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Reducing Paper Texture

In the early to mid twentieth century, photographic supply companies offered dozens of black-and-white papers. Many of these were textured, which looked interesting at the time, but are a nightmare to scan and retouch today.

The secret to minimizing paper texture without getting too many gray hairs is to compromise—let the unimportant image areas blur out and concentrate your efforts on the important image areas. The following technique uses a combination of blurred and masked layers with spotting retouch layers to achieve the final results. Because each image is unique and a large variety of paper textures exists, there are no quick fixes or easy answers to this problem. Figure 5.46 shows the original scan and Figure 5.47 is the retouched version.

Figure 5.46Figure 5.46 Before


Figure 5.47Figure 5.47 After


  1. Duplicate the original layer and apply a Gaussian Blur with a high radius setting to blur the image so that the texture disappears as seen in Figure 5.48.

  2. Figure 5.48Figure 5.48 Blurring the texture.

  3. Add a layer mask and use a large, soft black brush set to 50%–75% opacity to paint back the important image areas. In Figure 5.49, I have painted back the little girl's face and sweater while leaving the unimportant background blurred.

  4. Figure 5.49Figure 5.49 Painting on the mask to hide the blur effect on the little girl's face.

  5. You can move between the textured and the soft version of an image by using a low-opacity white Airbrush on the dark areas of the layer mask. In this example, I used a 20% white Airbrush on the layer mask to paint back some of the softness onto the little girl's skin, as seen in Figure 5.50.

  6. Figure 5.50Figure 5.50 The softness of the child's skin can be airbrushed back in by working on the layer mask.

  7. Increasing the contrast in the little girl's eyes, mouth, and hair will draw the viewer's eye away from the unimportant image areas. As shown in Figure 5.51, I increased the image contrast with a Levels Adjustment Layer.

  8. Figure 5.51Figure 5.51 Bring the viewer's attention to the child's face by selectively increasing the image contrast. Start by applying a global contrast adjustment.

  9. Fill the Levels Adjustment Layer layer mask with black and use a small, soft, white brush on the Levels mask to trace over the eye contours, mouth, and a few hair strands. This paints in the added contrast, as shown in Figure 5.52.

  10. To finish the image, use the Clone Stamp tool on an empty layer to clean up remaining texture or damage.

  11. Figure 5.52Figure 5.52 Painting on the layer mask adds the contrast on the facial features of the little girl.

Reducing Print Texture Before Retouching

Experiment with reducing print texture in the input stage with the following techniques. Please note that I used the word experiment—each print brings specific challenges in terms of texture, size, warping, how reflective the surface is, and other damage that needs to be de-emphasized. The time you use to experiment, make mistakes, and learn how to do copy work or scan a textured print will be well worth it in saved retouching hours.

  • When working with copy negatives, there are three techniques to make it easier to reduce texture and reflections: Make a copy negative or have a copy negative made of the print that you'll then scan in. When doing this copy work, use polarizing filters on the lights and the camera lens and look through the camera viewfinder as you turn the filter to see the effect as the lighter areas of the texture darken and lighten. Take the picture when the texture is least visible. Polarizing the light and lens also cuts down on irritating reflections on the print.

  • When making a copy negative, defocus the camera slightly to soften the texture.

  • As Wayne Palmer, of Palmer Multimedia Imaging, explains, "A case can be made for a digital-copy negative versus scanning or using film. I have had very good results shooting an image with a Nikon CoolPix 990 and the Nikon SB-24 flash and then retouching the digital file. To light the print with soft diffuse light and avoid any reflections, I rotate the flash head up so that light is bouncing off a large white surface at about a 45° angle to the image. This method doesn't work with images under glass, in which case I would use my conventional lights, medium format film, and copy stand."

  • When you're scanning an image, try either of these methods: Place the print on the flatbed platen on an angle. Experiment with angles and use the scan, in which the light that bounces off of the print makes the texture least visible.

  • Use the descreen function in the scanner software to reduce the texture. You'll need to experiment with the best descreen settings for your prints and your scanner software.

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