Serious Business

To have a job that is supposed to make revenue plus being creative is sometimes a hard task.

Many times my arty side gets left behind a little bit, while I’m dealing with the daily grind of paperwork and online presence and accounting … shudder.

My young one is an apt photographer with a very good eye, and as you learn best when you do something instead of just reading about it, we have started doing little fun projects together. They usually don’t take long to plan and to see through.

Enjoy our results in the series ‘Glue Stick Pendulum’.

And don’t forget to have some fun every once in a while ;)


Beneath the Surface

Sometimes, looking at a photo straight on, will not reveal any damage, as you can see with this image. Looks fine, doesn’t it?


Not so when you start tilting it slowly in the reflection of light. Suddenly we had to discover severe scratches, mainly on the face. It is impossible to determine how they have been caused. One can only speculate that the photo had at some stage been stored together with an object that has sharp edges. Maybe it was in an envelope, together with such an object.


The photo hasn’t faded and other than a slight crease in the top right corner and those nasty scratches there is nothing more to do.

This is the fixed image, and its new print is now safely stored away in an album.



It is quite astonishing, how many people have had a really bad experience with a photographer. This subject came up a lot with people around me in recent weeks.

The photographers in question were everything from the stand in the mall to the high-end studio photographer and the one that had been hired to cover an event.

Having turned my hobby into a business that is supposed to create revenue, I am very much taking to heart every criticism that is being made against my fellow photographer colleagues.

Reasons for the clients unhappiness varies, but in essence, the main complaints are T I C:

T = Time Consuming as in endless shoots, slow work pace of the photographer, leaving the client with sore jaws from endless forced smiling, the children grumpy and the parents dreading the next time they attempt to get some nice photos for the grandparents. Terrible, meaning the photos that were given were considered to be inadequate, either because of their colour, their crop, their composition, or because they were simply bad photos.

I = Irritating: This could mean the shoot itself, that whole business of being ‘posed’ for photos and everything feeling ‘staged’ left clients feeling overly self-conscious and impatient. It also meant the way unselected photos of their precious children were simply thrown in the bin or deleted right in front of their eyes (which has happened to me, too, as a client, and I couldn’t agree more!), and the whole issue of paying extra for prints and not making them available digitally in any shape, way or form.

C = Complicated: for example the baby was grizzly at the newborn shoot and there was no way of rescheduling to a later date, the weather was horrid and the catch-up dates for the location shoot were inconvenient, the photographer growled at guests at the wedding who took photos with their phones

All the T I C‘s seem reasonable, but largely, they could have been avoided with the, you guessed it, T O Q‘s:

T = Transparency: obviously one would think that clients choose a photographer only after seeing his or her work, which means there should be no surprises in regards to whether the photographer likes to use special effects filters in the artistic stage or not, whether the photographer likes a tight crop with lots of emphasis on close-ups or whether the photographer never breaks the Rule of Thirds when framing the shot. Whichever way a client ends up discussing their requirements with their chosen photographer, any and all little details should be discussed. The photographer, being the professional, should be able to lead and explain exactly how he or she is intending to go about the shoot, everything from the setup to the finish, including details about rescheduling, delivery, contract and legal talk. Getting the basic things explained can be time consuming, and mostly, they are repeating themselves for every client, so it is understandable that many photographers have addressed this with information packets or introduction videos.

O = Open: after looking through the photographers online platforms, reading and watching any information provided (which unfortunately most clients do not seem to be doing), the client needs to be open. You don’t like the baby naked in all newborn shoots? Say it. You don’t like the charcoal grey background in the studio? Say it. You feel uncomfortable with the clothing tips that you have been given for the family portrait? Say it. If the photographer is a true professional neither of these things should throw him (or her) off balance. The baby can be wrapped or dressed, the dark blue background can equally be used, the clothing tips can be explained again (there are great colour charts available online that help with that). Some expectations may be unrealistic, as the one that I get all the time about posing and staging the shots. Unfortunately, unless the client is a supermodel and knows all about how to hold the head, place the feet, tilt the hip, work the jaw line and do the squinch, they will have to have a little bit of trust in their photographer to make them look good without overdoing it. No endless smiling in my shoots though, I can promise that :)

This point works two-ways though: the photographer needs to be open as well: if there are things they absolutely love to do, they should tell the client, like me, I have a thing for eyelashes, especially with kids, I always like to get some really, really close-up shots. They rarely end up in a frame on the wall, and they probably aren’t going to be Nan’s first pick either, but I love them, and they almost always make my final cut. Same with other people taking photos while I take photos: I don’t like it, when photographing groups, they are confused and don’t know where to look, and at events generally people get annoyed with too many people pointing cameras at them. I do make that clear long before they day, and I ask for cooperation from the client in that. It is not an unreasonable request, and it is not too difficult to let invited guests know that they cannot take photos while the hired photographer is there. I have had clients ask to take photos in the studio, while I work with their kids, which is fine with me. Those pictures usually end up in social media, and in the end could work in my favour :)

Which leaves us with Q = Questions: ask questions. I rather have clients ask too many questions than not enough. I always try to accommodate everything. It’s my job to establish their trust, otherwise they won’t be relaxed in the shoot, which will show in the photos, which is exactly not what anyone is after. We are trying to create a memory after all, from start to finished product.

