Bringing New Life to Old Photos

Growth in digital photography options gives local photographer a renewed passion for his craft

By Todd Etshman

Steven Baldwin

Time waits for no one — nor does it wait for your photographs unless they were stored properly, printed on archival paper, kept out of the sunlight and out of a moisture laden basement.

Even then there’s no guarantee that treasured photo of the 1930 Yankees, the college fraternity, your parents or all your favorite photos, won’t fade, crack, stain and break down one way or another as the years go by.

Here to help restore those photos to look like new — or at least better than they were — is Studio Astute in Fairport and Steven Baldwin, 75, a Rochester photographer working well past retirement. That’s because he likes it.

“My camera is a high-res Canon. The secret to the quality of my copies is my lighting. I use Polarizing filters on my lights to remove virtually all the glare and allow for maximum tonal range,” he said.

“There are all sorts of other things I might do to do the job right. Sometimes I end up blending several exposures taken different ways. It all depends on what it will take to do the job right,” he added.

Baldwin said his photography career may not have been lucrative monetarily, but it definitely was rich in personal satisfaction. Cars and pets are subjects he never tired of photographing and still does today.

“Life as a commercial photographer is both intellectually and physically challenging. Lugging heavy equipment around to location shoots and long days on my feet were signs it was time to slow down,” said the veteran photographer who grew up in Connecticut and graduated from RIT with a degree in photography in 1969.

Not long after that, he decided to remain in the region he came to love.

“Here you can milk cows in the morning and take in the symphony orchestra in the afternoon,” he said of the diverse number of activities and opportunities our region presents.

The growth in digital photography options gave him a renewed passion for his craft. He’s finding more digital options all the time and enjoys passing his knowledge onto his customers.

“I was beginning to spend much more time in front of a computer screen than behind a camera. And I was discovering all sorts of possibilities that really intrigued me,” he said of his new focus on photo restoration, which isn’t really photo restoration at all since the customer gets the original back in the same condition he left it.

What it is, is a new digital photograph of the original with all the fixes and style and additions or subtractions the customer wants in the facsimile of the original. Baldwin isn’t sure what else to call it exactly.

And while some of his commercial photography assignments were a little less than exciting, many of his photo restoration projects definitely are exciting to Baldwin and his customers.

Take for example, historical photos. Baldwin studies what people in history looked like and can make a face to replace one that time, mishaps or lack of care took out of a photograph.

It all depends on what the customer wants. Baldwin will create the new photo based on the customer’s desire and expectations.

Want to make your photo into giclee art or in an impressionist style? Baldwin can do that and more. There are all kinds of options for customers who want to try a new look or a new old look.

Veteran photographer Steven Baldwin graduated from RIT with a degree in photography in 1969. Part of what he does today is photo restoration. Above are some before-and-after photos he restored.

Alas, however, not every photo can be restored or brought back to life. Baldwin will tell customers if that’s the case and if anything can be done to improve the photo.

The Epson photographic paper he uses will last a long time — longer than Baldwin himself, he said, assuming it’s cared for properly.

As Baldwin explained, he’s not the only one that does this kind of work, but he may be the best.

“You can’t get this at Walgreens or your local drug store,” he said.

Scott’s Photo on East Avenue is one that gets his approval and the only legitimate one that he knows of, he said.

Most who attempt this kind of photo restoration work, do it from a scanned image supplied by the customer meaning they don’t get to see the original and that could result in a misleading interpretation of the image.

You can even try doing some digital-based photo restoration with programs available on your own computer, but as you can see for yourself, it’s tough for an amateur to beat a professional like Baldwin.

More information on Baldwin’s photography services and photo restoration may be found on his website, www.studioastute.com.