Photo restoration in Nepal: the promising business of Photoshop Freak
Dipesh Maharjan was looking at an old picture frame in the room as he entered and left. Yet he often ignored her. When there was a lockdown due to the rise in Covid cases in 2020, he was stuck at home and he once again glanced at the frame which held a picture of his grandparents. This time he couldn’t ignore it because he had time.
He took out the photo, scanned it and, with Photoshop on the computer, started making corrections. Pleased with the results, he also received positive feedback after posting the photo in Men’s Room Reloaded (MRR), a closed Facebook group.
Months later, he launched Photo Restoration Nepal, a business service that helped people fix old photos to make them look fresher.
Photo Restoration Nepal is another unique business that was born during the pandemic, although this underrated attempt to rekindle old memories has not fully blossomed as Maharjan himself practices certain restraints while enjoying life and creating his own new memories.
To restore or not to restore
Everyone has a collection of old photos either in a scrapbook or in some dusty old corner of the house. Maharjan, with Photo Restoration Nepal, is on a mission to restore people’s memories to almost everyone. It’s just “almost” because it has to filter and draw a line regarding which photos can be restored and which are irreparable, meaning they can’t be supported.
“When people see that I have restored the photos, they are filled with hope that any photo can be revived as new. I get pings to my page almost daily with people asking to restore their old ones. But, I have to draw a line when the photos don’t have significant features that can be restored.
Talking more about how he chooses exactly which photos to restore, he says, “I analyze the photo before taking the project. The first things I see are the eyes. If the eyes are significant in the photo, it is more likely that they can be restored. If not even one eye is prominent, it’s irreparable.
Yet, he adds, the fact does not stop people from making emotional demands of Photo Restoration Nepal. “The eyes are a crucial detail. I can’t just borrow other people’s eyes and use them in the photo. It changes the face of the person and then people wanting to restore the photos becomes useless. Even when I try to make people understand, they still complain if I can restore other photos why not theirs.
“Photos are usually of deceased people and usually only one such person. So people are emotionally connected to it and harbor high hopes. So, reluctantly, I have to turn people down even though it’s a rather difficult task to do.
The art of retouching
“But fairly simple issues like termite bites, dust, stains, holes, tears, faded details and colors can be touched up and restored. Turning black and white photos into color is also easier. Depending on the complexity, however, it takes me anywhere from a few hours to a week to complete the edit. The lines and corners of the eyes, nose and mouth are more complex to restore.
In this process, Photo Restoration Nepal emphasizes the idea of photorealism and modifications to keep the person alive in the memories. “Today everyone with a camera is a photographer and people have also acquired some level of skill in photo editing. But simple editing differs from photo restoration techniques because you have to edit to the standards of photorealism.
“Photorealism is not taught anywhere; it’s more of an editor’s judgment to make sure the photo looks realistic and unprocessed. It takes not only editing skills, but also knowledge of human anatomy, the difference between female and male faces, learning how to use the “locally dodge and burn” tool in Photoshop and years and years of practice.
Therefore, adding an extra layer of complexity, he started a new business at Photo Restoration Nepal. Because the process is quite complex, he works on it alone. “There are a few photo studios and individuals who have tried the skill. Yet they have found themselves limited and do not practice photorealism. My friends, who help me in the process, sometimes have editing skills , but not up to photorealism standards.
But, he claims he learned and honed his skills through years of practice and mountains of trial and error.
Man with many hats
The founder of Photo Restoration Nepal, a digital artist based in Kirtipur, was a curious child and says his childhood would mostly be spent in front of the computer.
“Whether at school, at a local internet cafe, or at home, I was just experimenting with the computer. I first learned to type and paint on the computer in school about 15 years ago. I was pretty good at it,” says an enthusiastic Maharjan. “But then I discovered Photoshop on my computer and became fascinated by it. Then I started to explore the tools and techniques more, with the help of YouTube. »
He pursued his fascination and even learned web design and graphical user interface (GUI). And just like Photoshop, it learned these programs through experimentation, on its own. “I got pretty good at it and even designed an interface in a school exhibit where people could connect and explore. And I would make viruses to prank my friends.
When he finished school, he ventured out and started exploring photography instead. “I started working at the e-commerce site Nepbay doing product and fashion photography (as well as post-production) and at Socheko [dotcom] as a trainer for their internal staff and taught advanced editing skills. Then, for the next three years, I joined Metaphor Fashion as a fashion photographer.
During this time he joined a Bachelor of Arts course in Computer Application (BCA), but rather than the coding aspect, he liked graphic design more, so he gave up and continued his practice on his own, editing photos and honing their skills along the way.
Since the day he went to Men’s Room Reloaded and started Photo Restoration Nepal, he has received many requests from people asking for his help in restoring their old memories, nationally and internationally. But, people’s lack of knowledge about his art troubles him a bit. “People think all I have to do is open the photo on my computer and the job is done.”
“They have no idea how long it takes. I posted some videos on my page where I recorded my work. The video is a timelapse, but people think that’s all the time I need. Likewise, others disappeared after I worked for hours on the photos. So there are complaints here and there,” he adds.
He says people have also complained about the price charged by Photo Restoration Nepal. “I charge an average of Rs 500 to 1,500 per photo depending on the complexity and the time it takes. But, many complain that it is rather expensive, which is not at all true. People overseas take 100% more than that.
“Nevertheless, I don’t plan to raise prices yet because I get high demands and work with students who probably don’t have the money to pay. I also don’t have any obligations to provide to anyone.
Also, considering how much work it takes to work on a photo, any help from others would help him develop Photo Restoration Nepal. But, he has not yet met anyone who can help him in his work and works alone. “I was not someone who could work 9 to 5 or work under someone. But since I started, I feel more free than ever. I have time to spend with my family and friends, to travel and even as a freelance photographer as I see fit. So I have no regrets. »
Soon, he plans to open a studio in Kirtipur so that he can devote his time and train others, possibly expanding his business.
But because he works in his spare time from now on, he does a limited amount of work. Anyway, he appreciates Photo Restoration Nepal. “Each photo is unique and so is its complexity. It is therefore difficult and fun to understand. I love to edit photos and give people a reason to smile and shed tears of joy.