Photo Restoration Project: Best Friends, Fading in a Garden Window

A dear friend of mine, who recently turned 80, had had this photo in her garden window for a very long time. She's on the left, and is still in touch with the little girl pictured with her. Let's just say, sunshine and old photos are not a good combination.

She asked me if I could rescue this photo:


Happily, the answer was yes. 

Claudine restoration

Don't let your precious memories fall prey to the ravages of time. By all means display them but do consider getting them restored and preserved on high quality archival paper before the details fade away.  If you would like me to help, drop me an email (laura @ laurayoungphotography . com).

The Only Surviving Portrait of a Grandfather

A person with one single photo to remember them by. That's tough to wrap one's mind around in this day of Selfies Gone Wild, isn't it?

The gentleman in this portrait is the maternal grandfather of the same client whose father I shared with you earlier. It's a marvelous photo, small (2x3 inches maybe) but very well done back in the 1920's. (Which makes it 90 years old or so.) The restoration was going to be cleanup of the odd scratches and specks with a wee bit of tonal adjustment while prepping it for enlargement.


I've really come to appreciate these photos for the skill of the photographers who had to get it right in the days when film, large equipment and cumbersome processing were required. We've grown so soft in this day of digital photography where we can take countless photos in the blink of an eye and delete them without a penny leaving our pockets. And they can be distributed far and wide with no expense at all (for better or worse).

Back in the day, the portrait was in investment and care was taken that it be treated as the special event it was.  It was an occasion to look one's best for and to treat with respect. After all, it may be the only portrait a person ever has taken.

And that is exactly the case with the dignified and handsome gentleman you see above. This is the only photograph my client has of her grandfather, a man she never met. In fact, her own mother never met him.

As Christy tells his story:

My grandfather was a farmer in southern Indiana, along with his five brothers.   He worked in the coal mines at night and then farmed all day long.  The corn was late coming out the fields in 1927/1928 so he was out harvesting corn by hand in late Dec with his brothers.  He came in and told my grandmother he didn't feel well and was going to lie down.  He took off his boots, laid in the bed and died two weeks later of pneumonia. 

He was just 28 years old. 

My grandmother was three months pregnant with my mom when he died. The night of his death, he told her she would have a girl and that he would like to name her.  Mary Margaret was born in June of that year.  She never met her father, my grandfather.  The only picture she has of him is the one you worked on and restored and a copy of his World War I draft card he signed that I got off

After he passed, my grandmother remarried and left for Tennessee, raising my mother there. My mom met my father there, his family having been in the south since the late 1700's.

And now, for the restoration...

Grandfather final restore

And do know that photo restoration does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Major repairs can be time consuming but for high quality shots that just need some mild damage repair, you may be surprised to find this work well within your reach. Even more challenging projects can be more affordable than you might expect. And when you are looking at a single, fragile remnant of a life long since passed, isn't it worth preserving while you can?

Have a project you would like me to look at? My email is

This WWII Photo Restoration Project Has Left Me in Awe

Did you see the prior photo restoration project I posted?  The one where this:

IMG_20151127_0003 became this...

Jeep restor final

Well, first, you should know that I have really awesome and astute friends because without them I just might have missed out on a truly remarkable story.

After I shared the original post on Facebook, one of my friends noted that the Jeep's name was Katie (just beneath the windshield there) and that the paratrooper (the father of the woman who asked me for the restoration)  was wearing the Screaming Eagle shoulder patch of the 101st Airborne. That was the unit that inspired the book and movie, "Band of Brothers."

Christy (the daughter) quickly confirmed and added, "He jumped in behind enemy lines the night before D-day on a suicide mission."

I'm sorry but what did you say???

I will admit that I felt a little like a dufus for not having asked for more of this gentleman's history. I was so focused on the restoration that I literally missed the hero for the trees!

And when I say hero, I mean HERO.

Christy went on to share:

He was in every major battle the 101st airborne had in WWII and is in the famous picture with Eisenhower who met the 101st before they jumped in before D-Day.  The generals calculated the 101st would suffer 90% casualty rate so they flew in steak and ice cream for them before they left.  Kinda like a last meal.  My dad jumped in ahead of the invasion behind German enemy lines to set up beacons for the other paratroopers who were going to be dropped later and to wreak havoc with the Germans.  It was a suicide mission and they told them that so they only took guys who volunteered.  My dad of course volunteered, cause he was that kind of man.  He told me he could see the D-Day ships lined up and out on the ocean coming to the beaches the night before.  He stated he never saw so many ships in his life and he felt sorry for those poor bastards landing on those beaches.