So, how’s your TIC TOQ when it comes to photography?


A Soft Spot

I do love faces. Children are the easiest to photograph, adults much harder, and women the worst. They rarely like their appearance (I know the feeling!) and are generally incredibly nervous during a shoot and very critical after a shoot.

This 1400 Mitsubishi Galant is the car of a teacher at my young one’s school. It was parked in the back of the school every day, and we admired it during drop-offs and pick-ups. It probably sounds crazy, but I am sure it winked at us a couple of times, it has that much character! Finally, I took courage and got myself the permission to shoot this car.

I should probably say that I have a soft-spot for little cars, and I am driving myself the Galant’s follower model, the Mitsubishi Colt, which has the name Richard Lionheart. Yes, I do name my cars.

I spent a happy hour circling it with my camera, tripod and various lenses. A wonderful quiet and non-fidgety subject that wasn’t self-conscious for a change :)



Action Plan – Three – Storage and Cleaning

Action Plan – Three – Storage and Cleaning

Remember when I said: ‘Photographs will fade, no matter what you do. Paper will deteriorate, no matter what you do.’ But you can slow down the process by avoiding their exposure to heat, light, humidity and pollution.

Only way to do this is by storing them properly. Firstly, consider the place:

  • Areas with high risk of leaks should be avoided: this includes walk-in-robes or any cupboards which have a shower or laundry on the other side of their back wall. This also includes any roof space (attic) or areas under the house (basement, cellar, garage), as roofs can leak and cellars can flood in heavy rain.
  • Areas that get very hot and humid, followed by cold, dry temperatures should be avoided: again, this largely means any roof space and under the house.
  • Avoid areas around fireplaces, heaters, dryers etc.
  • A good rule of thumb is storing precious photographs and documents where you are also comfortable, not too hot, cold, wet or dry: usually the living-room, the bedroom or even the home office.

Secondly, think about what to use to store everything: There are many good and save options for storing photographs and documents, depending entirely on your personal preference and your budget.

  • Archival boxes: Boxes can be out of metal, cardboard (lignin free, acid free, un-buffered cardboard) or plastic (Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethylene or Tyvek plastic, but not PVC, which is the plastic with the strong smell, so a box from the Dollar Shop won’t do).
  • Albums: They are the most popular storage medium for photographs. Simple acid-free and magnetic-free slip-in albums are a great option to both keep your photos save and be able to look at them without directly touching them. Again, make sure you choose an album made of Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethylene or Tyvek plastic, but not PVC. Archival storage albums are more expensive than conventional albums, but they can well be worth the investment. They are available at most archival suppliers (and here), some office supply stores and good quality scrap booking places.
  • Envelopes: good quality acid-free, high alpha-cellulose papers that are buffered against changes in pH have proven to be most satisfactory for enclosing photographs and documents. Avoid envelopes with the seam down the center and make sure the glue of the lip does not touch the photo, ideally, just cut the lip off.


Now it’s time to look at the state of your photographs and documents. It is certainly not necessary and not really the idea to make an old document look absolutely new and pristine, however, gentle surface cleaning sometimes improves the overall appearance, and it can also remove substances that could eventually cause damage to the paper or be transferred to other papers during handling.

Just to clarify at this point: When I talk about ‘documents’ I am referring to manuscripts, letters, maps. This does not include newspapers, books of any type or fine art prints, drawings or paintings. I have no expertise in any of those, and I would not consider them for any type of DIY surface cleaning. If you need advice on that, please consult a professional conservator.

Tools for Surface Cleaning

Brush: a clean, soft brush is great for giving dusty photographs or documents a gentle wipe over. The brush used for surface cleaning should not be used for anything else. If a brush was used on mouldy material it should be labelled and kept separate and not used for anything else. Never use the brush wet.

Scalpel: a scalpel with a pointed tip or a craft knife are excellent for picking off little insects or insect excretions as well as rust deposits, as they would be left by rusted paper clips. These rusty stains are not only ugly but could also be an ongoing source of damage to the paper. It is a good idea to very carefully remove them. Needless to say to be very, very, very gentle when using a scalpel on a photograph, you don’t want to scratch the surface.

