© 2015 Fourtoes NegRetouchCrop

Victorian Photoshop anyone?

Following on from the previous Albumen print blog post which show some of the negative re touching showing up in the print I thought I’d show some more but of scans of the actual plates.

These have “pencil” marks on the emulsion side of the plates.

Up close the result has a totally different look and quite possibly the opposite effect than that was originally intended for the printed version!

Here are a few examples…

















And not just a gender issue.



And some required none at all.



So is this a question of vanity? Was it standard for the photographer to add these marks by default? Or was it an optional extra?

Available to view online is “The Art of Retouching and Improving Negatives And Prints” by Robert Johnson and is well worth a look. I know I’ve just provided an online link but I went ahead and bought a first edition anyway…

And for those that are interested in these techniques George Eastman House sometimes offers workshops in retouching glass plate negatives.

It comes highly recommended 




  1. Gerald
    Posted August 23, 2015 at 12:22 PM | #

    I think this was pretty common and cost extra. I read in some Victorian photo journal about the demand for such retouching in portraits. If I recall, it was in the context of using soft focus lenses for female portraiture in order to avoid the work and cost of retouching. Vanity is expensive….

  2. Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:21 AM | #

    Oh yes I’m sure it was pretty common but often over looked when looking at Cdv and cabinet cards. It’s also a little blog post that shows image manipulation was rife from day 1 and not the domain of modern digital photography. Again we could go on to talk about “photographic truth” and ” the camera never lies” but I’m not one for writing lengthy blog posts :) it’s more observations and interests.

  3. Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:22 AM | #

    Oh and that linked online book mentions the soft focus lens details in one chapter.

  4. William
    Posted August 27, 2015 at 4:55 PM | #

    Could it be that the retouching is more apparent after 100+ years, in the same way that spottone may fade or change color at a different rate than the rest of the print? I’m thinking it is a possibility that the retouching wasn’t as obvious, even at magnification, when it was first accomplished.

  5. Posted August 30, 2015 at 4:41 PM | #

    In this case the pencil marking would be almost identical to when they were made.

  6. Posted September 2, 2015 at 10:17 AM | #

    I was shown how to retouch 4×5 negs on a vibrating light box by Athol Shmith’s assistant retoucher in 1975…they were still doing it then for society and executive portraits!

  7. Posted September 2, 2015 at 10:19 AM | #

    They used a painfully sharp pencil on the emulsion side to fill in wrinkles.

  8. Posted September 2, 2015 at 10:26 AM | #

    Hi James,
    I’m still looking for video footage of the vibrating light box in use.
    The linked book in the blog post mentions the pencils and grades, something I’m thinking of trying on some reject plates of mine just to see the effect.


4 Trackbacks

  1. By Victorian Photographers “Photoshopped” too! – on August 26, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    […] as Tony points out on his blog the manipulation has taken place using a pencil rather than an airbrush. On first glance it is […]

  2. […] “Up shut the end result has a completely totally different look and fairly probably the other impact than that was initially meant for the printed model,” Richards writes. […]

  3. […] como el británico Tony Richards siguen aplicando estas intrincadas técnicas en algunas de sus colecciones y Osterman imparte […]

  4. […] como el británico Tony Richards siguen aplicando estas intrincadas técnicas en algunas de sus colecciones y Osterman imparte […]

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