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Book Review: "Digital Restoration from Start to Finish" by Ctein

200703we_digrestoreBy Theano Nikitas

At first glance, you might think that this is a book about retouching images and, in a sense it is. But then you’d be underestimating not only the contents but the author’s intent to school his readers in the art of digital restoration. With the inclusion of restoration techniques for prints, slides, negatives, newspaper clippings and even black-and-white glass plate negatives, "Digital Restoration From Start to Finish: How to Repair Old and Damaged Photographs" (Focal Press,, $39.95) could just as easily be found on the bookshelf of a photo restoration expert in the Library of Congress as on the desk of a digital photographer.

Thoughtful initial chapters provide insight into and about the challenges and considerations that need to be taken into account before embarking on a restoration project. From there, Ctein examines hardware and software requirements, with enough neutrality that neither Mac nor Windows users will be offended. The book is Windows-based, however, because some of the plug-ins he prefers are Windows-only, but since Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2 is used extensively in his examples, the book is essentially cross-platform.

As he states in his introduction, he has organized the book to simulate a workflow but it’s easy to pick and choose only the pieces you need via how-to listings with page references at the end of the table of contents. If you choose to go with the workflow, you won’t be disappointed, even considering the book’s 400-plus pages of text and illustrations.

Throughout the book, Ctein offers valuable guidance from the broadest considerations down to the tiniest detail. Prepping/cleaning images for scanning is followed by some interesting and eye-opening suggestions on how to scan different types of media for optimum restoration.

Color restoration, improving skin tone and other similar tasks are generally accomplished using curves in Adobe Photoshop. If you’re not comfortable working with curves, you will be by the time you get through this book. 

Naturally, repairing scratches, tears and other physical damage are covered as well. To round out the workflow, Ctein devotes a few chapters to outputting and archiving prints and files.

Although well-illustrated, with legible screenshots and real-world photographic examples (available online so you can follow along), the book is extremely text-heavy. I enjoy Ctein’s writing—both its style and content—but sometimes found it difficult to get to the exact steps I needed to take in Photoshop to make a correction.

Nonetheless, this self-proclaimed perfectionist (a trait that more authors should acquire) has the expertise and writing skills to guide us through the often challenging restoration process and to point out critical details that many of us would otherwise overlook. Even if your bookshelf is full, if you have any interest in restoration, you need to make room for one more.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, which I have been since I first saw his name in the CompuServe photo forum many years ago, the author’s name is pronounced kuh-TINE. Just be prepared to spell Ctein when you go into a bookstore.

Digital Restoration From Start to Finish:
How to Repair Old and Damaged Photographs
$39.95; Focal Press;