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Attention to detail is always important but frequently overlooked. Dust spots, stray hairs and other tiny imperfections all detract from the end result so it is worth making the effort to remove them.

The process of removing small defects, known as spotting, was traditionally carried out by the application with fine brushes of dyes mixed to achieve a perfect colour match. Glossy surfaces were the most difficult to spot because surface irregularities were easily noticed, but black marks could be tricky to remove from any surface. Retouching, a process similar to spotting, was used to remove more significant defects, scratches and damage. It involved applying dyes and paints, and using sharp blades to scrape blemishes from prints. Airbrushing was used for larger-scale modifications such as the removal of unwanted shadows or background detail. The relevant area of a print was masked and then carefully sprayed with water-based or spirit-based pigments. In skilled hands remarkable results could be achieved.

In recent years digital manipulation has changed completely the methods used for work of this nature. However the basic objectives remain unchanged and the new techniques demand no less experience or attention to detail. For example, in portraits where the eyes are so important, secondary highlights produced by multiple light sources or moisture on the eyelids might be removed to enhance the intensity of a gaze. Whatever method is used, it is the skill and patience of the photographer that counts. High standards are achieved only where there is the determination to identify and eliminate defects. The necessary techniques are available to us all.


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