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Color Photography with B&W Film 240

DrPsycho writes: "Saw this linked on memepool and it just blew me away. The Library of Congress website has an exhibition section which features the works of Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). Yeah yeah. Big deal, you say... until you realize his original B&W glass-plate negatives were created using a clever RGB filter system which he used almost 100 years ago. A little modern "digichromatography" ... reapplication of the filtered colours and combining them into a composite colour image... allows for stunning full colour reproductions! Not bad, considering by how long it predates the release of Kodachrome colour slide film."
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Color Photography with B&W Film

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  • Read more in "The History of Color Photography" by Heinz Richter at
  • heh, low slashid :) -- frank
  • Like you say, _you_ didn't read the website.

    He had a projection box to display the images in colour.

    Go look at the website, the pictures are quite stunning.

  • Absolutely the colors on some seem to be out of balance with what we expect to see. Some of the plates, because of a slight time lapse, have rgb artifacts becuase of moving objects.

    I choose to believe that some of the brilliant colors may stand out because the colors that were being recorded were absolutely amazing. Some of the blues in the architecture section are stunning, and the beauty of the scenes are touching and beyond words.

    This has got to be the coolest thing I've seen posted on slashdot in months.

  • $500? Hell, i'll sell mine for $400... and it's a lot lower than yours. How dumb is this? you could probably bribe rob to give you an even lower one...
  • by jCaT ( 1320 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @11:55PM (#241834)
    A painting really only portrays the artist's stylized view of the world- and with a limited palette. This [] could have certainly been a painting- but a photograph gives such striking detail of EXACTLY how the scene was at that exact moment. An artist can only hope to capture every possible nuance- the expression on his face, every intricate detail of his coat. Besides- even if it was a very good painting- it's still not the same. It goes from "a pretty good idea" to an EXACT representation of what was there.

    I would like to see a painting of this [] that could capture all the details there. It's just not possible to freeze an instant in time like this- where the lighting is JUST perfect, and the reflection is just right. It would take an artist days or weeks to reproduce that- and days or weeks is NOT freezing an instant in time.

    The realism of all these photos is what is so amazing. Black and white photographs and paintings give you a somewhat removed idea of what was actually happening. Looking at a picture like this [] you can actually envision the scene there as though it was yesterday- but it wasn't yesterday, it was 100 years ago.

    Computers have gone a long way towards being able to create realistic scenes- but even the untrained eye can pick out sophisticated computer generated imagery. It doesn't take a fraction of a second for your brain to go "that's fake." The same can be said for just about every painting I've seen- and I've seen a lot of paintings. There's something that can't be synthezised by human hand or computer that a photograph can capture. I for one completely understand what the original poster meant. It truly is a shift in the way that I see the world "before color".

    Paintings and other art forms have their place. Whoever it was that said "a picture is worth a thousand words" is right- both in the sense of a photograph and a painting. They just say different things. A photograph can be the most unbiased eye, and a painting could never hope to be this way.
  • If all it takes for you is to see people in funny clothes, lots of wood, and poor building codes, try travelling to some of the poorer areas in Asia, Africa, or India some time.

    Fear my low SlashID! (bidding starts at $500)
  • Let's see... I can't speak for India or Africa cause I haven't been there, but I have travelled quite a bit in Vietnam, China, and Thailand. I studied abroad in China for a year.

    Small cities in Vietnam -- ie NOT Saigon and Hanoi. There are Mekong Delta tours from Saigon that will take you to really great minority areas along the Mekong. And travel anywhere on the train.. My god, the trains... ugh.. I took the train from the Chinese border to Hanoi. The trains go through some real remote places.

    China outside any of the major metropolitan areas. For maximum "different-ness" go to minority areas. But for it to really work well in China you have to be able to speak the language, or be with someone who can speak the language. Anywhere you can go on a real tour with an english speaking tourguide isn't going to show you much. If that's out of the question, southwestern China (Yunnan specifically) has quite a few spots that are real backpacker friendly. Plenty of books about backpacking in that area.

    Also, Thailand. Bangkok is a fricking super metropolis, but even there if you go on the outskirts, there's some pretty interesting stuff, like hundreds of people living in the crack between the riverbank and the paved road.. And I saw some wonderful things in northern Thailand, like Chiang Mai (I'd recommend the Banana Guesthouse to anybody thinking of going there). Even on tours with an English speaking tourguide (backpacking tour). They took us hiking all over the national park up there, and we slept in minority villages that have pretty much remained unchanged for many many generations.

    If you just get out into the world and travel you can find some remarkable things.

    Fear my low SlashID! (bidding starts at $500)
  • In contrast to what you are saying, this is from three different exposures (probably in addition to any slight angle differences as well).

    From the site:

    "A single, narrow glass plate about 3 inches wide by 9 inches long was placed vertically into the camera by Prokudin-Gorskii . He then photographed the same scene three times in a fairly rapid sequence using a red filter, a green filter and a blue filter."

    Before saying other people are wrong, try reading the site.

    Fear my low SlashID! (bidding starts at $500)
  • The same idea (multiple shots onto monochrome stock via colour filters, recombined at the projection phase) has been independently rediscovered several times, for still and moving images. See, for example, Thomascolor [] at the Dead Media Project.

