First Color Photograph
While the magic of photography ignited a sense of wonder in people around the world, there was one key component missing from the images: color. Most of us don’t see the world in black and white. So there was always the issue of not capturing the true essence of people, places and objects in an image. However, this changed in 1861. While Sir Isaac Newton pioneered the scientific understanding of color and light, it would be many years before this could be captured in photographs. Nearly 200 years later, in 1861, a young Scottish physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, conducted an experiment to show that, in fact, all colors can be made by an appropriate mixture of red, green and blue light. Many media enthusiasts may now know this to be the RGB spectrum.
According to the Science Media Museum, “Maxwell took three separate lantern slides of a tartan ribbon through red, green and blue filters. These slides were then projected through the same filters using three separate magic lanterns. When the three images were carefully superimposed on the screen, they combined to make a coloured image which was a recognisable reproduction of the original. While Maxwell’s experiments demonstrated clearly the basic principles of colour photography, in practice, his demonstration should not have worked at all. Although the physicist didn’t know it, the photographic emulsions that he used were insensitive to red light. Fortunately for Maxwell, the red cloth in the ribbon reflected ultraviolet light. This was invisible to the eye but did register on the emulsion.”