Science and Invention

Photography in Natural Colors

December 1 1907
Science and Invention

Photography in Natural Colors

December 1 1907

A PROCESS of color photography successful and cheap enough to be practicable has been perfected and last month was put on the market in the United States. This invention of the famous house of Lumiere, of Paris, is the realization of the dream of photographers ever since the first daguerreotypes were taken. And it will probably be revolutionary of the art of photography.

The process has not yet achieved a colored reproduction on paper, but these successful colored transparencies are wonderful enough. They alter the essential character of photography—the making of pictures by contrasts of light and shadow. There are no shadows in the color process. For instance, the side of a sitter’s face that is away from the light does not appear on the plate as a black, but simply as a darker flesh-tint. Hence, these plates produce a startling effect of reality, as if one saw before him a living thing. Think of a portrait of Lincoln that should show not only his height and breadth and the lines of his face and figure, but that should show also the exact color of his eyes, the tints of his complexion, the exact shade of every gray hair among the black, the gold of his watch chain, the rusty black of his hat and coat—all in shades so delicately graduated that the almost indistinguishable difference between the flesh-tint of the face and the flesh-tint of the hands is clearly indicated. Think of the interest and value of a national gallery of such portraits of the past. Such a dazzling prospect for the future seems open by the perfection of a process that seems already well-nigh perfect.

In landscapes and in “still life” pictures, equally wonderful results have been achieved. In one plate the delicate shade of green reflected on a white surface by the sunlight on green leaves is caught perfectly.

The process is as simple as ordinary photography, and is very similar to some of the old processes of developing and fixing. One plate has been made—exposed, developed, and fixed—in nine minutes.

The most intricate part of the entire process is the manufacture of the plate, which does not need to concern the photographer. The “autochrome” plates, as they are called, are made with the aid of minute grains of starch—dyed violet, green, and orange—which are mixed and dusted over the plate. When it leaves the inventors’ hands the plate resembles a piece of ordinary ground glass, the intermingled colors being indistinguishable. Its surface is, of course, coated with a sensitive photographic emulsion.

This plate is placed in the camera with the glass side toward the lens, so that the light rays from the object being photographed must pass through this mosaic of colored starch grains before reaching the film, on which the corresponding color values are impressed. After the developing baths, the result is a color positive which, when held to the light, shows the object in its natural colors.

The inventors of the process are the Lumiere brothers, Louis and Auguste, of Paris, working under the inspiration of their father, M. Antoine Lumiere, the distinguished dry-plate manufacturer, inventor of the moving-picture machine, philanthropist, and portrait-painter. M. Antoine Lumiere is now visiting the United States.