Erasers: good quality erasers can do wonders. Best would be a non-coloured one, these are available as solid blocks and in kneadable form. These kinds are used for art purposes and are available in good art stores. Ask a shop assistant for help if you’re not sure, as there are many types. With erasers it is important to use them very gently only and make sure to not leave any residues. Again, be very careful with photographs. Generally, I avoid using an eraser on the photo itself, but I have used them on the white frames around old photographs and on their backs to remove some dirt and pencil writing.

Sticky tapes and any sort of glue are a nightmare. Sticky tape can stick things together that are not meant to stick. Old sticky tape falls off but leaves ugly marks and the residue keeps eating away on the materials underneath. Use the scalpel or craft knife to cut away sticky tape that is already loose. Other than that there is not much you can do, resist the urge to scratch it off! Learn the lesson and never, ever use sticky tapes or glue on your documents or photos!

Mildly mouldy documents or photographs definitely need a surface clean. Mould goes dormant in low humidity, so don’t attempt this in sticky Australian summer months when humidity is high: use gloves and a particle mask (from the hardware store), separate all items and spread them out in a well ventilated room, away from children and pets, and let them dry. Mould is dry when not smeary or smelly. Brush off the mould with a separate dry brush, don’t forget to wear your mask. Dealing with mould is a delicate process and requires careful work hygiene to avoid contamination. If you decide you have too many items that are mouldy, consider digitizing them as they are, and then disposing of them altogether. If you are going ahead with the process of cleaning them, remember to check back on them regularly, as mould is often dormant, but not dead, and can bloom again in high humidity. At all times, keep them separate from your non-infected documents and photographs.

This is a big subject, I hope I didn’t scare you too much ;)   Next one will be more fun, I promise.

Coming soon: Action Plan – Four – Digitizing and Labelling

Read the first two posts about Action Plan here and here.



I am no Michelangelo

Just finished this digital restoration the other day.

Obviously the original had a few issues, the biggest problem the missing arm of the subject. Then some water damage, the most visible being the stain on the ladies forehead. And a few little rips and scratches.

I was intrigued by the photo because of the blouse, I keep saying that patterned clothing in restorations will be the death of me one day ;) – they can be very tedious, but I never had stripes. I also loved the intricate stitching on the neck. I wanted to bring that detail out a bit more.

First I fixed the little rips and scratches. Then I fixed the arm. When I say ‘fixed’, really, I re-painted it digitally – awww the things you can do in Photoshop …  It took a bit of tweaking, to get the folds of the fabric right, I actually hang a shirt of my husband and arranged the arm in such a way that I could see the folds. I am no Michelangelo, he was a true genius with the folds of clothing, but I am happy how it turned out.

Then I took care of all the water stains. I then turned the image black&white, but gave it a bit of sepia, to keep the warmth. I spent a lot of time cleaning up little pixellation specks on the face, and then sharpening the eyes, the hair, the white lines on the blouse and especially the neck piece. I decided to not work much more on the background, to keep it, well, in the background.

Lastly, I gave the image a slight vignette, to darken the edges and draw the eye on the face. What do you think?



One Lake View

I hope this blog post finds you all well.

Just a quick one, so that you know I’m still here. Very busy at the moment, daily at the lake or the beach or in the studio. Not enough time in the day, but enjoying every second of it.

This image is a recent one going into my ‘Lake Views’ collection. Gorgeous sunset, I was running late (got held up at the kids’ soccer) and was racing down to the Reserve and started snapping as soon as I jumped out of the car. Took about 2 minutes for the red and the sun to be gone, and the day to be over.



Action Plan – Two – Handling and Sorting

The last post explained how to assess the collection of old photos and documents that somehow ended up in your possession. In this post I will get into details on how to handle your old photos and documents. Most are common sense, but some might surprise you.

  • Have a clean area to work in, ideally near a large window, for light. Don’t sit in the sun and don’t turn on any artificial light. Generally avoid exposing the items to light as much as you can, so if you intend to work on them today, do it, and then tidy them up again. Don’t leave them lying around for days on end.
  • No food or drink anywhere near your working area, please.
  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling any items, and many times in-between (to be using cotton gloves is a bit of a myth it turns out, for which I am glad, because it’s really hard to sort through anything paper while wearing them: ‘Misconceptions about White Gloves‘).
  • Carefully flatten folded photos and documents. There are ways to separate them if they are sticking together. I have read about them, but I’ve never had to use them. ‘How to Flatten Folded or Rolled Paper Documents‘.
  • Hold at the edges only.
  • Remove staples, paper clips, rubber bands, sticky envelopes.
  • If you must write on your items, do so with a light pencil only, don’t press down too hard. Write legible, someone might have to pick up the work after you, don’t make their job harder because they cannot read your notes.
  • Use plastic sleeves when documents are too brittle to be handled without support. They should be enclosed but not encapsulated.
  • Never laminate papers or photographs.
  • Do not use glues or sticky tape to mend ripped items.

