Should You Restore an Original Photo Vs. A Reproduction?

restore an original photo vs. a reproduction

Should You Restore an Original Photo Vs. A Reproduction?

Have you ever looked at a photo and wondered, “What can be done with this image?” This is one of the most common questions we receive in our studio. Can the original photo be saved, or should they get a reproduction?

The answer isn’t always simple. There isn’t a hard “yes or no” rule when it comes to photo restoration. Over time, each photographic medium has had a unique shooting, processing, and handling experience, and the treatment options will vary between images. It’s one of the reasons we explain that we need to see a photo before offering a definitive treatment plan. That being said, there are a few guidelines that will help you understand whether you can restore an original photo vs. a reproduction.

Check for Photo Damage

The type of damage will instantly tell you whether your original photograph can be restored. Damage such as silvering, crazing, delamination, or images stuck to glass almost always need a reproduction. There are conservation treatments that can help slow down the deterioration process, but once damaged, it cannot be reversed. However, damage from silverfish and mold can sometimes be repaired. Our conservator once repaired a concave print that was supposed to be convex. She was able to restore the image to its original convex shape, and it was a spectacular restoration.

If the damage on a photograph cannot be repaired, then you should consider a reproduction sooner rather than later. It’s important to capture the information that is available before the image deteriorates further. Waiting will not only jeopardize your chances of restoration, but it will increase the amount of effort required to save the image. It’s always best to get a professional assessment before committing.

Personal Preference

Are you someone that can live with imperfection? We ask because we know a slight crack or discoloration can drive some people bonkers. Even if an original can be restored, the image may show some imperfections that may or may not be obvious to the naked eye. If you like perfection, go for a reproduction.

There are people who do not care either way. While they may lament the damage, they see the repair and any imperfections as being a part of the photo’s provenance. We have clients who prefer to display the original because they are proud of what they have and want to display their history. Keep your personal preferences in mind while reviewing your options.

What is Your Goal?

The big question: What do you want to do with your photo? If you want to share your photo with multiple family members, then you obviously need a reproduction. Displaying and preserving are a little different—you have choices.

Some of our clients choose to restore the original and get a reproduction. They’ll display an original photo and put a reproduction in an album. They may ask for a smaller print of the original for a display on their tabletop or bookcase. Others will preserve the original in a museum box or album and custom frame a copy. Mary Lou also suggests framing the original photo behind the reproduction to keep everything together and safely secured.

Another aspect to consider is the value of the piece. Many of our clients have valuable or collectible images that they want to preserve or display, and they will need to be handled appropriately. A poor restoration or handling could damage the image’s value or collectability. A professional will be able to give you a proper treatment plan with options for restoration. We do not advocate a do-it-yourself approach to restoring original photographs. Professionals often offer a free consultation to review your artwork, so it’s worth it to have a conversation before trying anything yourself.

Photo restoration is fascinating. It is always rewarding to take an image that someone thought was beyond repair and restore it to its former glory. Learn more about photo restoration in our guide, Getting Started: Photo Restoration.