From there he want to Carentan, Holland, and then was called up to go to Bastogne.  As the other troops were leaving Bastogne, the 101st was going up. By then that unit was battled hardened, seasoned veterans.   He was in the perimeter of Bastogne, in foxholes repealing the German panzer divisions.  
He received his Bronze Star for Bastogne.  He and his buddy allowed panzer tanks to roll over them and expose a the tanks underbelly where the armour wasn't as thick and they would destroy the tanks hitting that spot.  The Americans at that time had no weapons to pierce the German panzer tanks so you had to hit them in a certain spot.  My dad and his buddy knocked out six panzer tanks. He also met Patton when he liberated Bastogne along with the air-force who dropped supplies to them.  Funny, generals and other big shots never impressed my dad.
After Bastogne, he fought in the Ardennes Forest which was terrible.  He said it was almost as bad as Bastogne.  He then fought his way to Germany and Berchtesgaden where Hitler's mountain home was.   After that, he was training to be sent to Japan then the war ended, thank goodness. 
He never spoke of the war until much later in his life, around his late 70's when we were out in the fields farming together.  It changed my dad forever.  My mom said when he stepped off the train from coming home, she knew he was not the same man she married and that never changed back.  My sister was already 3 years old and had never seen him!   
Not all the casualities are left on the battlefields.  My dad never said he or any of the others were heroes, just doing their job.  He said the heroes where the ones who didn't come back.  
Quite a bit to absorb, isn't it? And there is more...flashing forward, Christy added:
I was in the army, stationed in Germany where my dad fought years before and my son was born on German soil.   You never know, do you.   My son was very special to my dad and they had a close relationship.  I bet he never thought a grandkid of his would be born on German soil after the war.
I enjoyed doing photo restoration before but this has taken it to a whole new level for me. I'm fascinated, honored, intrigued and feel incredibly privileged to be able to bring these photos back to life. Christy said they brought tears to the eyes of those who received them as gifts this past Christmas. That touched me very much. Prior to my working on them, Christy had the only copies.
My friend, Peter, said it so well,
"Some of this material wasn't treated well by our parents. Some of our fathers did not think that their WWII experiences were anything extraordinary enough to merit special consideration. Some of them even preferred to not be reminded of times that could be considered the "good old days" only if you weren't there. But for the sake of family history and indeed, for the history of the world, they should be preserved."
I'll show you a restoration I did of Christy's maternal grandfather in a coming post. And yes, he, too, has quite a story.
In the meantime, if you would like to see if I can help you preserve some of your photos as well, please don't hesitate to contact me. Email

Basically Hawks Take Bird Feeding to a Whole New Level

So, Friday I had a pet sitting 'meet and greet' with two adorable yellow labs. The five month old basically flipped over all the smells in our woods. As we were touring the dogs over our acre, I realized my comment to their 'mom' that, "Oh, we must have had a hawk come by. That's why there are all these feathers all over," probably seemed oddly casual.

The fact is, though, we see a lot of life AND death on this acre so finding the odd bit of this or that isn't too unusual.

Just this morning, Scott stepped outside for a second right as a red-tailed hawk was swooping over the lawn. I was trying to see where it went in the trees when it swooped down again. Scott thought he saw it grab something small, possibly a mouse, but I suspect it may have been the sparrow that had met a bad ending with our window earlier.  Whatever it had, it must have been just an appetizer portion because then, this...

Red tail
Um, sitting ON the bird feeder. Yeah, real subtle.

I was actually surprised to see this guy because I was expecting our Cooper's hawk. (I add a personal possessive to every animal I see out there because they are family.) Now, I'm no hawk but when you sit on top of the bird feeder, you basically lose the element of surprise, right? Right. So, up to the tree it flew.

Red tail 1
Woman, why don't you just wash those dishes and leave me to my hunting?

 Didn't take long for it to realize that it had effectively cleared out the buffet spread at the newly filled feeders. On to the neighbors!

Red tail 2
Fine, I'll just scope out the neighbor's feeders then. No big whoop. Later.



Oh, To Be the Jim Brandenburg of West Chicago

That is my dream and it's going to stay a dream unless I put in the work to achieve it.

First, some background...I've known of Jim for many, many years. He was a National Geographic photographer for many years and lives in Northern Minnesota in the Boundary Waters area (Ely). In his retirement years from NatGeo, he's basically spent years hiking the land he loves and is THE photographer for all things wolf.

