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History of Color Photography

written by: Kristina Dems•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 1/19/2011

The history of color photography may have started slow, but it was one of the most important developments in human history. The introduction of color in still photos changed the way we see things and remember moments.

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    Photography Photography has been around for centuries, but it is only relatively recently that color photography was developed. The history of color photography comes a little bit later when compared to the history of photography itself, but it is probably one of the biggest developments in the field ever since humans discovered the darkroom effect, otherwise known as Camera Obscura.

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    Experimentation and the Color Separation Method

    Photography has existed since 1825 and several attempts were made to produce a permanent image in color. However, it would take several years before color was introduced in the equation of photography. Color was first experimented with in public in 1861 when a Scottish physicist named James Clerk-Maxwell introduced a new system of photography that involved 3 photos in black and white that were taken using red, green and blue filters. These photos were then projected in registration with the appropriate color filters, producing an image with color. This is the Color Separation Method and it is one of the earliest attempts in color photography. Clerk-Maxwell in fact created the first permanent color image in history. More methods were experimented on as the years went by, and by the early 1900's, the first commercial color film was born.

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    Improvements in Technology

    By 1906, color separation-based color photography had become widely available to consumers and professionals, leading to the release of the very first commercial color film in 1907, and it was called Autochrome. This film was based on the dyed dots of potato starch of all things. Soon, multi-layered color film was developed, the first of which was called Kodachrome, which was introduced in 1935. Through World War II, color photography continued to be developed, but photography was still dominated by black and white film photography.

    The technology continued to be developed and improved as the 1900's drew to a close, allowing for advancements in color photography like the first color instant film, in 1963, that was developed by the Polaroid company, and the introduction of the C-41 color negative process, in 1973, which replaced the C-22 process, which was then the industry standard in processing color negatives. In the mid 1900's, color photography had a lot of advancements, but wide adoption to it would not come until the late part of the century.

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    The first solo show featuring color photographs was held in 1976 at the Museum of Modern Art. By this time, early adopters, mostly beginner photographers were already experimenting with color photography and what it can do for the medium. Some of the more established photographers chose to stick with black and white photography, but that didn't stop everybody else in trying out the new thing in the world of photography. From there, the popularity of color photography started. Consumer and professionals alike started to embrace color photography, driving the need for technology to advance further. The history of color photography may have had a slow start, but once it got popular and widely available, advancements in this filed came in leaps and bounds, especially when it hit the digital age.

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    Photo Courtesy of / Supplied by Mconnors -