A beautiful blue sky: the emergence of color photography

By Nicéphore Niépce museum

Nicéphore Niépce invented photography in 1827. Over the following decades, different methods followed on from one another and it became possible to produce photographs in black and white. From the 1840s, certain inventors, like Edmond Becquerel, attempted to master shooting in color. Producing color photographs proved to be a veritable technical challenge that took researchers, scientists, and manufacturers several decades to overcome.

Reproduction collographique de feuilles et de pétales de fleurs d'après un trio de négatifs dont le tirage en gélatine fut produit sous forme de diaphanie dans une séance de la Société Française de Photographie, février 1870. (1870) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

The first experiments

The beginnings of color photography

Image daguerrienne sans mercure / par l'action continuatrice des rayons rouges / observée par Mr Edmond Becquerel (1840) (1840) by Edmond BECQUERELNicéphore Niépce museum

Since the news of the invention of photography in 1839, the challenge was laid down to reproduce natural colors. The daguerreotype, the fruit of Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) and Louis Daguerre’s (1787-1851) joint efforts, made it possible to produce a single, instant photograph without color.

Spectres solaires (1848) by Edmond BECQUERELNicéphore Niépce museum

Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891) made several successful attempts at photographing the solar spectrum in 1848. These images, which he could not fix, were particularly fragile and disappeared when exposed to light.

Portrait d'Edmond Becquerel (1864) by AnonymeNicéphore Niépce museum

Double autoportrait de Louis-Alphonse POITEVIN (1860) by Louis-Alphonse POITEVINNicéphore Niépce museum

From then on, in Europe and the United States, many scholars and photographers set out to solve the question of color, such as Charles Cros (1842-1888), Gabriel Lippmann (1845-1921), ME Walker, Abel Niépce de Saint Victor (1805-1870), Alphonse Poitevin (1819-1882), and Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872), etc.

Héliochromie - superposition des trois couches monochromes Héliochromie - superposition des trois couches monochromes (1882)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Three questions arose: how to be faithful to natural colors, how to fix the images, and how to duplicate the photos taken, like with negatives which let you produce as many prints as you like.

Héliochromie - superposition des trois couches monochromes Héliochromie - couche monochrome bleue (1882)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Héliochromie - superposition des trois couches monochromes Héliochromie - couche monochrome rouge (1882)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Héliochromie - superposition des trois couches monochromes Héliochromie - couche monochrome jaune (1882)Nicéphore Niépce museum

Reproduction collographique de feuilles et de pétales de fleurs d'après un trio de négatifs dont le tirage en gélatine fut produit sous forme de diaphanie dans une séance de la Société Française de Photographie, février 1870. (1870) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

The process of Louis Ducos du Hauron

Trichromy at the service of color photography

Portrait de Louis Ducos du Hauron (1880/1900) by Nadar PaulNicéphore Niépce museum

Educated by tutors, passionate about optics and the study of colors, Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837-1920) took a very early interest in photography.

Essai de reproduction couleur (1868/1869) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

In 1862, Ducos du Hauron made his first attempts at color photography and published his results.
In order to do it, he worked from the theories of Maxwell who set out the trichromatic principle for the reproduction of color.

Essai de reproduction couleur (1868/1869) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

Ducos du Hauron went on to test different mediums and colored pigments to try to obtain stable and color photographs in colors as close as possible to natural colors.

Nature morte (1880/1900) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

His archives contain hand-drawn 'topographic' surveys indicating the 'real' colors he had to reproduce for each area of photographic subjects.

Flowers (1882) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

Still lifes and dioramas were his favorite subjects.

Reproduction collographique de feuilles (...) Société Française de Photographie (février 1870) (1870) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

On May 7, 1869, Ducos du Hauron submitted to the French Society of Photography a paper on heliochromy, the indirect method of color photography that he had created and perfected over the past ten years.

Reproduction collographique de feuilles et de pétales de fleurs d'après un trio de négatifs dont le tirage en gélatine fut produit sous forme de diaphanie dans une séance de la Société Française de Photographie, février 1870. (1870) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

Ducos du Hauron's method consisted in taking three successive shots of the same subject through three different colored filters (orange, violet, and green), in order to ‘select’ the three primary colors successively.

Agen, un faubourg (1875) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

Each photo was then printed on a transparent medium on which the corresponding filter was fixed and then the three positives were superimposed one over the other. He called the resulting photograph a positive heliochromy in color.

Le Mélanochromoscope Le Mélanochromoscope (1899)Nicéphore Niépce museum

To make taking the shot easier, the other major contribution Ducos du Hauron invented was a device dedicated to trichromy: the melanochromoscope.

Le Mélanochromoscope Le Mélanochromoscope (1899) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

Ducos du Hauron wanted to reduce the number of steps for the operator. From 1885, he filed for several patents bearing witness to his efforts. Finally, he filed for a patent for the melanochromoscope on May 16, 1899.

Le Mélanochromoscope Le Mélanochromoscope (1899) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

The device was equipped with three colored filters. Through an ingenious system of mirrors, the operator produced in a single use the three negatives necessary to produce a color photograph, without having to change the filter between the shots.

Reproduction collographique de feuilles et de pétales de fleurs d'après un trio de négatifs dont le tirage en gélatine fut produit sous forme de diaphanie dans une séance de la Société Française de Photographie, février 1870. (1870) by Louis DUCOS DU HAURONNicéphore Niépce museum

After Ducos du Hauron...

Ducos du Hauron's following experiments and results gave rise to many new processes; both industrial as with the autochromy of the Lumiere brothers and private such as Marcel Arthaud’s method.

sans titre (1910/1920) by AnonymeNicéphore Niépce museum

In the end, the work of Ducos du Hauron was more or less forgotten for several decades, but photographers made use of his results to develop their own methods. The famous autochrome method commercialized by the Lumiere brothers in 1907 was inspired by Ducos du Hauron’s theories.

Mode d'emploi de l'appareil OV2 (1931/1935) by Marcel ArthaudNicéphore Niépce museum

In the 1930s, Marcel Arthaud worked from the melanochromoscope patent to invent his OV2, a trichromatic camera, in which the colored filters had to be changed between each shot.

Triptyque promotionnel pour l'appareil OV2 inventé par Marcel Arthaud, portrait du père de l'inventeur (1935) by Marcel ArthaudNicéphore Niépce museum

Triptyque promotionnel pour l'appareil OV2 inventé par Marcel Arthaud, Chien méchant (1935) by Marcel ArthaudNicéphore Niépce museum

Using his technique, he produced the color brochure given to first-class passengers on the SS Normandie ocean liner as well as a number of publicity photos.

Triptyque promotionnel pour l'appareil OV2 inventé par Marcel Arthaud, Au Printemps. Paris (1935) by Marcel ArthaudNicéphore Niépce museum

Credits: Story

Kim Timby et Joël Petitjean, historiens de la photographie.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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