History of Color Photography

Refracted Movement - Movement Refracted

The science of modern color photography captures most of the human range of colors. Color photographs have always taken advantage that we are really only really trichromatic and biologically we create all colors in our brains by combining separate blue, green, and red images. Modern color films have three layers that capture the red, blue, and green simultaneously to provide us "true" color. While I use modern equipment and film, my technique harks back to the beginning of color photography.

1861: Scottish physicist James Clerk-Maxwell demonstrates the color separation color photography system that used three black&white photographs, each taken through a red, green, and blue filter. The photographs were then projected as three lantern slides with their corresponding color filters in registration to recreate true color.

1900's: An Early example of color photography can bee seen in the 1900's works of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). Tsar Nicholas II commissioned Prokudin-Gorskii to produce the first color photographic survey of the Russian Empire between 1909-1912, and again in 1915.

Sergei used a view camera of his own design that captured three successive black/white images on glass plate negatives each with a red, green or blue filter. These images where then presented in color in slide lectures using a three light light-projection system he designed.

In some of these images the three-negative method enhances the image, For example in the 1909 photograph "Pinkhus Karlinskii. 84 years, 66 years of service, Supervisor of Chernigov floodgate", the ripples in the water's surface provide a subtle rainbow of colors. It is not known if he considered this an interesting by-product of his process or an artifact to be avoided.

Some Birthdays

It is my honor to share a birthday (March 7) with two innovative pioneers of photography: Nicéphore Niepce and Sir John Frederick William Herschel.

Nicéphore Niepce (nee-say-FOR nyEEPS)

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (March 7, 1765 – July 5, 1833) French inventor, and a pioneer in photography who originated a photographic process. The first successful permanent photograph was created by Niépce.

The earliest known surviving photograph "View from the Window at Le Gras" was created by Niépce June or July of 1827. Niépce called his process "heliography" which means "sun writing".

"View from the Window at Le Gras" is on display in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas Austin.

Sir John Frederick William Herschel (hûr'sh?l)

Sir John Frederick William Herschel (March 7, 1792 – May 11, 1871) was an English mathematician and astronomer, and inventor. Through his research coined the terms "photography", "negative", and "positive".

John Herschel made several important contributions to the improvement of Cyanotype. Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792–1871) augmented his famed father's work (William Herschel) astronomical catalogs with the discovery of 525 nebulae.


"Pinkhus Karlinskii. 85 years [old]. 66 years of service. Supervisor of Chernigov floodgate", Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress)
LC-DIG-ppmsc-03966 (modern digital color rendering) place "pinkhus" in the search box.

Additional information on the history of photography has been edited by Dr. Robert Leggat: http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/

Other information on Color and Art:

Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism by John Gage

...Color theory you should have learned in Art School, but probably didn't:
Comprehensive discussion for artists of color perception, color psychology, "color theory" and color mixing.