When sorting larger amounts of photographs, I find that initially spreading them out on our very large dinner table is the best way to go. Then I might sort them by occasion (wedding), chronologically or even by amount of deterioration eg. all undamaged photos first, then gradually getting worse.

In this initial sorting stage you could just keep everything in large acid free envelopes (cut off the sticky bit, glues and papers don’t mix). Or you could already look into where you will put everything as a long-term storage solution: acid free folders and boxes, and chemically stable plastics. This is a big subject, and I will get into this more in the next post.

I have a couple of high quality archival boxes which fit A4 sizes. With acid free cardboard separators and lots of acid free paper in-between I can easily keep photos and documents sorted, labeled, and separate from each other. It helps to have things orderly, because it will likely be impossible to do everything you want to do with them in one week. I tend to keep photographs and documents separately.

For this task not to get too tedious and frustrating, set yourself achievable goals. Finish one step at a time and don’t be afraid to walk away from it all for a couple of weeks.

Once everything is sorted to your satisfaction, and you found a way to tidy items up properly and store them safely, it’s time for the next assessment: which of them and to what degree do they need a surface clean?

Action Plan – One

So it has happened. Because of a sad family loss or other tragic circumstances beyond your control you ended up being in possession of a shoebox full of old photos and documents.

You’ve looked through them. Faces, places, stories, that may be familiar to you. And very likely, you come to realize that this is a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. That’s what I thought when I ended up with lots of photos of my Grandmother from when she was young. I certainly recognized her, but who were the people in the photos with her? Why were they laughing? Where was this taken?

The documents you inherit may be old, fragile. The photos may be damaged, ripped, stained, moldy.

You’re thinking: “What on earth am I going to do with all this?”

First thing: Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. It happens all the time.

This post will be the first of a few that should help you get enough advice to get an idea of what may be involved in the process of assessing and storing old photos and documents.

In my experience, there are three categories of photos and documents:

1. They have no value other than that of the personal/sentimental kind, as it would be for family history. Their damage is minor, there is no mold present. The primary focus should be on getting them digitized, photos sorted and labeled and documents transcribed. This will ensure that should they deteriorate further or get lost, you have saved them for the family. Digitizing also means that you can share them with family that might not be living close by you. Sharing files online is an awesome advantage of our digital age. Once digitized, sorted and transcribed, the originals need to be stored correctly.

2. If you suspect the photos or documents to have collector’s value, you may want to get an appraisal for them. If their value is minor, you don’t intend to handle them much but still want to keep them save, you might want to follow the steps above. If their value is substantial and the plan is to handle them frequently, I strongly suggest you consult a conservator.

3. The whole lot is moldy and smells. This is a health hazard. I hope you were wearing a particle mask and gloves while flicking through them! Keep the moldy stuff well away from anything else, before it contaminates everything in its surroundings, and please consult a professional conservator ASAP.

Understand this: Photographs will fade over time, no matter what you do. Paper will deteriorate, no matter what you do. But you can slow down the process by avoiding their exposure to light, heat, humidity and pollution.

The photo below shows some snippets from a collection of about 20 letters from WW1, that I had the great honour of digitizing recently. This involved preparation of the previously folded letters for photographing, by carefully flattening crushed edges and pressing them overnight between acid-free sheets of paper, building a suitable document stand with a large white background, photographing them by daylight, without direct sun and no flash or any other artificial lighting sources. They were in very good condition so only needed some basic digital retouching to increase contrast and enhance the faded ink. Lastly they were all saved on a USB thumb drive, for their owner to share with the family.

One hundred year old letters. It was very moving to read what young men so long ago wrote home to their families.

So if you’re tempted to just shove that shoebox back into the back of the closet: don’t. It’s someone’s history. Treat it right.


The Best Job in the World

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” Elbert Hubbard

Living the dream of turning a passion into a business sounds like the best decision in the world. But amidst the daily grind of office work & bookkeeping the passion can sometimes get buried under paperwork. Literally.

When that happens it’s high time to take a step back and remind yourself why you started on this ‘business journey’ in the first place.

I find that the best way to rekindle some of the fire within is to embark on a personal project.

For me it usually involves photos. Go figure ;)

But then of course, being a creative person, it’s never as easy as this. Because I have so many ideas that it’s actually hard to decide on just one. I confess there are quite a few projects hanging around in my head, some got started, some are still in the planning phase. Deciding on which one to do and sticking with it till the end is really hard. But every now and then I actually do finish one! Proud moment, sweet success!

This photo shows a project I did a few years back, where I scanned lots of photos of myself and my husband from the years before kids -yes, they did exist, the kids were amazed ;) – and had them printed on this 30×50″ canvas.

It hangs in the hallway and is a constant talking point. Lots of memories, lots of love. It keeps reminding me why I decided to make my passion my business and that I do have the best job in the world.





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