    My own interest is that a member of my family, Juliet Rhys Williams had her own system, called the Morgana process, which she managed to get Bell & Howell to pilot in the 1930s. Her mother, Elinor Glyn the racy novelist, had connections with Charlie Chaplin, Hearst etc and was able to provide contacts in Bell & Howell to get the project off the ground.

    The prototype had a 3-color spinning filter and ran ordinary monochrome stock at triple speed. The projector had a similar filter. When this proved impractically fast for a production model, B&H designed a near-natural colour process involving a two-colour oscillating filter, targeted at amateur (wealthy) home-movie freaks. This went into production and my father remembers using one as a boy in the early 1940s.

    Its achilles heel was that the colours could easily go to hell if the film was spliced. But if the 3-colours-on-monochrome Morgana process had become popular instead of colour stock, it would have solved the problem of fading colour movies. It would only be necessary to replace the filters as they faded.
  • You could. You'd want a prism to separate the images, then enough of a light path to get the 'red' picture physically away form the 'green' and that away from th 'blue' (actually each covering a range of hues), then another set of mirrors and prisms to realign them.

    It'd be difficult to do, not sure if it would have been possible at the time even in the best of conditions. For the reasons I stated earlier, I'm pretty clear that that is not what was done.


  • Right result, but I think you have the wrong reason.

    The grass is green, but the previous author is right, there are non-green wavelengths coming from the grass, and there would be color fringing of the grass, particularly in the bright highlights, if the blurring of the grass was due to movement.

    However, I believe the grass is less than perfectly sharp because it's just out of focus from being too close to the camera.


  • It's a moving object, I can't tell what it is, though. Could be an animal.

    There are several reasons to believe that it's not lens flare, but the simplest one is that the sun is in back of the camera in the shot you indicate, and you need direct sunlight on the camera lens to get lens flare.


  • Please revisit moderation on the parent comment to this one, I believe it was incorrectly marked as off-topic.


  • It's not even clear what's meant by a 'pure' red filter, filters pass some range of colors with different transmission characteristics. But being pedantic aside...

    So, lets assume that you have colored filters (sure) that act additionally as a polarizer and a partial-wave plate (pretty much science fiction stuff for the era we're talking about). As a photographer you'd be sad about that, by the way, you can't afford the 50% light lossage you'd pay in terms of even longer exposures. But let's just take that as an asumption. Okay, so we're out on a limb, but if we buy into all those assumptions, do you actually get the water effect shown?

    Nope. :)

    If you had simulatanious polarized pictures of the same scene through the same lens (did I forget to mention the amazing work with at least four prisms that would be required to make this work?), you would not get the same effect. The areas that were brighter and darker between the different planes would be correlated in a different way than they are, the visual effect would be quite different. You'd have color fringes surrounding water highlights instead of the softer flowing effect.

    Still, it's fun to try and think these things out.


  • I dissent.

    If you look at the pole, which is not shiny, the artifact that an earlier poster pointed to has color fringing. Since the pole is not shiny, your explanation doesn't explain that behavior. Since other nearby objects are not fringed, it can't be a parallax thing or poor registration of the color layers.

    That suggests movement. If that were true, and the pole were planted, you'ld expect the fringe to grow as you approach the top of the pole, which it does if you examine the picture closely.

    The sharpness of the pictures suggest that they were taken through the same lens. Were they not, parallax fringes would be apparent all over the place, and there'd be no good way to correct that. So the light for the three image planes came in through the same lens.

    But we know that each film section was exposed through a different filter. So either the filter was changed (automatically or manually) between each frame, or he invented complex third-silvered mirror appartuses. The former is a lot more technologically believable.

    Finally, people can be still with practice for long exposures. B&W photographs from the mid-19th century demonstrate this on a regular basis.

    I stick by my original belief that the color fringes are related to small differences in the time of exposure between the different color layers. (On the order or a fraction of a second to a couple of seconds.)


  • ...polarization.The method uses colour filters...

    You missed my comment about parallax. If you have multiple lenses, each has a different perspective on the scene, and when you try to align the images you end up in a world of hurt in terms of color fringes on everything. We don't see that, so the images must have been taken through a single lens.

    I am quite aware of what polarization is. True polarization filters (called "linear polarizers" in the photo biz) align different frequencies of light in the same direction. To get any color-dependent effects you need the modern marriage of a polarization filter with a quarter-wave plate or such, what is normally referred to in the photo biz as a "circular polarizer". These are pretty complicated pieces of technology, but I use them in my photography business, I photograph water all the time, and they don't introduce those artifacts in one-lens cameras. If you insist on a three-lens camera as an explanation for what's happening, then you have yet to answer the issue of parallax.

    I agree that there is a loss of sharpness in the grass. I do not agree that that is a time-exposure effect. The grass in that photo is much closer than the rest of the picture, it is my belief that the grass is close enough to the camera to be very slightly out of focus. This is totally consistent with my experience (I have a second business doing nature/landscape photography.)


