Color photography

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"Easter Holidays". Autochrome photography around 1917

When color photography different is called photo-technical process for the production of multi-color, realistic images of the optical reality. The stability and reproducibility of these photographs and recordings must be guaranteed for decades.

Color photography has been used commercially in applied photography ( advertising , industrial and fashion photography ) since the 1930s, and in photojournalism since 1945 . In the art photography , color photography has been established around since the 1970s. The turning point here is William Eggleston 's Guide in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1976. However, color photography has been known by some pioneers since the turn of the century before last.

Working principle

There are basically two options for the metameric reproduction of colors:

  1. Additive color mixing , i.e. by adding spectral ranges in the form of colored light,
  2. Subtractive color mixing , i.e. by subtracting the spectral ranges of white light by means of absorbing pigments.
"Still Life". A Joly grid plate in the format 95 mm × 142 mm (1898)

Subtraction processes dominate photography; the respective dye absorbs a certain spectral component from the white light:

  • Cyan: contains blue and green, absorbs red
  • Magenta: contains blue and red, absorbs green
  • Yellow: contains green and red, absorbs blue

The basic colors are formed according to the following scheme:

  • Yellow + cyan = green (-blue and -red)
  • Cyan + magenta = blue (-red and -green)
  • Yellow + magenta = red (-blue and -green)

Since subtractive color mixing creates opposite colors of the primary colors, the subtractive colors are also referred to as minus colors:

  • Cyan = minus red
  • Magenta = minus green
  • Yellow = minus blue

In contrast to black and white photography , in which the silver absorbs light relatively evenly, the individual dyes have specific absorption curves. In color sensitometry , there is therefore a high degree of complexity, especially for the use of densitometers ; When making prints or duplicates, color shifts and falsifications of contrast must be compensated for using a color mixing head or insert color filter. Especially in previous photo emulsions have the problem of the came color tipping added.

Today color films are built up in several layers; three-layer films have predominantly been used since the 1930s .

The individual layers of the film can be sensitized in different spectrally ; A distinction is made between:

History and Development

Hillotype around 1850

Early experiments and color sensitization

Color photography is based on experiments from the early days of photography . The American Baptist preacher and daguerre typist Levi Hill was the first to claim the invention of color photography around 1850/1851. As proof, he presented so-called hillotypes . However, these were of a very poor quality and Hill also vehemently refused to disclose the functionality of his procedure, so that his claim was already viewed with skepticism by his contemporaries. In 1860 Niépce de Saint-Victor worked on a method to record all colors on a single light-sensitive layer (heliochromy).

This illustration of a tartan tape, shown by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, is believed to be the first color photograph
This color image was first in 1892 with an Ives Photochromiscope projector shown

On May 17, 1861, the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell showed the first color photograph in a lecture at the Royal Institution. There was a tartan ribbon on it. The demonstration of the additive color mixing (addition method) was based on three (black and white) slides that had been photographed through three color filters (red, green and blue) and projected congruently through appropriate filters .

Corresponding color photographic processes were developed in parallel by Louis Ducos du Hauron and Charles Cros from around 1862 and presented simultaneously in 1868. However, only du Hauron was able to demonstrate a patented and workable process. Du Hauron's method was based on silver bromide collodion plates and produced pigment slides. However, both methods are based on the principle of three colors ( trichromy ).

Color sensitivity of photographic materials in relation to the visible regions of the electromagnetic wave spectrum: orthochromatic, panchromatic and infrared sensitive sensitization of photographic films

The orthochromatic sensitization (= isochromatic sensitization ) of the negative material was first achieved by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel in 1873; In addition to blue, the recording material was also sensitized to the green and yellow components of the light.

Vogel used as optical sensitizers; H. as substances that make the silver bromide yellow, respectively. make red-sensitive, in the light slightly different organic dyes such as fuchsin , cyanine , eosin etc .; this enabled him to sensitize the silver halides to green and red light with longer wavelengths.

At first Ducos de Hauron tried to apply this principle in practice. The adverse effect of the sensitizers on the photographic chemicals, however, put obstacles in the way of practice, which were mainly removed by the introduction of the gelatin dry plates by Richard Leach Maddox around 1871.

Pierre Alphonse Attout (Attout Tailfer [?]) Brought isochromatic gelatine plates stained with eosin on the market in 1882/83 ; In 1884 Vogel discovered the optically sensitizing power of Jacobsen's quinoline red and used it to prepare the color-sensitive azaline plates with the addition of quinoline blue .

All of these isochromic plates, however, required a yellow disk to be switched on during the recording in order to weaken the blue light that was too strong. Hermann Wilhelm Vogel overcame these shortcomings by introducing eosin silver as an optical sensitizer . Through his and Johann Baptist Obernetter's efforts, the Eosin silver plates were created, which are distinguished from the conventional color-sensitive drying plates by their significantly greater sensitivity and which were brought to product maturity in the Otto Perutz drying plate factory. Only when taking pictures of paintings do they sometimes need a yellow disc (with bright blue tones), with landscapes, portraits, etc.

Another method based on interference was developed by Gabriel Lippmann , which he published in 1891 under the name " Method of photography in color using the interference method ". For this discovery, Lippmann received the Nobel Prize in 1908 .

In 1904, the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière presented the autochrome process , which worked with orange-red, green and purple colored potato starch granules as a raster-like color filter and a silver bromide gelatin emulsion.

Although this process, with its soft colors and lightfast pigments, produced astonishing results in large-format still images, it was unsuitable for cinema films because the coarse raster produced a very disturbing noise.

Vogel's orthochromatic sensitization was further improved in 1902 by Adolf Miethe and Adolf Traube ; With the so-called panchromatic sensitization , complete tonal accuracy was achieved for the first time when converting colors to grayscale. Panchromatic sensitization forms the basis for every color photograph.