He's done some really wonderful projects along the way, including one that was set up in private, for himself, simply to help himself fall in love with photography again after having it be a job for so long. That project became the book, Chased by the Light, (with a documentary video you can view here). It has stayed with me for many years for a few reasons. First, the photos are absolutely stunning. Secondly, the video showed me I was looking at a kindred spirit. His choice of shooting a photo of a feather rather than the rainbow...the way he is always holding something in his hand, be it a stick, a feather, a rock...a habit I had long recognized in myself.  I have no idea why he does that, or why I do. I just know that there is something in both of us that interacts with the world in the same way. Who knows? Maybe I'm not the only one to come home with a deer vertebra in my vest pocket.

Great horned owl feathers
Great horned owl feathers, found strewn over the forest floor.

But here is a key difference between Jim Brandenburg and I:

He followed that one passion of his...immersion in nature with camera in hand and made himself a life with it. I, on the other hand, have not.

Part of me likes to fantasize that I would have if only I lived where it was so beautiful. I love the sound of loons. And the call of wolves. I've been in that area many times (my husband is a Minnesotan) and have yet to feel like I've been able to fill up on the beauty and wildness there as much as I long to. (Family is the reason we visit there so the nature treks are very fleeting and brief if they occur at all.)

So, basically I have had a silent, wistful envy of Jim for decades. He's the only person on the planet I would want to trade places with if we could do a temporary life swap although I'm sure the reverse life-swap commute would have him collapsing at the thought.

In fact, there are times that I watch myself on days that might be too Facebook rich (now there is an oxymoron for you) and I'll think, "If Jim Brandenburg were doing this right now, I'd be furious with him!" Or, if he were an accountant. Or a retail manager. Or anything other than out in the woods. He's as close to a wolf pack in the wild as I will ever be and I want to have that closeness, if only through his lens.

And that brings me to this little acre my husband and I live on, and all the tracks of every animal that lives in our region pattered across it.

I live abutting a forest preserve...not really a pretty preserve because it is severely degraded (not to mention absolutely crawling with ticks) but, still, I've seen many a coyote there. I've found the remnants of kills. I've seen several skeletons of deer after a field underwent a prescription burn. I've seen great horned owls more times than I can count. We have foxes. Deer. A muskrat den in the far end of the wetland behind us.

Sure, they aren't wolves and loons, but still, we have some stunning creatures here.

Ergret in cattails
Great Egrets visit our marsh regularly.

And that is what caused me to say to Scott one day, "Why couldn't I be the Jim Brandenburg of West Chicago?"

Sure, I'd have to up my photo skills. But in terms of my inclinations and innate ability to stay in one place, silent and observing and respectful...the thought of that immersion sounds like heaven to me. It's a matter of what I prioritize.

Coyote1 wm
Okay, this isn't a wolf, but you have to admit, this is one good looking coyote.



Jim came back onto my radar screen when a friend informed me of a project he's been doing. Nature365 TV features short daily video clips of Jim's treks. They are stunning, and under a minute each so you have no excuse not to subscribe. Kate said she didn't know if I had heard of him, not realizing just how much of an (unacted upon) inspiration he has been for me.

And that little share by Kate led to me making this little clip of snow falling on our marsh.

I know it is a far cry from Jim's quality, but it was a step for me to even think to do it. And then I got a clip of a coyote loping across the snow...a lovely clip that I accidentally deleted because basically I am totally not Jim, but more of a dorky bumbling wannabe.

But still, I did take it and I won't delete another accidentally again, I promise you that.

AND, a neighbor with a different view on the marsh is giving me access to her vantage point so I have my first 'remote viewing camp' two doors down. Not exactly roughing it but the marsh is surrounded by our houses so there IS no roughing it to view what happens here. There is just devotion to watching. And to learning how to use your dang camera.

And maybe between dog visits, I'll protect my time better so I can get out into the woods in earnest. I hope I do.

A Longevity Day Celebration

So, a friend of mine (the lovely Julie Dorsey-Oskerka, President of the A Sound Beginning Program which you dog folks definitely want to know about), contacted me recently about a photography gig.

The assignment, should I choose to accept it?  Photographing PEOPLE.

Me and colby
Trade Secret: Chicken jerky tucked in the arm.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I had an internal *gulp* when I considered it. I mean, know, you can get all up in their face and, with a little chicken jerky waving at them, accomplish wonders. Cats...those are harder but with patience, snuggling and whispering sweet nothings in their furry ears, they can be won over.  Guinea pigs? All day. I take a mean guinea pig shot, for sure.