  • I wonder -- will our world look so stragely 2D to the people of the future?
  • They somehow remind me of the photos from the Pathfinder mission [] even though I'm not sure if the original images were RGB seperated. The camera (IMP) [] did have some filters and they did a fair amount of processing on the images, including combining images for 3D stereo (in color). I remember the first pictures to be greyscale, though.
  • by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @06:19PM (#241848)
    One of the main reasons why these photos are of such high quality is simply the size of the exposed film. The photographer was using a 3"x3" sheet of film (glass actually) for each color. Compare with a modern color camera using 35mm, or the even smaller APS format film. Large format cameras have a huge quality advantage over 35mm cameras. You wouldn't want to use one for shooting an ice hockey game, but for lanscapes, portraits, surveys, and the like they are wonderful.
  • This is similar to the old "Three Strip" Technicolor process, as used in "The Wizard Of Oz" in 1939.

    There's a nifty page about Technicolor's three-strip process at or6.htm []

  • OK, so the photos from the period were black and white, but what about the paintings, both from that period, as well as earlier?

    Since perhaps the color paintings were largely replaced by B&W photos some time ago, does that mean that there's only a specific timeframe that was 'in black and white', instead of 'everything older'?

    I just don't understand what is so profound about this.
  • And of course, a painting could never be so deceptive... :-)
  • Even better, just modulate it until it is out of the audio frequency range. This is how stereo signals are broadcast, and I think this is also how the additional two tracks are recorded on quadrophonic (sp?) records.
  • Another interesting wrinkle in the stereo broadcast scenario. The baseband (unmodulated signal) is actually R+L, while the modulated signal is R-L. This way, a monaural receiver plays both channels and a stereo reciever can seperate the right and left signals.
  • I don't beleive he used three lenses. My reading of the article describing his process is that he used a single lense, and moved the film two times (three frames) using the three colour filters. Yes, there was an illustration of a three-lensed camera.

    In particular, the article mentions how he had to change filters "in rapid succession." This sounds like a single-lense situation to me, otherwise a single mechanism would trigger three shutters simultaneously.

  • He had a single-lense camera and a triple-lense projector.

    Should have read the entire article first, instead of just browsing it...

  • He had a single lense camera and a triple lense projector. I've double-checked: what everyone is thinking was a camera is, in fact, the projector.

    This is one of the major problems with the Internet: it's a "skim" media -- the visual analogue of the soundbite -- and it's so very easy to end up misinformed because one didn't actually pay close attention.

    The article re: how the fellow did his work *clearly* tells us that he used a standard-issue camera, taking three pictures in succession. The *one* image of a three-lensed machine is, if one actually reads the text, the projector that he used to combine the three images.

    So, no, the colour fringing isn't parallax, perspective or any other such thing: it's caused by movement, because there was a time interval between each shot.

    What leaves me remaining curious, is whether the colours are true to life, or have been exagerated. I simply don't expect turn-of-the-century fabrics to be so boldly and richly coloured! They look fake to me... but there's every chance that they really were those colours. True dyes on natural fiber must look more colourful than printed dyes on synthetics...

  • by hatless ( 8275 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:40PM (#241857)
    Read the background materials. It's worth noting that the images weren't made into prints in those days. Rather, they were shown with a special projector with separate red, green and blue beams aimed at the same spot, just like all pre-LCD projection televisions and video projectors. Very clever.
  • In constrast to what other people are saying, this is not from three different exposures. If that were the case, people would probably have stange outlines of color around them from the thre different exposures. (Not to mention how hard it is to load another sheet of film into a large format camera without moving it.)

    It is three simultaneous exposures. The reason why the water looks the way it does it because of the very precise angles involved in spectral reflections. The lenses for each color were only inches apart. However, that variance is enough to cause the precise area of the spectral reflection off the water to shift for each lens.

    This would be more obvious if he had taken more pictures of shiny objects. However, to this date, the average Russian still owns little in the way of shiny objects. Besides, they would show a flaw in his process. :)
  • What is interesting about his approach is how CHEAP it was. Rather than trying to reproduce color images, he reproduced black and white plates that would be projected with colored light.

    He avoided the problem of movement between exposures by using three lenses, each with a red, green or blue filter. I'd like to see how a closeup still life would come out. Each color would have a slightly different perspective on the situation, causing some strange distortion, This is known as parallax and can be an issue in rangefinder (non "through the lens") cameras - what you see through the rangefinder isn't quite what you capture through the film when close to an object.

    Variance between the different projectors, light sources, and the varying qualities of color filters would, however, make it nearly impossible to get consistant results.

    These images definitely have their own feel to them. Strangely, the website doesn't say anything about a real life exhibition of them. Perhaps they didn't make prints. seeing them in person, up close, would reveal more about how the results of the process.
  • I think the out-of-phase coloured bits may have been caused by movement of the subjects. IIRC from reading the article, the three separations were taken *almost* simultaneously.
  • The first live-action color films used a similar process; the Technicolor cameras had three strips of black-and-white film, with filters to separate the colors. These were huge cantankerous beasts, but they gave us color in film.

    One extremely benificial aspect of this is that black-and-white film is extremely stable compared to color film. Black and white film uses metallic silver (expensive yes, but stable) and is an archival medium, whereas modern color films use dyes that are extremely quick to fade and degrade. Even a film as recent as the first Star Wars movie required extensive cleanup to restore to its original colors.

