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Photo editors help disaster victims recover memories

Professional and amateur photo editors alike use Operation Photo Rescue to help disaster victims repair damaged images.

When homes are damaged, often the most important items cannot be replaced. For victims of fire, floods and other natural disasters, family photos are among the worst things to lose. Operation Photo Rescue brings together victims with professional photo editors to turn damaged images back into clear memories.

Operation Photo Rescue volunteers restore damaged images. All photos go through a quality control screening before being reprinted and sent to the victim for free.

Operation Photo Rescue was started after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Since then, the organization has repaired more than 9,000 photos, providing free restoration of photos damaged by natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, Operation Photo Rescue set up a scanning station in Seaside Heights — an area that saw a lot of damage — and allowed families to submit up to 20 photos each.

If damaged photos are not recovered quickly after a disaster, they can corrode very fast. Operation Photo Rescue receives images with varying levels of damage and does their best to repair them.

After yesterday's devastating tornado in Oklahoma, people around the United States are donating time and money to help the victims. For photography professionals who want to volunteer to help those who lost precious family photos in any natural disaster, Operation Photo Rescue is asking for Photoshop experts to spend time fixing damaged photos. If you are interested in repairing photos with Operation Photo Rescue, fill out their volunteer application here.


Total comments: 38

Very good that these ppl are offering their services like that. It's quite commendable considering these things can take a lot of time to fix. Some fixes faster than others.

I'd imagine the first example would have been a nightmare even for a pro.

I'm just wondering if absolute recovery is necessary. Partial recovery and possibly turning it into a little artsy piece can do wonders for something as devasted as the first picture.

The finished product looks pretty bad though at least it's a recovery.

Perhaps, if possible I could offer my services - I think i'll go look for info on this.


What a bunch of arrogant amateur jerks. On second thought, you are quite accomplished jerks. Why don't you donate 100 hours to restore 10 pictures (of course some of you could do 100 pictures in 100 hours). Or why don't you donate $100 dollars to help pay for the volunteers who travel all across the country to set up copy stands and copy the damaged photos. Donations alone pay for the travel costs and the motel/hotel costs on the copy runs. As a flight instructor I have found over the years that the biggest talkers who criticize others and boast of their skills are the weakest students and pilots.

I would bet that Operation Photo Rescue would have preferred that Digital Photography Review had not even run the story. Such a sorry audience you are.

BTW, I am *not* associated with Operation Photo Rescue. I'm just someone that is appalled at the arrogance shown here.


Wow, I didn't know we had so many master photo editors on this comment thread...


To test your skills in restoring ruined pictures, you can go to the retouchpro website, they have a restoration challenge section.

Have fun !

1 upvote

Hi There,

Great initiative. For all those criticism on shown restorations: if you ever tried this yourself you might have discovered that retouching faces is one of the most difficult things to do right. Even one wrong pixel in an eye may distract the whole picture.
Yes, I will volonteer......:-)

Edited 2 times; latest 4 minutes since posting

Cool. I wish I had competence in photo restoration. I am still working through the basic Lightroom procedures, don't know Photoshop, don't know any of the portrait touch-up programs. By the way, perfection isn't needed. "Good" may be good enough to preserve family memories.
Best wishes to all volunteers.


Mr. StanRogers,
We await your test photo.
Quality Control, OPR


It has already been sent -- two days ago.


What a cold-hearted, dismissive bunch of people we, DPR users, have become (...or maybe it is just the relentless "Connect" coffee-shop fragrance attracting selected ones...).

Guys, leave your arrogant "I am an amazing photographer who really knows this stuff" shoes and put yourselves in those of the ones that, failing this, would have lost their significant memories forever (...guess what, some of them don't even know what Photoshop is...)

Quit the negativity and, instead, praise this commendable movement.

Edited 1 minute after posting

Way too much negativity here!


Honestly I think it's worse to give someone something that's 60%+ painted and it shows, especially in the picture where the baby's foot mysteriously just cuts off and where the little girl looks like an angry swamp monster. It would be better to just use the picture as a slight reference and make a nice looking painting based off it.


The baby's foot which you state is "cut off", looks to just be hidden by the person's black outfit/body.


Big thanks to the volunteers! That's a worthy cause.


No choice *but* to volunteer, I guess. Some of the "restorations" in the site's portfolio are disasters unto themselves, and people deserve better. "Free" and "volunteer" are not excuses for shoddy work.

The third example given here, for instance, has managed to turn a delighted little girl into a somewhat tipsy middle-aged woman by faithfully turning damage into "facial features". Ringlets on the right would make me think that ringlets would be appropriate on the left as well (but maybe that's just me) and the slightest bit of research would have revealed that her middy blouse was probably a pale blue — or, less likely, pink — and should be considerably darker. I'm no Ctein, but I can do better. And that means I have to.


Agreed. And the first pic has ruined the colors. Remarkable cloning, but what were they thinking - that red lunchbox needs to be black? The baby needs to be blue?

Edited 46 seconds after posting

The photos that volunteers are allowed to post on the OPR Web site come from their own restoration files. Volunteers of all skill levels are proud of their hard work. However, all photos must pass Quality Control and may be tweaked or reworked before being printed and mailed home to their owners. Those reworked files are not sent back to the volunteers.

Before you pass judgment on thousands of volunteers worldwide who receive no compensation and are NOT permitted to use their OPR restorations to promote their own businesses, you should investigate further. Their motivation is a genuine desire to help people who've lost their most precious possessions.


I understand the sentiment, but sometimes the thought isn't all that counts. These are irreplaceable memories we're talking about, so "good enough, considering the price" isn't good enough. The last thing anyone wants is to have to find a way to feel grateful for a permanent reminder of how much they've lost. And for what it's worth, I have stepped up.

