Here’s how they’re done.
We identify suitable potential historic images – like this
Then a contemporary shot is taken – checking the perspective is as close as can be estimated on site.
Next comes the PhotoShop part – loading the historic image on top of the contempoary, and drawing the perspective lines, corners, cornices and if there are any, common features.
The contemporary image is then manipulated to fit the perspective and scaling of the historic image as best possible. This isn’t always straightforward – the lenses 100 years ago were quite different, and there were a lot more open spaces to stand further back to line up the image. We never mess with the historic shot though, only ever the current one.
Stick them side-by-side, and it’s done.
All that’s necessary then is the historic detective work. That relies primarily on the Heritage Vancouver Society Building Permits database, the City Directories database in the Vancouver Public Library, and everybody’s best friend, Google. The Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada is very helpful as well.