But people? The whole thought of it intimidated me, frankly.  Will they want me to pose them? Will they be fun or a bunch of uptight folks forcing 'camera smiles' and will one always be blinking? I do macro photography. And, basically, I'm an introvert. That's the biggest thing. That may be the whole thing. Photography for me is a pretty intimate experience so picturing myself doing it with people on the other end of the camera just feels uncomfortable.

So...I said "Sure! I'd love to!"

And I am SO glad I did.

First, the family was awesome and the event...SO cool!  The patriarch of the family had figured out from their genealogy that he was on the cusp of becoming the oldest person on their family tree. To celebrate, the family was going to gather for a brunch on the day he officially 'broke the record' (dubbed Longevity Day) and was hoping to commemorate the occasion with photos.

I was speaking with Mike, the son who was taking the lead on arranging it all, a very friendly and blessedly organized man. They knew just what they wanted and had it all laid out in advance. When he explained the reason for the event I was IN, no question. Older people have ALWAYS been a magnet for me. I volunteered in nursing homes all through high school and studied gerontology in grad school. And for some reason, I always seem to have the strongest bonds with the most crotchety old men. I had no idea if this gentleman would fit THAT description, but still, this whole event got me excited for them and I was thrilled to be able to be a part of it.

Then I found out this family had not had photos together since they lost his mother in...1972.

So, yeah, that was a long time ago. These photos were a big deal.

Now, Mike knew that I didn't normally do this kind of work but with Julie's endorsement and my enthusiasm for the event, he felt confident that I'd be a good match. He assured me that ANY photos they got would be better than any they didn't have in the last several decades. Good point, but still, I felt a heightened responsibility to do right by them.

So, I said that I could do the posed shots to start and would happily hang around to get some candid shots but that idea was a no go. The family only wanted the formal posed shots. No candid stuff. (Dang it, that means you are going to all be looking at me and I can't just sneak around doing my introverted photographer thing...whaaaahhhh).

Okay, okay, we'll do it your way.

I went to the venue ahead of time to see what I would be working with.  It was a golf clubhouse with one good spot for the shots.  In the entryway. On the last Sunday before the holiday. During brunch. Lighting somewhat dependent on outside conditions.

In my mind, it was going to be a sea of people with big coats and blasts of cold wind hitting us every two seconds and, for fun, maybe a couple other families would also be having photos and I'd have to arm wrestle a rival photographer for dominion over the space.

But sometimes things work perfectly, despite all your internal horror shows and that is just what happened.

Everyone got there early. We had the lobby mostly to ourselves.

Whole family color 8 x 12
Now that is a good looking bunch of humans!

Everyone was lovely, and quite good looking, as you can see! And we got everyone to fit in reasonably well between the hostess stand and the hallway with the big stairwell! (No one wants to see a restroom sign in a family portrait.) I was VERY happy to have such a cooperative family as I tried to figure out how to keep all those challenges to a minimum. And the staff and other patrons at Cantigny were very nice about letting me rearrange a bit of the lobby furniture while I was at it.

And even though we didn't get to visit long, (since we were using up the lobby), it was long enough for me to feel the flickerings of a crush on our Man of the Hour. He was a delight as were his sons.

Mike mark dad jim bw 8x10
I love black and white for its classic appeal. Happily, so did they!

And, no, not a single one is losing their hair. What are you even talking about?! Anyone who would suggest such a thing...well, you are just itching for a fight.

Bald spot 8 x 10
A pose with a long history in this family.

I even snuck in some candid shots because I'm super rebellious like that.

I snapped away, getting all the shots requested and drove home, heading straight to my computer (thinking that if I found out I'd blown the entire thing maybe I could rush back before they finished brunch and have a do-over).

My husband, knowing this was a stretch for me, cheerily asked me how it went and was about to follow me to have a peek.

"Go away. You can't see. I don't want you to look yet."

I closed the door in his face and prepared myself to see that I had destroyed the only family photos this group had taken in 43 years.

Except I hadn't. And the more I worked on them the happier I felt.

And the candid shots? I wasn't able to get too many, but they were among everyone's favorites! (See, trust had to happen on BOTH sides of the lens!)

Cute hair flip
So, how cute is her hair flip? It was there and gone in a flash.

So, WHY did I take this on if I was so in knots about it?

Because, for one thing, this really WAS a pretty big deal and I thought it was really cool. Why wouldn't I want to?

