Is it worth editing your own photos?

My shoulder cramps are telling me “No, it’s not worth the pain!” but my head is telling me “Yes, go ahead and make that photo image better!”

“Is it worth editing your own photos before uploading them onto your website?” deliberates Web Editor, Michele Andrew. “Yes, I do believe that it is worth the effort. I say this having just finished a very photo-led website for Gina Campbell, daughter of Donald Campbell and grand-daughter of Sir Malcolm Campbell.”

“As you might imagine, Gina has a lot of family memorabilia – much of it inherited photographic archives. When Gina decided it was time to have an official Campbell Bluebird website of her own (there are so many unofficial tributes to the Racing Campbells out there) she saw this as an opportunity to show many rare and unseen images to Campbell Racing fans worldwide.

As Web Editor, one of my first tasks was to sit down and go through the piles and boxes and folders of Bluebird images dating back to the 1920s. This was no small task, made even longer by the interesting material I was uncovering – original photos taken of Malcolm Campbell at Daytona Beach, family snaps of Donald Campbell in Australia, pictures of Gina as a child en route to America with the Bluebird boat and a whole library which chronicled Donald and Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record and water speed record attempts.

A Restoration drama

Much of the material was dog-eared, creased and well-handled. Unsurprising really. Needless to say, the best images were faded and unsuitable for a quick scan and upload to – of course some photo restoration was called for…

Now there are two schools of thought when it comes to uploading historic photographic material. One school likes to keep the original print, scratches and all, to show the age of the images. The other school prefers to restore the image as close as posssible to its pristine, initial form. I prefer the latter option – which makes for a lot more work!

I sense that fans of historic racing cars would prefer to see clear images of the Blue Bird cars. With this in mind, I scanned many of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s original sepia prints and enhanced them to improve clarity and to remove surface blotches and dirts. We selected over 150 images to go on to Gina’s new website so there was much to get through. Of course, once I’d started to enhance the images it was impossible to stop half-way through: why just improve a handful when all deserve enhancing?

Out damned spot!

With photographs of paintings by the Dutch artist, Arthur Benjamins, to clean up, the editing task included improving not only photographs but scans of original prints adverts, enamel on oil canvases, booklets and raceday programmes. The heavily-scratched 35mm slides proved particularly difficult, with none of the run-of-the-mill slide scanners up to the job. Unfortunately, most of the images of Gina Campbell’s powerboating wins in the 1980s were preserved in slide format, so there was no option but to scan the original 35mm slides before attempting to remove the surface blemishes.

With a sense of time ticking away, the photo editing was a pressurised task. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours retouching a single photo – certainly some of Arthur Benjamins’ paintings received a two or three hour retouch as I felt that the quality of his work deserved a duty of care. Hopefully some of his paintings of the Campbell Bluebird boats K7, K3 and K4 have brought the photos of Arthur’s work close to his original canvases.

Budget for photo editing

If you are working on a website with archive material like the Campbell Bluebird photographs, your web visitors demand the highest quality of images that you can give. Very often, clients have no idea that images have to be improved, resized or cropped before they appear on web pages. It’s important to make this clear at the point of quoting for the web design and content, so that it doesn’t come as a nasty shock when you announce that low-quality scans will need reworking.

I’m not sure how clients imagine that words and pictures land on web pages? Maybe some people assume they are dragged across from a photo editing programme into the content management system (CMS) with ease? (I have yet to meet a CMS which helps the web editor with seamless image resizing, or indeed with spot-on image positioning within the page.)

But, of course, clients cannot know about these agonies unless they are warned that adding pictures takes time and care (and hence money.) Likewise, many business owners still labour under the illusion that they can use quick pix taken on a mobile phone for their website. The tears running down my face are the first clue to clients that I have severe misgivings about such foolishness. If you can afford to use professional photography then do so; either by commissioning a photographer to take your own product/office shots, or allow your web designer to suggest suitable images from a photo library such as i-stock.

A clue to your quality

With library images costing as little as $1 it’s easy enough to find a picture worthy of your website. (And surprisingly good fun to trawl through suitable images on the i-stock website too!) So do place quality photography high on your list of web priorities as your audience will appreciate both the professionalism of your web pages and your attention to detail. If you take the time to source good images, just think how good the quality of your actual services or products will be once ordered!

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