    Some early computer graphic films used black-and-white images, step-printed (one frame of red, then green, then blue) with the colors combined later in an optical printer. My first computer graphics effects (Solar Crisis) was step-printed with the color image followed by the opacity image. These were again used on an optical printer to merge the CG with the live action.


  • If you look at the pole, which is not shiny, the artifact that an earlier poster pointed to has color fringing. Since the pole is not shiny, your explanation doesn't explain that behavior. Since other nearby objects are not fringed, it can't be a parallax thing or poor registration of the color layers.
    It's polarization. The method uses colour filters in front of each colour camera; they probably don't polarize the incoming light at the same angle, hence the fringing on the water.

    It's not movement, since the grass blades in the foreground are blurred without any coulour fringe whatsoever.

    That said, the method used is just like Technicolor [], except that it doesn't use dichroid mirrors.

    And one will also recall Polaroid's [] polavision [] (official dope []), which used a film striped with RGB filters. But videocams made that obsolete overnight.


  • by smileyy ( 11535 ) <> on Monday May 07, 2001 @04:30AM (#241863)

    Everything was black and white back then. Its just that everything turned to color in the early 20th century. The color paintings you see? Well, a lot of great artists were insane, so were painting in color way back when.

    It would appear that this guy's camera was quite insane as well.

    (With all apologies to Calvin's dad)

  • Of course your subject had to be still for the entire grabbing process (and this was sloooooow) which limited it's usefulness.

    That sounds exactly like photography in the early 1900's.... Notice in some of the photos that there are rainbow effects (notable ones were a picture taken close to a moving river, where the water ends up rainbowed, and another taken of a large area with people moving in it, where there are rainbow shadows of people who moved between colors).

  • That reminds me of Blade Runner, looking at Rachel's personal photos. Having the one where they are sitting on the porch suddenly move was a great shocker.

    But think of digital picture frames and digital cameras today, which can express and capture a notion of time. It's not unreasonable to think that in 20 years, we'll have a printing process (digital paper) that is lifelike.
  • There was an expirament done in Germany in the early 1900's of stereo sound. Two phone lines were hooked up and the receivers were placed in front of the Opera stage. Some miles away, people were asked to put two phone receivers to their heads and listen.

    Apparently, it was marvelous.

  • Thanks for the correction. It's been years since I had thought of it.

    History link here []


  • "Nice hack which thanks to this post I found out has a 100-year history!!! :-)"

    ...and NewTek did that for the Amiga 15 years ago!
  • Using filters for colour photography is nothing new. In fact, that's the most used method of all, particularly when you look deep into how colour film (in particular, Kodachrome!) works.
    Look at astrophotography, for example. Almost all colour pictures of the sky is created this way -- you take three different B&W pictures through different filters.
  • by Julius X ( 14690 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @05:24PM (#241870) Homepage
    I'm not sue whether or not its the process that was used to take them or the way that they were scanned, but I can't help but marvel at the clarity and quality of these images.

    Black & White film has always been shown to be able to produce higher contrast and sharpness than color images, and I can't help but wonder if using this kind of process isn't a better method of producing color photographs than what we traditionally use. But these images are just so clear and so lifelike that I can't help but wonder. (and if this process was used today, we could most likely eliminate the "artifacts" in color-shifting that others have noted by making the simultanous lenses much closer together)

    But even if it was just the scanning process, I have to say these images are still incredible..just to be able to see this time in history in such vibrant realism, is incredible.

    -Julius X
  • Every single one of these pictures has been manually "tweaked" for optimal contrast and color balance, according to the page. In fact, it says that different regions of the same image are tweaked differently. Basically, someone brightened and sharpened in Photoshop, making the colors hyperrealistic and more pleasing to the eye. But what you see is not necessarily the natural or original colors that were photographed.

    Without knowing the optical characteristics of the filters used, a precise reconstruction is impossible. But, having looked at the results, the sky looks sky-colored. The grass looks grass-colored. The colors look quite appropriate in large portions of the images. What do you mean by hyperrealistic? Too good to be true?

    Yes, they have tried to correct for defects in the emulsions, but the result appears to be quite accurate.
  • Since the images were meant to be projected the levels would need to be adjusted for brightness. It's not like they invented colors and painted them on there. The prints are probably extremly close to what the scene actually looked like.
  • Actually its a result of the images being taken in rapid succession, instead of simultaneously. Thus any movement in the picture causes slightly different images to be taken for the RGB channels and you get strange color artifacts. For a similar effect just offset the RGB channels of a photo in Photoshop (or Gimp). Kinda trippy.
  • If you go to the "how they did it" page, you'll see they did some extensive "color correction," or as we normally call it "photoshopping." check out this []
  • This seemingly vast archive of images is nothing short of amazing.

    However, the colors in at least some of the pictures "just don't seem right" to me. Is this due to mismatches between my monitors RGB and the original filters, degradation in the emulsion, or other artifacts of the original process?

    Unfortunatly, I couldn't find more info on the restauration details; anyone knows any links?

  • Wow I had forgotten completely about the Digiview. My little brother and I used to make (monochrome) 3-D photos with that thing -- take a picture w/ the red filter on, move the lens a few inches and take another w/ the blue filter. All you need are some 3-D glasses and you've got instant 3-D!

