Getting the most accurate color in scans of old documents, photographs, etc.

Started Aug 10, 2022 | Questions thread
Allan Brown
Allan Brown Veteran Member • Posts: 3,300
Re: Getting the most accurate color in scans of old documents, photographs, etc.

GTaillefer wrote:

Thank you for the response! I’m sorry I’m 4 weeks late to responding (I was busy with things personally), but I disagree with your assessment.

Are you trying to copy the music or copy the record?

Both, I'm trying to get both of them.

Most, if not all, 78 rpm records are nothing like what they were when they were made, therefore, why try to preserve that?

Because then people can know what the original looked like at the time it was digitized and preserved, meaning what it actually looks like currently or recently

What is really wanted is the content - This involves processing.

By that analogy, we shouldn't digitize any document (such as the US Constitution, letters, etc) and instead just copy down on a text file what was written on the document. Why digitize a letter and preserve it? What is really wanted is content.

And for photographs, your statement is a bit of a contradiction, because you say that the goal is content, when processing takes away exactly that. Processing is prone to human bias and error (because obviously humans aren't perfect), and so when you try to process a photograph from a form that is faded, you are removing some other details that you didn't notice, and once you save, theres almost never going back. And also, that "correction" is a biased interpretation of what the photograph should look like, which is something I really want to avoid. Now, I acknowledge the fact, as I've stated, that a lot of scanners don't exactly get coloring right, which is the entire point of the discussion. But adding another layer of removal from what the original looked like, unnecessarily looses more data from the original.

This is the problem that I have with things such as computers making modifications as well. Lets take the "dust or scratch removal" for example, the reason I have a problem with this process is, well, it takes out information, and replaces it with information on the file that wasn't there in the first place, which as I've described, I don't accept.

I have been restoring old photographs and documents for over twenty years both for my self and for others. Nobody has ever asked for me to duplicate the photograph, rather, they want me to improve on it.

And you see thats the issue, what if someone wants to see what the original looked like? Maybe there is someone in the future that wants to analyze it? Well if the original gets lost, destroyed, or something else, then tough luck because now you can't see what the original looked like, and used it to find details that were taken out.

It's like finding an ancient document, and instead of both digitizing it and copying down the text in the original english, you decide to just translate it all to english and leave that as the only copy of the original that exists. And if it is destroyed, well then now you have a biased interpretation of what that original text translates to as the only surviving copy. People in the future will heavily value these old photographs, documents, etc even more than they're worth now, and if these corrections are the only copies that survive, well now you have the same problem again.

Example, a friend gave me a photo of her aunts wedding. On the photo, there was no visible detail on the white dress but, it was there. The scanner picked it up and, with Photoshop, I was able to display it. Nothing lost but something gained.

Old faded hand-written letters can be made readable by careful processing of the scanned image.

As I explained, yes there was loss. The details were already there, as you explained, but now you altered it (through your own bias of what it should look like) and now the original is gone.

If you're not convinced yet, I'll try to make another analogy. You've probably heard of the fact that ancient statues have been found to have been colored originally right? By your logic, we should just preserve those statues by repainting them to their original colors. However, archeologists, archivists, historians, and others have followed the same kind of principle that I try to follow. Instead of modifying the originals, they kept the originals, and made exact copies of the original statues, and repainted those to show off to people. You can imagine the faded image analogy kind of like the modern state of the statues, where you can see little to no color, like how you can't see as much detail with the images. But you keep around the original, why? Because you can do many things with it, mainly analyzing it, and use that to do close reconstructions, but again, it is futile to do it on the original because of error, bias, and the loss of "studiable" information.

You see, people take this route instead because of how early archeologists did their jobs. Instead of treating everything at a site found like treasure, they would go look for the prized stuff, ignore and throw away/destroy everything else (because they weren't "worthy" of being presented in a museum), and it sucks because information has been lost because of that that could have given us new and important information.

The reason I view things this way is because I view it more in a scholarly/academic light. I want all these documents, photographs, papers, items, etc to be digitized so that I not only could see it or my near family, but also future generations, further family, people not in the family but related to ones found or mentioned in the things I have, people wanting to study and know what life was like in a particular time and place, how individuals were like, to help advance scholarship that these things pertain to, among many other things. Therefore that is the reason I take great care in digitizing, because I want the future generations and people living now to be able to see, use, and enjoy them.

Where did I say that the Original was modified in any way?

The Original photo, document or disk still exists for people to look at and wonder. The Copy is what is being processed.

When I look at my old family photos - some dating back to 1850 - I don't look at the originals most of which are faded, colour distorted, covered in stuck-on dust, torn etc. - And, importantly, fragile, Rather, I look at the processed copies.

You make it sound like people do not know what they are doing when they are processing this material. Go and talk to an art restorer.

You said "As I explained, yes there was loss. The details were already there, as you explained, but now you altered it (through your own bias of what it should look like) and now the original is gone."

Gone where? The Original photo I talked about still exists untouched. On the Copy, the details were not changed, they were made more visible - as they should have been if the "Original print" had been made properly.

That photo, by the way, is a positive paper print made from a film negative. That negative is long gone.

So, by your logic, we should also throw away the print because it was a poor copy of the original negative - assuming that the film was properly exposed and developed to begin with.

So, you have a colour photo from the 60s with purple sky and green snow. Is that what people really want to see?


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