If you want to learn the original art of negative retouching, this 1908 book will teach you how


We all assume that Photoshop and the art of retouching is a fairly new phenomenon. When you think of image editing, you automatically think of celebrities made to look taller and slimmer, blemish removal to the point of erasing skin texture, and swapping those people’s heads. annoying that always flash in group portraits. But did you know that image editing has been around almost as long as photography, it was just done in a different way. This fascinating book (now in the public domain), tells you exactly how to get started if you want to retouch your images directly on the negative.

The book is part of a series called Comprehensive self-study library of hands-on photography, by two crafty gentlemen: James Boniface Schriever and Thomas Harrison Cummings, and published by the American School of Art and Photography. The series is aimed at the self-taught photographer and includes topics such as negative development, photographic printing, home portraiture, and of course, the most interesting is probably negative retouching and etching.

The book is full of absolute gems of wisdom, which are no less relevant today than they were in the early 1900s. Tips such as:

By delivering the finished job to your customers, you are not giving them the photographic negatives, but the prints made from those negatives.

Sounds a lot like all those seasoned professionals telling new photographers in Facebook groups to never give the RAW images away! He also makes the point which is just as true today in this “pproperly controlling the light source, properly posing the individual, giving proper exposure, and finally developing the plaque to get what was seen under the light, will in almost all cases eliminate half of the retouching required.

The book goes on to explain that “IIn the early days of photography, when the so-called “wet plate process” was used, prints were made directly from the negative without any alteration, as wet plate produced smoother effects than the negative. one could obtain with the dry plate ready for use. -plate.”

Because the imperfections were less noticeable, the book says, the general public was satisfied with an exact likeness of themselves. With the advent of dry plaque, however, the “blemishes of the human face became more apparent on the negative, and there was a demand for greater softening of lines and removal of the more objectionable blemishes.” So it’s not at all recent, that we all want to be more beautiful than our images straight out of the camera!

Apparently very early touch-ups were done on each individual print, but it took way too long, especially when multiple prints were requested. The retouching therefore began to be done directly on the negative so that each subsequent print was identical. There were two main methods of touch-up: the first was to use a pencil after applying a touch-up varnish solution called “dope”. The retoucher could then draw directly on the negative. The second method was engraving and involved scraping or shaving with an engraving knife that had a very sharp steel blade.

The book then lists all the material you need to start learning negative retouching. If you want to follow at home, you will need:

  • Touch-up outfit (not sure what that would entail, some sort of high neck blouse maybe?)
  • 1 retouching easel.
  • 1 magnifying glass.
  • 1 lead holder.
  • 1 wire HHH.
  • 1 wire HH.
  • 1 BB lead.
  • 1 engraving knife.
  • 1 Faber’s stain-resistant brush n ° 1.
  • 1 Opaque Cake Spotting.
  • 1 bottle of touch-up fluid.
  • 1 bottle of negative varnish.
  • 1 box of Schriever engraving paste.
  • 1 pack of proof paper.
  • 12 bust portrait negative drive plates.
  • 15 × 7 print frame

That’s a little more than today’s list which would probably be Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, PC and tablet and Wacom stylus at most! But if you’re going the old fashioned way, this is how you should sit:

Then follows several chapters of practice shots and homework before getting into troubleshooting and more complicated territory, which let’s face it, is the most interesting part.

How many times have you been asked to photoshop someone’s double chin or baldness? How about adding a tie to make a man look more gentlemanly, or removing freckles from someone’s face? In the slightly more positive attitude of the body today, it is a little disgusting to read this section, especially since the language used to describe the subjects is slightly pejorative. In the advice on the treatment of double chin it says “Mainly applies to older, fleshy subjects”, and that you should “Unite the chin to the throat by removing the folds of flesh with the pencil or the knife, or by using both. In the profile views you can cut out the parts that are unpleasant and give a very well formed chin …In very fleshy people, the neck is usually quite thick and sometimes quite full. I feel rather sorry for the “meaty” Victorians at this point.

The outline on the negative is done with the tip of the engraving knife, scraping or gradually shaving a line that provides the outline of the neck. This done, the first stage of the work is completed, as will be seen in Figure 2. For the last stage, the entire neck under the outline is etched with the curved side of the blade. The neck engraving also provides the collar to the dress. Once the film is reduced and engraved, the hard lines are then erased and softened with a BB pencil and a slight highlight worked on the collar, which gives the dress a perfectly natural look, as will be seen in Figure 3.

Men don’t do it lightly, either, when it comes to bald spot removal.

Often times when the hair is thin on the half bald parts of the head, an unwanted patch of flesh will be visible. The hair should be engraved in these parts, to give a nice appearance to the portrait.

The example below shows how clothes could be added to the negative, in this case a tie and a gentleman’s collar were drawn.

Finally, these two sets of images show what the images looked like before and after the entire retouching and engraving process. It’s quite remarkable how they were able to do this kind of work, often in great detail, and without the luxury of being able to use layers and remove them when things didn’t go as planned.

Knowing how often I will completely remove entire layers of edits later in my workflow, I’m definitely going to stick with my computer and Photoshop!


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