  • by frantzdb ( 22281 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @05:44PM (#241877) Homepage
    I was noticing that too. I suspect most of it is due to the fact that the three lenses are in different places in space. Anything with a specular reflection like water should show this effect because the glare on something appears to be in a different place depending on viewing angle.

    There are a few other things that make these pictues look unusual. One is that many of them have a very high depth of field. The other is that they are high resolution with few dust-marks. I suspect that is partially due to the fact that there are three films and thus three times the resolution in some sense. Also, any marks in one plate could probably be repaired using information from the other two.


  • Well, sort-of extensive, anyhow. You can get quite similar results by slecting the red bit in your example and doing
    Image|Adjust Levels|Auto|OK

  • He avoided the problem of movement between exposures by using three lenses, each with a red, green or blue filter.

    i don't think that this is true. the loc site says

    He then photographed the same scene three times in a fairly rapid sequence using a red filter, a green filter and a blue filter.

    also, the images show artifacts, eg. in the ripples of the water, that are easily explained by motion, that i don't think would be explained by slight differences in perspective. perhaps the "invisible" blue green man (mentioned in another comment) is an even better example.

  • Hey, I was floored because I'd only ever seen grainy old B&W photos of the giant steam-powered spider. Even if it was computer-generated, I still feel like I travelled back in time.


    p.s. "Wow that's amazing! Huh...I'm bored."
    should be the motto for the 21st century.

  • Actualy, acording to the making page, the photos were takens with the same lenses in diferent times. He quickly took three pictures each with a diferent filter. He then used a three lenses projector to compose the images in color.

    "take the red pill and you stay in wonderland and I'll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes"
  • Re colour represenatation, I was thinking along similar lines.

    It occurs to me that we have reference points, though. Skin tones, grass, sky. Different diets and environments will affect the first two a bit I'd expect, but the third should be roughly constant.

    Anyway. It would seem that we would have relatively accurate colours... They don't appear the same in all the photos and they'd be altered depending on what colour illumination was applied to each transparency, clearly, but they don't appear to be very far out.

    There's a clear difference between the photos, though. Some almost have the appearance of (very well) recoloured B&W in some places.
  • Simply amazing. It's amazing how much color leads to complete immersion...

    What helps is a complete lack of roads and power lines
  • I wonder what kind of advances in media there'll be in the next 100 years.

    I can just see them trying to perform some kind of 3d or holographic reconstuction on our media. Or better sound. Or maybe whacko stuff like feel or smell or something.

    How could we add extra information or dimensions to what we capture?
  • Does anyone here know if it's possible to obtain prints of any of these pictures?
  • There is a book out there with WWII photographs done using the same method.
  • Of course your subject had to be still for the entire grabbing process (and this was sloooooow) which limited it's usefulness.

    Some friends and I spent several hours in a basement once, as one of us desperately tried to sit still long enough for the camera to grab our portraits, while the others tried just as desperately to make him laugh.

    In all of the pictures that we eventually captured, we're all sitting there with exaggerated frowns because we were trying so hard not to lose it. We look like a bunch of hoods

    Good times.


  • ...wonderful!

    The images are stunning - what I found most beautiful about the images is the perspective they put on the time. I have always enjoyed looking at older B/W photographs, but for some reason, for me, most of the people in them don't look happy - I don't know if it is the B/W nature, or if it is the long lengths of time they had to stay still, or if they truely are unhappy, or what - the drearyness just gets to me.

    But here, even when it is plain the people have a hard life (like the "riverboat" guy), they still seem like they are more - I don't know - real/alive/(happy?). The quality of this work, even if it has been touched up, is more in the composition and subject selection - but the color brings it all together.

    It is a shame we don't have more color work from this era and before - I noticed aside from clothing style, not much seperated those people from me or any other individual.

    On a different note...

    The Amiga (and later, the Tandy Color Computer 3) had systems for digitizing images using black and white camera systems with filters, then combining the images to produce "full color" images (on the Amiga, via HAM mode, and on the CoCo 3, via a rapid assembler routine coupled to the vertical blank, rapidly showing each image in succession while updating the palette - very tricky work with the GIME chip there!)...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • It's amazing how quickly a bunch of basement-dwelling, four-eyed hackers can turn on a dime and start talking about photography as if it were just another Linux app.

    Whoever said computers were the average /.'er's only interest? Photography is every bit as hackable, as long as you don't limit yourself to point-and-shoot cameras and 1-hour minilabs. The equipment's a bit more expensive, though, especially if you want to do your own color printing (enlargers with dichroic heads are somewhat spendy...last time I had access to one was in high school 13 years ago).

    Besides, I don't even have a basement, and my vision's better than 20/ glasses. :-)

  • I felt the exact same way, To me it's almost as if i've travelled in time and taken pictures, bringing them back with me..

    However, Imagine if some images of more familiar sights from that time period would be revealed in just as much glory..

  • This is fascinating - from both an artistic and a geeky point of view.

    From his photo "Storage Facilities for Hay []" in the architecture section, you can start to pick apart the process that he used... By knowing the simple fact that smoke/steam rises, and examining the clouds - you can see rainbow-like effects.

