Genius Innovators

I See Trees of Green; Red Roses, Too


Once the process of taking photos started to be ironed out, people wanted to do more than stare at Oreo’s and wanted to see in color. Color photography actually stretches back to the mid-1800s. The first permanent color photograph was taken in 1861 by taking three separate black and white photos through red, green and blue filters, respectively. Then color would be added or subtracted, depending on the method used.


To add color back in, you could project a transparent print of the photo through a similar colored filter and superimpose each onto the other. To get the color image on paper, you would use carbon prints — prints using a colored gelatin rather than a silver solution — of each of the primary colors and layering them to wind up with a full color image. This last method was used extensively by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii to produce photos like the one to the left, which was made in 1915.

The major technological problem with color photography in this method was that the plates were not very sensitive to various colors. It wasn’t until Hermann Vogel discovered a way to make the emulsions used on photographic plates more color sensitive that color photography could be done reliably and in a reasonable time. Improvements from this point on led directly to Autochrome.

Commercial success is important in photography. Without it, materials and processes remain very expensive and out of the reach of most artists, who are usually starving. In 1907, the Lumière brothers found a way to include a color filter mosaic on photographic plates. They called it Autochrome. The mosaic was near-microscopic so that when the image was developed the human eye could not see the individual colored points. This system worked well enough and was cost effective enough that it actually remained in use into the 1950s.

In 1889, the first plastic film was created. This film was highly flammable and had horrible photographic properties. However, by the time the brothers Lumière had created the Autochrome process film was starting to become a better medium for capturing images. By 1935, George Eastman (remember him?) and his scientists at Eastman Kodak created Kodachrome, the first modern color film. It used a multilayer emulsion on the film. A special processing method was used to produce an image in full color. Without the special processing method, you would just have three black and white images imposed on each other.

A year layer, Agfa came out with their Neu line of film which incorporated the color couplers used in the Kodachrome process right into the film. This allowed processing to be greatly simplified. The system Agfa used is the basis for all color film used today.

The last major development of film photography came in 1963 when Polaroid came out with a color version of their instant film. The Polaroid instant film would be the company’s bread and butter until the digital photography revolution. This revolution led to Polaroid going through a bankruptcy in 2001 and ending production of instant film in 2009. It can also be blamed for the downfall of Kodak, which had 90% of the film market of the US in 1976.

  • Wolfie

    We have reached the apex of discovery with photography.
    Beyond this point will be different versions
    But little new development.

    • As I've been writing this series that thought has been bugging me. What would the next step be? Right now, DSLRs are getting to the point where the limitations are becoming almost nonexistent compared to the old mechanical film DSLRs. I think the biggest thing going on with camera technology right now is mirrorless systems like the Micro 4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic and the Nikon 1 or Canon EOS M. I think that may be the next big area of advancement is in the camera mechanics rather than on the image production side.

      • Wolfie

        My Nikon F-2 is from 1975, The negatives from my travels with this camera fills four sturdy containers.
        The same amount of digital content would fit in my pocket.
        Photography once was an art form.

        • It still very much is. Digital makes it more accessible and less messy, which is good and bad. Sure, every housewife that went out and bought the Nikon D3100 that was on sale with a lens, memory card and case at Costco now thinks they are like the pros, but discounting them, digital photographs are just as much art as film. It's just processed differently. When I'm setting up a shot with my new camera (Canon T4i), I'm taking the same exact steps as I would if I was shooting with your F-2. I'm setting aperture and focusing just like you would. Instead of selecting the right film, I'm setting the right ISO setting on my camera. I'm composing the shot exactly how you would.

          I'm in a photography group here in Detroit and we have a good mix of film and digital photographers in it and while we poke fun at each other, we long ago arrived at the understanding that the "art" isn't gone. We just use different brushes.

          • Felis_Concolor

            This is the real strength of digital photography. With its near-zero cost to take a photograph, the major hurdle for people interested in improving their abilities is lowered as one can now snap several hundred photographs using automated settings along with full manual control and semi-automatic modes to figure out the arcane secrets of aperture, f-stops, depth of field, steady holds, motion and macro photography along with time and multiple exposures and, with modern multi-mode flashes, the power of direct and indirect lighting. JFC, in the past decade of digital camera use I've snapped many times more photographs than I did in the more than 3 decades leading up to that point, and adjusting for inflation and indulging in a yearly or bi-yearly camera change/upgrade cycle, I've still spent far less than I ever did through scores of crappy 110 cartridges, dozens of good 126 and APS packets and a couple hundred disposable 35mm one-use regular and panoramic cameras.

          • The Professor

            Agreed. Not having the constraint of a limited number of shots on a roll of film allows one to be much more experimental when out on a shoot, and the best part (for me) is you can see the results immediately on the LCD screen. You don't have to lug 10 or 20 film cans home to the darkroom, spend hours to develop and dry them all, then more hours printing contact sheets just to get a glimpse of your experiments. And then you had better have been taking notes, otherwise you'll never remember what you did on all those shots.
            I love digital photography.

      • The Professor

        The Lytro cameras sound very promising. Once you take a picture, you can change the focus to anything in the image.

        <img src="; width="400" border="2" style="border:2px solid black;" alt=" " />

        I'd love to spend some time playing with one.

        • Oooh…I forgot about these.

        • OA5599

          An ad for these popped up on the sidebar of an A-T article I was looking at earlier today. Oddly enough, it was the Culinary Gadgetry one instead of something from this photography series.

        • CaptianNemo2001

          I got the Culinary ad when reading this A-T article…

          I too am looking at these newer cameras but it would have been nice to design in a pistol grip, or another grip if you prefer something different, and viewfinder.

        • Felis_Concolor

          The technology behind the Lytro is especially promising but it needs to be scaled up to provide a decent pixel count. As the sensor size wars are showing you don't need more than 10M for top shelf performance, that's the goal they need to shoot for, at which point the possibilities are going to be amazing. Changing the focus plane is a cute parlor trick, but the really cool application would be to alter depth of field and differential focus properties, to give you that brain-melting 300db panorama where everything from the mosquito in front of the lens to that fellow with the 5 o'clock shadow a half mile away are in crystal clear focus.

          • The Professor

            Yes, I hope that this technology gets taken up by some of the bigger players so it can be used in a more traditional type of camera and get more people using it. Popularity would help drive innovation.
            I'm curious as to size of the picture files in the lytros format. i would think that they'd be huge relative to their resolution.

  • Well, I finally managed to answer my own question from the 'gift of France' post; Photogravure was the intaglio printing of photographic exposures. Our friend Nicéphore Niépce along with Henry Fox Talbot developed (f'nar!) the process before the daguerreotype. Extremely fine tonal differentiations, much better than the other processes of the mid-late 1800s were possible. This one was published in 1887

    <img src="; width=500>

    1154 x 1432 version: <a href="” target=”_blank”>

    • The Professor

      Narf? Fiord!

    • Very cool! There is a lot of detail shown there considering the timeframe.

      Obviously my posts are somewhat high level and don't go into all the various techniques/technologies used for photography over the years. I'm trying to hit the major ones with a few sidetracks thrown in for fun. I'm very glad to see that I've sparked some interest and you're reading up on your own. Very cool!

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Photogravure's are interesting. I need to get my scanner working correctly again. It has become buggy.