How to reproduce the look of
Early Colour Photography

Early colour photography must have been challenging. Was it any different to today? Back then you ‘d have spent a large sum on the camera, as much on the lens(es) and a fortune in darkroom kit.

Today, you spend a large sum on the camera, as much on the lens(es) and then you spend a chunk or three on software to get the best out of your images. 

What do you do next? You use software filters to modify the images to make them look like those of yesteryear.

The technology to create the original colour photographs was simple and effective. One of the most effective, the Autochrome process, was totally ingenious!

It used the physical principles in the trichromatic colour theory of James Clerk Maxwell in a simple and practical form.

The Lumière brothers who were famous for their motion picture invention proposed that the three images required for colour reproduction could be captured simultaneously using a filter made from potato starch stained in supposedly Red, Green and Blue dyes and the mixture of these grains dispersed evenly in front of a standard silver halide photographic emulsion.

The dyes were red-orange, green and blue-violet and this sequence of dyes leads to red and orange being overly saturated.

In simulating the processes we often make the product less sharp or more degraded.

Why introduce a soft, grainy, low contrast image with a colour cast to your repertoire? The grain in analogue film is rounded and not square edged as in pixels in digital imaging.

Many newer top-end cameras have the image recording devices fitted with technology to reduce this symmetry.

In the process we are simulating in our autochrome look there are ‘gaps’ in the information between the image “grains” and our brains work harder to create the missing parts of the image.

This is the Gestalt Principle of Continuity. We are creating an “impression” of how we felt when we took the photograph rather than a “record” of what we saw.

The Autochrome manufacturing process continued from 1907 through to the early 1930s until it was replaced by the subtractive film processes. Photographs captured by this early colour photography process provide us with a look in colour at the early part of the twentieth century.

We've got three methods available for the main photo-processing software packages.

Unfortunately Adobe Photoshop Elements does not support some of the features we require for the simulation, but with the Elements XXL plugin we can achieve similar results to those gained by the users of Adobe Photoshop and Corel PaintShop Pro.

Early Colour Photography Links

So have a play with an image to see what your present world would look like using an early colour photography process.

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