Dad w plaque 2_12.20
Mike sent me this photo, taken after brunch.

Because I learned something recently that really made me appreciate the power of photographs (in fact, I have more to add to the story on my recent photo restoration project for you later).

When I was growing up, my father was the family photographer. I got my eye from him. Ironically, he was also a macro guy who would spend all morning taking pictures in the garden so I'm not sure if he liked taking people photos as a rule, either, but when we were together, that was what he did.

And we have some really wonderful photos that we all treasure as a result. Quite a few, in fact.

The thing is, since I grew up like this I always assumed EVERYONE had that. Not just snapshots but proper photos whose quality and clarity would stand the test of time. It wasn't until I heard from a cousin recently, after I posted a photo of my grandfather on a whim onto Facebook that she had never seen a photo of him out of a wheelchair.

Since my dad was the photographer, the photos lived with us. And much of this occurred before my cousin was born. And with my grandparents gone, our family lost a hub and is dispersed now. OF COURSE she had never seen them. That hit me like a ton of bricks. We have some stunning photos of him from 'back in the day'.

And THAT is what I wanted to give this family. A little cache of photos like that which will live on with their family long after both the photographer and those who she captured that day are long gone.

Would I like to do more work like this? I sure would! (Not weddings, though...that would give me a heart attack). And next time I'd make sure I'd have the okay for candid shots (which I would take even without permission because I was poorly raised). Those moments that are here but for a moment...that is where the magic lies.



Photo Restoration and Making Something Out of Nothing

My mom gave me a genetic predisposition for intense attention to detail, a trait which comes in handy when you are restoring photographs.  I had a really fun project recently in which I had three photos to restore (I'm working on a 4th now). Starting with the easiest, here are the before and after versions (click for larger view):

IMG_20151127_0004 Kilt restor final

First of all, how handsome is the gentleman?

This photo was actually used as a postcard. It was a very beautiful photo and only needed a little touch up to clean some cracks in the finish, some pen press marks that you could see in person (not as evident here) given it was a postcard, and a little crisping and brightening to enlarge it (which it did very nicely on archival quality fine art paper).

In this day of selfies and digital photography you can forget how very special photos used to be. That's why I really enjoy these projects. Even though this wasn't my own Dad,  I treated this project with the same care I would if it had been.

I treat everything I do that way.









Next up in difficulty was this portrait, which I was happy was already 8x10. It was difficult in that the shades of the background were so bloody close to the shades of the uniform.

IMG_20151127_0001 Ch restor 1 warmed

I had been hoping to be able to reduce the grainy effect of the original but the very subtle shift in hue from face to uniform to background was just not going to allow it without severely compromising the available facial detail so I popped what I could, cleaned up a few stray scratches and warmed up the tone a bit, chosing a nice bamboo archival quality paper.


And then it got really fun...

Here's the original. It was very tiny (I don't even think it was 2x3 inches but I didn't write it down). IMG_20151127_0003

The task was to both restore and enlarge it. And as you can see looking up at the upper right corner, that spelled trouble. Who knew I'd spend an afternoon creating ghost trees? Check out the result: Jeep restor finalI was able to get it to enlarge to a very respectable 5x7. Unfortunately that is all the presenting facial detail would allow, no matter how awesome my ghost trees.

I'll pop up some photos I restored for myself down the road. I've saved my infant aunt from a nasty coffee cup stain, restored faces half torn away, and have been delighted to be able to immerse myself so fully in these moments preserved so proudly from days gone by.

Have a project you'd like me to take a look at? Happy to help if I can! Drop me a line (email in the upper left sidebar or hit me up through any of my FB pages there also).

Ruby Meadowhawk on Poppy

Ruby meadowhawk on poppy

Last year two little poppies showed up in the garden strip along my garage near the downspout. I think they are breadbox poppies. I suspect the seeds blew in and washed down the drain to find themselves planted there, as they aren't anywhere else in the yard. They are such sweet little flowers and this year they've delighted me with more. This female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly seems to love the seedpods and can be seen there regularly these days.

Incidentally, if you enjoy the photos that I take of my humble yard and would like to see what I might find in yours, please don't hesitate to contact me about doing a custom photo shoot of your gardens. There are so many precious vignettes to capture who knows what I might discover for you. (You may want to keep me in mind if you, or someone you know, is having to move away from a beloved piece of land...wouldn't it be lovely to take a custom book or wall art of those memories along?)

Ruby meadowhawk female