I've been doing restorations since it meant rephotographing and working large, often under loupes, with pencils, 6-0 sable brushes, airbrush, matte knives and glue. Photoshop, etc., makes the task easier ("undo" or "delete a layer" is a lot less swear-worthy than "print another set and start over") and the tools are more accessible to more people, but the skills required are still more than technical, and a mechanical QA based on histograms, etc., doesn't begin to cover it.

I'm not knocking the volunteers, just saying that there's a good reason for more skilled practitioners to step into the fray.


Stan, which one of these is a more painful reminder of what one has lost: a photo that is burned and scratched beyond most of its recognition, or a retouch that someone made, out of the kindness of their heart, that may not come 100% of the way back to the (again, almost entirely lost) original photo, but at least restores 80-90% of it reasonably well?

And sometimes, thought IS all that counts. This project isn't just about materials, it's also about sending important intangible messages of people's willingness to set aside their own lives and help others in any way that they can.

Edited 4 minutes after posting

To each his own I guess, but I am proud of OPR and what we give back. It started with two photojournalist and here is a link to video done after one of their trips in o6 to help those hit by Hurricane Katrina: The video and the picture above tell the true story as does the video on the home page done by The Weather Channel.

Stan, I have no doubt that you are skilled in doing restoring the old way, but what I don't understand is how you can put yourself on a pedestal and write this about us: "I can do better. And that means I have to." But yet when we send you a photo to restore we have to send it back for you to color correct. Then you reply by email: "I left one of the healing layers off when I made that last JPG I sent you, and a large dark patch on her chin magically re-appeared. I'm not normally one to be in such a hurry I make mistakes. . ." We are still waiting for the final outcome and correction on the girl's hair.

1 upvote

You might have made mention of that -- specifically the hair. I was instructed not to make up any details ("no retouching"), and the areas in question do not appear to be damage, just grainy highlights. But have it your way.


Is the second pic of Will and Carlton from the fresh prince?


scrup, are you a racist jerk?


Why so much doubt? I could retouch that first one. I sometimes spend hours on a single photograph to manipulate it, sometimes to make it nicer and sometimes for fun.

It just takes a lot of time, many "save as" copies, and an instinct to hit "control z" without much thought.

You also borrow from other photos. To recreate the leg and arm, you simply pose yourself in that position, then blend the images in various ways.


<I could retouch that first one.> Talk is cheap.


Mike, then do it.


LOL on the first way that is a legit repair...LOL!!!


I hate to bust your bubble, but it is legit and I'm sure if you looked at the blue channel in Photoshop you would see it as a no brainier.

I would like to add that none of the photos used in this article were approved by Operation Photo Rescue, but lifted off the site. We would have chosen different ones, but then it would have spoiled your fun, eh guys?

Margie Hayes
President of Operation Photo Rescue


Thank you for your efforts, Margie. You and your volunteers are offering an awesome service.

Daniel Lauring

Why Margie, is your website showing a portfolio of unapproved photos?!?! Why not show the approved ones?


Daniel, those on the portfolio were approved. Some of them dated back to 2006. The volunteers can post their photos to the Before/After Gallery as seen from a drop down on the Forum and sometimes those will get posted before Quality Control has the final say. For Example: A volunteer finished his/her restore and the distributor Okays it, but much later (QC only views the photos when all of the families are in) and QC finds some problems and does some tweaking. OPR has restored over 9,000 photos with only 3 distributors and two in Quality Control; I think we have done one heck of good job. It's easy to be an armchair expert, but another to actually pitch in. I also find it unusual to have an article written and images lifted without our permission. All the photos on our website have permission granted for our use only. Most who do articles want a good copy and have the color profile embedded.


1 upvote

I am suspecting that the first "rescue" is fake. But some expert opinions would be appreciated.


Not at all. You may be surprised at what can be done, especially if you have control of the scan. (Not the case with OPR — there's simply too much to do, so spending an hour getting each scan perfect and high-depth isn't practical.)

Once you have recovered what *is* there, filling in the blanks simply takes a different set of skills than a photographer typically uses. There are things you can be sure of and can reconstruct from references. Other things might simply be good, informed guesses (and how much guessing you can do depends on the nature of the restoration: does it need to be historically accurate, etc.). That takes artistic skill as much as Photoshop skill.

I'd suggest reading Ctein's "Digital Restoration from Start to Finish" to get an idea of what's possible (and what's permissible). You can't really cover it all in one book, but that one's a good start.


Stan, you seem to have so much misinformation on how we operate. For one thing we do NOT scan as the quality is not as good as you get from high end digital camera on a copy stand with lights and correct white balance set. A scanner would make things worse on photos that have silvering--with those it helps to have both the lights and lens with a polarizing filter. If we were to go on a copy run with an intake of 500 to 1,000 damaged photos consisting of some stuck to glass and others over-sized--scanning would be a disaster. I also find humorous your comment about not getting each scan perfect. Take a look at this link to a video by BBC of the OPR run at SVA. Granted this was a first to have copy stands of this caliber, but thought you might like to see what I call "high-depth."

1 upvote

I like the damaged originals better.


Don't feed the troll.


It does not matter if you like it or not. The main question is, are the victims glad to have such a restoration or not. And while it is free of charge it is something like a present. If you do not like it, you will discard it but the one who give the gift is hoping the receiver will enjoy the present.
And I think most victims of such tragedies are glad with most restorations. (to prevent more pain and sorrow the pictures should be restored with some dignity, I agree :-) Hopefully most victims will be helped by this!


That is true......but this post processing images give unlimited another options for different purpose.


Poweruser (no arrogance there),
Who cares that you like the damaged originals better?

Total comments: 38
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