    What this really shows is that not all 3 layers of exposure glass (film) were not taken at precisely the same moment. In fact, it's backwards of how we even refer to color... it's most clearly Blue, Green, Red.

  • I think it's actually a lighting change. The man in the background is always there, but if you look at the blue channel, you'll see a diagonal slash of light that obscures most of his body. It looks like a door or hatch may have been open in that exposure, allowing the sun to shine in, and closed in the red and green exposures. As someone else pointed out, a more definitive change between exposures can be seen in the man on the far right, who has his left hand up as though scratching his face in the red exposure, but it's down in the other two.

    I wonder what the timing was between the exposures? Seems interesting that in some cases substantial movement occurs between exposures, but in the same shot most people look very sharp, as though they didn't so much as twitch between the exposures.

  • by Tiroth ( 95112 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:44PM (#241917) Homepage
    Actually many (most?) digital video cameras from prosumer on up use filters to seperate out RGB elements and direct them to different CCDs. This allows the full bandwidth of the CCD to be applied to one spectrum, effectively increasing the number of significant bits that are captured.
  • The photographs were retouched to remove defects. See
  • by outrage98 ( 99696 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:45PM (#241923)
    Big deal, you say... until you realize his original B&W glass-plate negatives were created using a clever RGB filter system which he used almost 100 years ago. A little modern "digichromatography" ... reapplication of the filtered colours and combining them into a composite colour image... allows for stunning full colour reproductions!

    From a technical standpoint, colour separations were probably a lot more likely at that time than anything like Kodachrome. (Actually, RGB is the basis for many modern colour systems as well.)

    What I find astounding is that people actually figured out that a separation could produce full-colour images at a time when there were no real scientific antecedents. That takes real imagination!

    There's something quite eerie about these photographs. It's as though in our mind's eye we really think that the world in the Victorian era was sepia-toned and monochrome. It's a shock to think that in fact, in terms of natural subjects, it looked much like it does today.

    If you find this kind of time travel interesting, you should investigate the various "rephotographic" projects in which the sites of well-known historical photographs are identified, tracked down, and photographed again from a viewpoint and under lighting conditions as close as possible to the original. When you see this stuff, you start looking for the things that have changed. Again, it's a shock to see how little a hundred and fifty years adds to many subjects.

  • From what I recall, and from what I can find on the web, it was the physicist James Clerk Maxwell who created the first color photograph in 1861. See, e.g. .html []. Fox Talbot is responsible for many other innovations, however.
  • There's no pollution on the buildings because the photographer chose to photograph nice areas. In the industrial areas of this time (and since the beginnings of the industrial era), soot and other easily detectable pollutants were horrible, far worse than anything you'd find in the U.S. today.
  • by axioun ( 119341 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:31PM (#241933) Homepage
    I don't know if this was done a hundred years ago, but I know that in astrophotography, this method is very common. While this is probably done with B&W film, CCD camera pictures are taken this way. (Hey, it's the 00's man.) A notable example is the HST. A plethora of you probably know this, but I felt like reminding you. BTW, I can't imagine the fore-mentioned method being much more difficult than standard B&W photography was a hundred years ago.
  • If you look at that photo, he does not appear in blue, but he does in the red and the green. If he was just wearing something that didn't show up in the blue filter, the resulting picture would reflect what was there. For example, a blue shirt would look black under the red and green filters, but white under the blue one. The resulting combination would show a lack of color for red and green and a lot of color for blue, resulting in a blue shirt that looked exactly like the original.

    In any event, you can clearly see the background behind the man in the blue filter, so he just wasn't there. As to the color of his shirt, if you combine red and green but not blue, it looks remarkably similar to the shirts worn by the man second from the left and the man furthest right, so I'd wager it was red.

  • by Dlugar ( 124619 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @07:06PM (#241937) Homepage

    The interesting one is the guy to the right. In the red channel the guy is scratching his face; in the other two his arms are down. Very apparent what's going on.

  • The single most shocking thing about these, aside from the fact that the color bridges the generation gap, is seeing how pristine the centuries-old buildings appear in these photographs. Back then, there wasn't the kind of acid rain or soot on the buildings to tarnish them. It's shocking. A church that's 800 years old looks like the day it was built to my eyes, and that most of the wear and tear that I'm used to has occurred just within the past century.

    It's almost enough to make me, a staunch Republican and proponent of the internal combustion engine, into an environmentalist.

  • by johnlenin1 ( 140093 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:22AM (#241947)
    A church that's 800 years old looks like the day it was built to my eyes, and that most of the wear and tear that I'm used to has occurred just within the past century.

    No kidding! Just look at this picture [] of the Church of St. Dmitrii from the exhibit, and compare it to this one [], taken in the early 1990s. The recent one is filthy.

    That the deterioration to these buildings occurred largely in the last century is correct, but do not place the blame solely on the industrialization. The Soviet state had a much greater effect on the current poor condition of Russian Orthodox churches.