Early and miscellaneous procedures

As a compromise between black-and-white and full-color photography, dichromatic processes were also used, especially for cinema films, i.e. those with two primary colors.

A full color process (after Robert Berthon) for amateur filmmakers used black and white film with an engraved lenticular screen. The film was recorded and played back with a lens behind which a three-part color filter was attached (blue, green, red). The main disadvantage was the reduced resolution.

In the grain grid method, differently sensitized grains are applied to a plate. The “relatively” simple process allowed pictures with a relatively short exposure time, the comparatively coarse, grainy resolution was well suited for soft-looking, color-fast large format photographs.

In the prism process, three images are exposed simultaneously behind a color-dividing prism. The method with heavy and complex camera technology was used for American magazine front pages, and early moving film recordings from Europe before the First World War have been preserved.

With the simple filter process, three plates are exposed one after the other from the same motif. After appropriate development, three different color filters made it possible to manually assemble the three gelatine layers of the color photo. The elaborate method came into question because of the time required for still lifes and landscape shots with a permanently mounted camera.

The first three-layer film was presented by Kodak in April 1935 and brought onto the market in 1936 by Agfa in Wolfen . In principle, color films still function according to this technically similar process. While in the Kodak process the actual coloration used to take place during development, the simpler Agfa process already included this in the film. The process, which was standardized after the World War and is still common today, optimizes components of both processes, to put it simply, the Agfa method and the Kodak chemistry.

Color photography pioneers

From 1905, Sergei Michailowitsch Prokudin-Gorski undertook an elaborate project that took him through the entire Russian Empire from 1909 to 1915 in order to capture it in around 10,000 color photographs. From 1909 to 1931 Albert Kahn put together a collection of 72,000 color photos, The Archives of the Planet . Carl Auer von Welsbach , entrepreneur and discoverer of several chemical elements, is considered a pioneer in Austria.


“People generally take great pleasure in color. The eye needs them as it needs light. "

The history of the aesthetics of color photography “ has only been partially recorded to this day ”; the investigations to date have been largely limited to listing procedures or photographers. Instead, color photography should be treated like a technical object that is used within a social context. The culture of photographic color is generally examined based on painting or in relation to photographic truth. " On the other hand, it would have to be examined like an industrial product according to criteria of use, appropriation, consumption, manipulability and subjectivity " (Michel Frizot, 1998).

See also


  • Walter Püschel: The color photography . In: Chemistry in Our Time . tape 4 , no. 1 , 1970, p. 9-15 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19700040103 .
  • Matthias Schellenberg, Hans-Peter Schlunke: The silver color pale color photography . In: Chemistry in Our Time . tape 10 , no. 5 , 1976, p. 131-138 , doi : 10.1002 / ciuz.19760100502 .
  • Brian Coe: Color Photography and Its Processes. The first hundred years in natural colors 1840–1940 . Gondrom Verlag (license Laterna magica, Munich) 1979/1986.
  • Arthur Hübl and Mario Zippermayr: The theory and practice of color photography by means of the usual halftone color processes (6th edition). Halle: Almost around 1932.
  • Gert Koshofer: color photography (3 volumes). Munich: Laterna magica 1981.
    1. Volume 1: Old Procedures. The time of the early pioneers. Color raster photography. The old copying processes and devices for paper pictures and slides. From the fading process to the silver dye bleaching process.
    2. Volume 2: Modern Processes. Age of Chromogenic Development. Pictures from the slide and negative. Mask process. The colored instant photo.
    3. Volume 3: Lexicon of Processes, Devices and Materials. The system of procedures. Chronicle of color photography.
  • Jost J. Marchesi: color photography . 42 pages. Gilch: Vlg. Photographie 1996. ISBN 3933131138 .
  • Michael Nischke and Jens Sovak: Better exposures and color values . 160 pages. Lindemanns 2000. ISBN 3895061964 .
  • Ernst König: Die Farben-Photography, a generally understandable representation of the various processes together with instructions for their execution (second increased and improved edition). Berlin, published by Gustav Schmidt, 1906.
  • Ernst König: Autochrome photography and the related three-color screen processes . Berlin, published by Gustav Schmidt, 1908.
  • Dr. B. Donath: The Basics of Color Photography, by Dr. B. Donath, with 35 imprinted illustrations and a colored notice board . Braunschweig, printed and published by Friedrich Vieweg and Son, 1906.
  • Dr. A. Traube and Dr. H. Auerbach: Photography and color photography, their history and development . (Trade, Industry and Transport in Individual Representations, Volume XIV) Berlin W. 30, Verlag für Sprach- u. Commerce Science S. Simon, ca.1908.
  • Dr. med. R. Neuhauss: Color photography according to Lippmann's method, new investigations and results . Halle aS, Verlag von Wilhelm Knapp, 1898.
  • Christoph Antweiler [Ed.]: 1914 - World in Color. Color photography before the war . Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz 2013.
    Catalog for the exhibition in the LandesMuseum Bonn, September 24, 2013 - March 3, 2014 and in the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, August 1 - November 2, 2014
  • Hugo Schöttle, Edmund Budgoll: Olympics of color photography . Frankfurt, Umschau Verlag. 3 volumes: 1976, 1980, 1984.

Web links

Commons : Color Photography  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Color photography  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Brian Coe: Color Photography and Its Processes. The first hundred years in natural colors 1840-1940 . Gondrom Verlag (license Laterna magica, Munich) 1979/1986 pp. 30–31
  2. James Clerk Maxwell: On the Theory of Three Primary Colors . In: WD Niven (Ed.): The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell . Dover Publications, Mineola 2003, ISBN 0-486-49560-4 , pp. 445-450.