We take a look at the history of colored film photography and explore when the first colored film was developed. We also discuss the different types of colored film available today.
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Pre-history: hand-coloring of photographs
Some of the earliest photographs were actually hand-colored by painting over the original black and white image. This was a painstaking process that was often done by trained artists. Early examples of hand-colored photographs can be seen in the work of photographers such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Oscar Rejlander.
The first color photographs
The first color photographs were taken by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861. He used three separate images of a tartan ribbon, each exposed to a different primary color (red, green, or blue). When the three images were projected together with Gramma’s Patent Spectro-Chrome, the result was an accurate color photograph.
The first color film
Color film photography began in the 1890s, but it wasn’t commercially viable until the 1930s. The first color film, called Autochrome, was developed by the Lumière brothers in France. It used dyed grains of potato starch to produce color images. Early color films were very expensive and difficult to use, so they remained a niche product for a few decades.
The first color cameras
The first color cameras were developed in the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that color photography became widely used. Early color photography was often imprecise, with colors that were not always accurate. In the 1950s, new color film stocks were developed that made colors more accurate. Today, digital technology has made color photography even more precise.
The first color photo printing process
The first color photo printing process was the three-color process invented by Scottish photographer James Clerk Maxwell in 1855. This method was used for photographic printing into the 20th century. The three-color process produced a color photograph by projecting red, green, and blue light through a color separation filter onto a black-and-white film. The black-and-white film was then developed and printed onto paper coated with cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes.
The first color photograph commercially printed using the three-color process was “View of the Grand Canal, Venice” by British photographer Edward Steichen in 1912. The print was sold for $150,000 at Christie’s auction house in 2006.
The modern four-color printing process was invented in 1878 by French scientist Edmund Becquerel. This process uses the same three colors as the three-color process, but adds black to produce a darker and more realistic print. Becquerel’s process was first used to print “La Corde Sensible” by French photographer Paul Brauner in 1891.
The first color negative film
Color photography was first possible with the creation of the first color negative film in 1873. This film was created by mixing together three different colors of pigment and applying them to a glass plate. The colors would then be exposed to light one at a time and then combined to create a full-color image.
The first color reversal film
Kodachrome, the first successful color reversal (or ” transparency “) film, was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. It was a complexrobe involving three dye- bearing color layers incorporated into a cross- over negative / positive process.Although the process required exacting development techniques, the results were impressive, and Kodachrome enjoyed great popularity for several decades, particularly for amateur home movie use and for slide projection.
The first color slide film
The first color slide film was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1936. Prior to that date, color photography had been possible only by using tricky, and sometimes messy, methods of coating one’s film with dyes or other pigments. The first color slide film, called Kodachrome, used a complex process involving three different color-sensitive layers on a single film base. The paper prints were also introduced in 1936.
The first color print film
The first color print film was introduced by Kodak in 1942. It was called Kodachrome and it used dyes to produce colors on film. The first color slide film followed in 1955. It used a different process to produce colors on film, but it also used dyes.
The first color digital camera
Invented in the 1970s, the first digital camera was a bulky device the size of a toaster oven. It took black and white photographs that were displayed on a television screen. The images were crude by today’s standards, but the technology was a breakthrough at the time.