    During the rule of Lenin and Stalin, thousands of churches were completely destroyed, most famously, The Church of Christ the Saviour [], in Moscow. Many more were damaged and looted, others were used as clubs or wharehouses, like the magnificent Church of the Savior on the Blood [] in St. Petersburg [] (picture here []). It has only been relatively recently that major restorations have been undertaken to return some of these architectural landmarks to their former glory. Furthermore, a state obsessed with military parity with the West had few resources left to perform even simple maintenance to clean the facades of many buildings.

    Something else that is interesting is how, in some respects, so little has changed from the time these pictures were taken. Aside from the clothing, this picture [] could have been taken in any Russian town this very day. And a train ride through the Russian countryside reveals many villages that look similar to this [] even today.

    Prokudin-Gorskii's photographs are simply amazing, though, a real treasure. I agree with many of the other posters who said that these pictures place one's black and white mental image of the past in a whole new light. Kudos to the Library of Congress for this exhibit. I am sure it will be of immense value to scholars and students world wide.

  • I think everyone will relate to what you said (very well!)--but if anyone has trouble, try imagining Pedro Martinez pitching to Babe Ruth. Even though the game is substantially unchanged over 100 years, I just can't do it.
  • 1900s No CCD stuff yet (but good steam technology)
  • by jon_adair ( 142541 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:31PM (#241951) Homepage
    There are some interesting artifacts of the process. Look at the water in the second photo set []. Or the top half of the pole.
  • Well, one of the things you have to remember is that these pictures were recomposed by experts using state-of-the-art technology. It's pretty unlikely that they looked this good when they were being shown with the projector system. I tried recomposing one of the pictures from the b&w samples they had on the site. And while it worked, it didn't look anywhere near as nice as the pictures on the site. Some image expert spent a lot of time to make those pictures look nice.

    And I have to say I'm glad he did. Those photos are simply amazing.

    Rate me [] on
  • I didn't have any trouble lining the images up. It only took me about 5 minutes or so

    The quality of the images wasn't anywhere near the quality on the site. Parts of the images were washed out on certain channels, and not on others, causing colored gradients where there were not supposed to be.

    No, recomposing the images isn't hard. But once you do it, you won't have anything like what is being displayed on the site, try it yourself and see, or try reading about what was actually done with the images on the site.

    Rate me [] on
  • by Rahoule ( 144525 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:47PM (#241957)

    When I was a kid, the whole world was colour but monaural. Then, when I was about 12, I started fooling around with my parents' audio equipment. From then on, I could hear my whole world in glorious stereophonic sound! Man, those mono years sucked by comparison. I took piano lessons when I was a kid. I wonder what they would have sounded like in stereo?

    Anyway, I took a class on photography in high school and did a presentation on colour photo printing. During my research, I saw a lot of early attempts at colour photography using black-and-white film. None were as clear as the pictures on that site, tho. Most didn't have the red, green, and blue colour plates quite lined up correctly causing red, green, and blue flaring at the edges of objects.

    In fact, on closer inspection, some of Prokudin-Gorskii's pictures look like they were done by snapping three pictures in quick succession with the different filters. Take a look at the water in this one [], which was probably not calm at the time. Also, look at the little guy on the far left in this picture []. I guess he couldn't sit still!

    Still, this photographer was really clever! Now if I can just figure out how to record stereophonic sound on a monaural tape recorder...

  • He used RGB - and I don't think that this is patentable because of prior art. (BTW, does Apple's patent on GUI themes still stand?)

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • I thought the whole world was black and white in the past!

    You didn't read the article!

    A little modern "digichromatography" ... reapplication of the filtered colours and combining them into a composite colour image... allows for stunning full colour reproductions!

    Just like the Calvin & Hobbes comic, these images became color way after the entire world did sometime in the 1950s.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • I experienced exactly the same thing. It was just very strange to see people 100 years ago living in a world that looked just like ours, except for some funny clothes, lots of wood, and poor building codes. I could imagine actually being there, and after some minor color adjustments in Photoshop, it was just like looking through a window. People back then weren't shadowy or grainy, and they lived life much as we would if we had less technology and education. Amazing!
  • by techmuse ( 160085 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:50PM (#241966)
    Some of these images contain elements that moved through the picture between different shots being taken with different filters. You can see this clearly in photoshop. For example, in this [] image, if you turn OFF different combinations of R,G and B channels in photoshop (and probably GIMP too), you can see a man in the background appear and disappear. In the composite photo, he appears to be glowing with red and blue halos. In the individual channels, sometimes he is there, and sometimes he is not!
  • I suppose he had to TAKE 3 quasi-simultaneous pictures of each scene too, each one already with a red/green/blue filter over the lens. Otherwise, if we have a gray box lying on the ground, how the hell are we supposed to know what color it was?

    In the self-portrait by the river [], the water, unlike everything else in the picture, seems... blurry, oily, I can't quite get it, but it doesn't look like a normal river. This might be evidence of three pictures taken in quick sucession from the same spot.

    I imagine them switching cameras somehat like modern Formula 1/CART/Indy pitcrews change tyres. Have to be quick so the scenery changes the least.

  • Damn, it wasn't like that at all. He had a three-eyed camera []. Should've browsed the entire site first.
  • The technicolor 3-strip camera used this method. This camera was used for such films as "Gone With the Wind" and "Wizard of Oz". I uploaded a photo of the camera [] and a photo of it's description [].
  • The was steroscope cameras back then two that gave you 3D images by taking two photographs with lens set 4 inches a part.

