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“Earth Restored” shows astronauts’ photos of the Earth as they’ve never seen before


Earthrise is one of the most iconic space images, taken over 50 years ago. Seeing an Earthrise, even only in a photo, is pretty magical. And how about seeing our gorgeous planet from afar in a series of digitally restored and amazingly detailed images?

Philosopher Toby Ord carefully edited and restored photos of Earth from the Apollo missions, making them more detailed, clean and beautiful than ever! He’s kindly shared some of the photos with DIYP, and I’m sure you’ll love them as much as we did.

Interestingly enough, Toby’s project began with photos of Saturn. He was astounded by its beauty and he was sure he would find equally beautiful photos of the Earth. To his surprise, there were no photos that could do justice to the beauty of our home planet. But how’s that possible?

“Most recent Earth photography is from the International Space Station. It is a superb vantage point, with excellent equipment and skilled photographers,” Toby writes. “But its position in low Earth orbit is just too close to allow photographs of the entire planet,” he explains further.

“If the Earth were a schoolroom globe, 30 centimetres across, the ISS would be viewing the Earth from less than a centimetre away — far enough to see a curving horizon and the black of space, but not to see the whole Earth. In fact, being so close, it can see just 3% of the Earth’s surface at a time.”

So, naturally, you’d take a step back to take decent portraits of our home planet. “For example, to geostationary orbit (about 90 times further away) or the Moon (about a thousand times further),” Toby explains. So, the choice fell on the 1960s and 1970 film photos from the Apollo missions. That’s the only time humans were on the Moon’s surface, taking quite a lot of Earth photos. And they were darn good at it, too!

To take photos of the Earth from the Moon, Apollo astronauts used a modified Hasselblad 500EL with  Zeiss Planar 𝑓-2.8/80mm and Zeiss Sonnar 𝑓-5.6/250mm lenses. Naturally, they used film back in the day: Kodak Ektachrome for color and Panatomic-X for black and white photos.

Even though many shots from the Apollo missions are iconic, they’re far from being flawless.”When I sought beautiful high resolution versions I was disappointed” Toby writes. “Each available image was marred by low resolution, bad image compression, blown out highlights, or washed out colours. These were the defining photographs of our time, the best representations of our fragile Earth — but they were neglected; mistreated.”

But he didn’t give up. Since the film from the Apollo missions has been extremely well preserved, the original film has been digitally scanned several times over the years. Toby was thrilled to find out that many of the raw scans were available online.

“At first glance, they were beset by even more flaws than the reproductions: with dust and scratches; strange colour casts; extreme under- or over-exposure”. Toby writes But there was the potential. Toby knew he could restore them and give them the beauty and glory they deserved. He started with the scan of The Blue Marble and began restoring it. And the great results made him seek out more scans and polishing them to perfection.

While restoring the scans, Toby was guided by two simple, but important principles: “be true to the photographs” and “be true to the Earth.” This is some of the work he has done with all of them:

  • manually removing dust and scratches
  • manually removing the black crosshairs from the two images containing them
  • adjusting the black point until the background of space appears truly black
  • adjusting the contrast curve to bring out detail in the highlights and shadows
  • setting the white balance from the clouds or ice

“I restored these images over the course of many long evenings. On warmer nights I’d open the window to the Moon and stars and the black of space. The work was often slow and painstaking. But it was also deeply uplifting: seeing the images come to life, and gazing for the first time at the beauty of some of the lost pictures of our world.”

It was a painstakingly long process that required lots of patience and skill. But above all, I believe that it required true devotion to the process, and Toby definitely had it. Looking at the result, I say it was all worth the effort because, in his restored images, our home planet looks more beautiful than ever!

Enjoy more of Toby’s restored photos below. For more of his work, make sure to visit his website and order his book The Precipice.

[via My Modern Met]


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