6. #6

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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    VanGorder,

    I think your interpretation of the photo is more true to the medium than the image done by Dave Hall, but I can't argue that Hall's version is more visually appealing and has a lot more to offer. Specifically, the available information in the clothing highlights and shadows is significantly better. How Hall achieved that is something I can only guess at. But its possible he is capturing more detail in the original scan (yes, that is generally possible: you scan for a rich range of gray tones and don't allow anything to go to black or to white; you push the information into place during editing, not during the scanning.

    I ask you this: when you say Hall is using the same TIFF files you use, do you mean to say that the negatives are scanned by the Library and made the exact same file available to you both? If both of you have started with the exact same file then its simply a matter of different editing techniques. Though not everyone will agree with this, I think you are at a disadvantage if you are using Photoshop rather than Lightroom, because the latter tool has far greater capacity to edit a photo with results like Mr. Hall's in mind.

    Paul

    PS: I found a copy of the original scanned image in the Library of Congress files, and did my own editing of the file in Lightroom. You can see the results here. There was plenty of information in the scan to work with. If you would like information about my approach to editing the file, I am happy to explain to you how I did what I did.
    Last edited by paulbarden; 11-Jan-2018 at 13:21.

  7. #7
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Paulbarden has, imho, the best explanation.

    Recovering highlights with, for example, Photoshop using lawyers and masks can make all the difference. But that is today with no correspondence to original presentation which was as contact prints on paper uncommon today. Digital rendering and presentation within today's tech is far removed from the viewing experience of the original time.

    So there is the polar, unanswerable question - which is correct - showing what is likely to original viewers when the image was made, or a Photoshop's manipulation which shows how it might be if made 100 years later?

    Your choice.

  8. #8

    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Quote Originally Posted by Louis Pacilla View Post
    I thought his was the 1st image Bob? If so on my monitor the 1st image is the one w/ more contrast.
    The Shorpy photo is the second image, and it just seems a bit sharper to me.

  9. #9

    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    PaulBarden, thank you very much for taking the time to edit the file yourself. I think your result was different than both mine and Shorpy's but I like the look and would be interested to know how you achieved it. One thing I neglected to state was that while I downloaded the TIFF I was converting it to RGB mode and then making my adjustments, and I'm beginning to think now that making the adjustments while the file is in TIFF would be better. Hall's results seem to be better simply because he is bringing out that detail that tends to get muddy when you adjust the contrast in RGB. Later tonight I'll try editing it in TIFF.

  10. #10

    Re: Adjusting Clarity of Scanned Glass Plate Negatives

    Quote Originally Posted by Jac@stafford.net View Post
    Paulbarden has, imho, the best explanation.

    Recovering highlights with, for example, Photoshop using lawyers and masks can make all the difference. But that is today with no correspondence to original presentation which was as contact prints on paper uncommon today. Digital rendering and presentation within today's tech is far removed from the viewing experience of the original time.

    So there is the polar, unanswerable question - which is correct - showing what is likely to original viewers when the image was made, or a Photoshop's manipulation which shows how it might be if made 100 years later?

    Your choice.
    I would like to see the image the way the photographer saw it when he looked at the negative right after developing, and I think Shorpy manages to capture that. It doesn't have a Photoshop'ed effect to it, but simply looks sharp. And I'm not sure how to recover that info from the TIFFs.

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