How retoucher Becci Manson helped recover the lost photos of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami in Japan


posted Friday, April 5, 2013 at 3:37 PM EDT


When Japan was hit by the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011, volunteers from around the world mobilized to help clean up the afflicted region of Japan. But one volunteer in particular managed to put her outside skills to good use. Becci Manson is a professional photo retoucher, and while working with the disaster relief organization All Hands Volunteers, she started noticing lost photos in the damage and rubble of Tohoku. Knowing she might have something additional to offer, Manson turned to her retouching skills to restore people's precious memories that would otherwise have been lost to the destruction.

Dubbed the Yorokobi Project, Manson started working to restore the ruined images and brought in additional retouchers to help with the others. She talked to Adobe recently, and spoke about the specifics of what techniques were deployed to help bring the damaged images back to their original look.

"Most of the damages on the photos were scratches and bits of sand. Using the clone and healing stamps in various ways, filters with the history brush and layers proved very effective and kept the process from being painstaking. Filters can be extremely destructive to detail, so knowing how to apply them in a non-destructive way was important. For the more damaged photos, the salt water removed layers of color emulsion from the original photo, leaving a silhouette-like image in just one channel. To fix this, more experienced editors could pick up the information in that channel and put it into the others in an attempt to replace lost data. They would also adjust the levels and manipulate them until the overall colors looked correct."

After returning from Japan, Manson presented on the project for a TEDtalk. Since then, her group has also worked to restore damaged photos from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

What's interesting is that Manson isn't the only person doing an incredible service like this. In the wake of other disasters, a number of groups have popped up that work to repair or return lost photographs to their owners. Organizations such as Operation Photo Rescue, Care for Sandy, and even a student group from Tokyo have undertaken similar projects. Both Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Joplin, MO generated Facebook groups dedicated to helping people find lost mementos and photographs. It seems that when disaster strikes, helping people recover their memories that might have otherwise otherwise been lost is a call that many will answer.

Read more of Adobe's interview with Manson at Blog.