I actually gasped at seeing the enhanced image - I had no idea the technology had advanced so far.

Over the years I've dabbled with applying colorization and other image processing effects to old pictures. Anyone interested in history or genealogy has likely done the same; probably all photo editing apps have at least a few enhancement tools built-in, and some of the more powerful online versions use AI to guess at the contents of the image for automatically adding color to black and white photos.

Results were rarely satisfying. Colorized images looked washed-out and the color choices could be laughably wrong. And because the underlying software was developed using modern photographs taken in color, a processed black and white images might even lose quality - old portraits often have a shallow depth of field, for example, and apps may "fix" that by sharpening up the background.

Then on a whim, I recently took a photo from a 1920 Press Democrat and uploaded it to an AI website. I didn't expect much improvement; my experience was that the software would probably despeckle the picture but not materially improve it. Still, I wanted the best possible image since the woman was key to the article I was researching.

To repeat myself: I actually gasped.

There was so much signal noise in the PD original it was difficult to read the woman's expression; was she glaring angrily at the photographer? Did she look tired, or even sick? But with one click of the mouse, out of that hazy static emerged a clear and sharply-focused image of a woman's face - with eyelashes, even!

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott


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