    The tri-color lens camera is also how early color TV was "filmed". Image came in the main lens and seperated in to RGB channels via prizmes with 3 Monocrome tubes read the images. Signal processing recombined the single for broadcast, the TV on the other end breaks it back up to RGB and using 3 guns in one tube displays it to you (if you still are using a tube... look real real close to see the dots!).

    It was the seventies when that was moved down to 2 tubes. Red and Cyan. That was when the first "true" mobile cameras were available. Those cameras wrapped the cameraman's shoulder with the Red tube over the shoulder with Cyan tube pointing up the chest.

    This would have been BIG NEWS if it was from one plate and not three. Then the KODAK plug would be "KODAK losses IP rights, Earlier ART Found!"
  • Try sperating the channels on this picture. [] This shows a 'ghost' in the left doorway. Judging by these pictures I would gues that the clarity of the pictures was achieved by exposing each shot for a significant period of time.
  • I thought the whole world was black and white in the past!
  • relying on my memory. Rats, My Bad.
  • Shortly after developing transparent-layered photography (positive-negative on translucent/transparent bases) William Henry Fox Talbot made pictures like this and displayed them to the Royal Society. The RGB combination worked, but only by accident, as the current light-sensitive emulsions were not sensitive to blue. Turned out one of the blue models used reflected heavily in the UV, which was recorded. All of this around 1845.

    Single plate color didn't show up until 1905 or so. See Autochrome. Also, Technicolor movie film operated this way, as did dye-transfer prints (still the best color print process, IF you can find someone to make them...)

    What is really interesting though is that these negatives lack the standard registration marking of most such processes. Without these markings, it is very difficult to produce a reasonable image. Also, emulsion creep makes recovery from older images even more difficult. Using the computer to key off of the image points themselves rather than a series of markings on the substrate allows such old images to be restored with reasonable accuracy. And I bet it beats playing with registration pins and a squegee any old day.

  • What suprises me most is not just seeing this world of the past in color, but seeing such BRIGHT colors. I always imagined everything from that era being dull and grey..

  • by khendron ( 225184 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @06:01PM (#242004) Homepage
    I don't think the man actually moved between shots. The shots were not taken so far apart that the man could move and then come back again. Besides, if the shots were taken that far apart, the other people in the photos would not appear so clearly, since they would also have moved slightly.

    In this particular case, I think the man in red and blue was wearing colours that didn't show up clearly under a particular filter. The man is there, he is just very very dim.

    There are shots were the was definite movement between shots. This one [] for example. The colourful shimmer on the water is probably caused by the fact that the water moved slightly between shots.

    Most cool, I think.

  • Well, a lot of great artists were insane, so were painting in color way back when. No no, it wasn't that the artists were insane. They painted in black and white, but the paintings turned color along with the rest of the world.
  • by screwballicus ( 313964 ) on Sunday May 06, 2001 @04:36PM (#242040)
    I find this most fascinating from a psychological standpoint. As I look at these pictures and consider their age, I am unable to conceive of the concept of looking on a scene from this time period in full colour. All my life, I've seen the world of these years in black and white. To see them in colour is to deconstruct a piece of the allure that surrounds them. As Marshall Mcluhan would argue, the medium here, is, indeed, the message []. To change the medium is to completely change the way I have been taught to view the period. The black and white medium alienates me from the people the past, providing me, through its imperfection, a way to differentiate present reality from past reality. By removing this alienating force, I find myself able to identify with the time in which these photos were taken in a way that is so new and different that I find it disturbing. The power of images in creating a "global village" is something that Mcluhan talked about at length. Perhaps these images of the past help bridge differences between past and present in the same way that TV images help bridge differences between western and eastern hemisphere.
  • There have been numerous attempts at reproducing color with b/w emulsions. This is one of them. Several others used patterned filters, not unlike the color filters found in today's CCD cameras. All of them were difficult to reproduce and required precise alignment. That's why, ultimately, color emulsions won out.
  • Some people might find it interesting that in the early days of computer imaging, Newtek [] actually developed a product called DigiView [] to be used on Commodore Amiga computers which used a standard black and white camera to produce full-color images. They used the same trick as here: 3 color filters (red, gree, blue) which the digitizing program direct you to place in front of the camera, was used to digitize the image 3 times, and then combined to form the full-color image.

    Nice hack which thanks to this post I found out has a 100-year history!!! :-)
  • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is inseparable from pr0n."

  • Shortly after developing transparent-layered photography (positive-negative on translucent/transparent bases) William Henry Fox Talbot made pictures like this and displayed them to the Royal Society. The RGB combination worked, but only by accident, as the current light-sensitive emulsions were not sensitive to blue. Turned out one of the blue models used reflected heavily in the UV, which was recorded. All of this around 1845.
    You are quite mistaken. Talbot did not experiment with color-separation. The Calotype (Talbotype) process cannot be used to represent colors. The colors turn out at almost random. I've seen Calotypes with my own eyes, the colors range from green to rusty reds, and this was a monochrome image. Talbot did not work in color photography. You're thinking of the experiments of James Clerk Maxwell, which were about 30 years after Talbot.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.