The world is not monochrome.
The first photographs were black and white and black-and-white photography remains an important medium for exploring light, texture and composition. But today, the default in digital photography is to mimic a full spectrum of visible colours.
“Colour photography is making pictures that look more like how the world looks,” says photographer Nicole Morrison. With colour photography, you can also play with the hues in a colour image to enhance a mood or feeling. And digital editing tools can help you to get the colours in your photos exactly how you want them. “All the images that make me feel good,” says Morrison, “all the photos that I’m really excited about, they’re all really colourful.”
The history of colour photography.
It was a long road from black-and-white film photography to the vibrant coloured images we see today. Long before the digital camera, the very first photographers took black-and-white images as early as the mid-1830s. Called daguerreotypes, these were made on polished metal plates using a photographic process involving extremely long exposure times and light-sensitive chemicals. Black-and-white photography evolved and remained popular through the first World War.
Early colour photography.
Thomas Sutton created the first colour photograph in 1861. For this famous photo of a tartan ribbon, Sutton used a three-colour method invented by physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who realised that the perception of all colours in an image could be created with a several-step process of taking multiple images through three coloured glass plates: red, green and blue. Louis Ducos du Hauron used a similar technique to create a famous coloured landscape photo of southern France in 1877, named View of Agen.
Autochrome Lumière, created by Auguste and Louis Lumière at the start of the 1900s, was another long-exposure colour photography technique that used “autochrome plates” coated with tiny dots of multicolored starch, instead of just one colour. Still, plate methods were complicated, drawn-out processes that yielded less than ideal results. Until, in 1908, Gabriel Jonas Lippmann won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his method of creating colour in a photo in just one single process using a colour-sensitive film coating or emulsion, on top of a glass plate.
From time consuming to Time Magazine.
Eventually, Lippman’s chemical emulsion gave way to the most widely adopted type of colour film, which also used light-sensitive emulsion. Two Leopolds, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, invented this style of “tripack” colour film in 1935 and it was popularised by companies like Kodak and Polaroid. Yet, even after shops began stocking Kodak’s Kodachrome colour film, it still took a few more decades for colour photography to catch on. Colour was considered more of a party trick than a fine art until photographers like William Eggleston gained recognition in the 1970s through gallery exhibits and respected publications.