Color Photography

History of Color Photography

Though photographers and scientists experimented with color photography as early as the 1840s, the medium was not widely used until around the 1970s. Early experimenters relied on Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell’s three-color method, which analyzed the color spectrum of a composition into red, blue, and green categories, much in the same way the human eye registers colors. The process of color photography was still tedious and time intensive, requiring photographers to carry multiple interchangeable plates and filters to produce a range of colors in every snapshot. In 1942, Kodak released its Kodacolor film, which processed color images into a negative image, facilitating the development process. Still, color film cameras required additional equipment like flash bulbs to ensure photographs were not washed out. By the 1970s, color film was cheaper and flash sensors came built into the actual cameras. When it was first introduced into the world of art, photography in color heralded mixed reactions. Groups either praised the medium’s vibrant and more “true to life” qualities or saw color as a distraction from the photo’s actual content. With the advent of digital photography, color film photography has shifted to a niche market. Regardless, many photographers choose the medium for its unique look and high quality.

Color Photography Techniques

Lighting is extremely crucial to those working in color photography, as too much or too little can wash out or dim even the most vibrant of colors. Though the invention of cameras with built-in flash devices facilitated the photographic process for many, some film photographers still opt to use older analog camera models that require extra flashbulbs. When looking for subjects to photograph, artists often keep complementary color balance rules in mind and consider what kinds of emotions certain colors can stir in a viewer. They may also use filters to manipulate existing colors. A polarising filter, for example, is used to block reflected light off nonmetallic surfaces and gives the composition purer hues.

Artists Known For Color Photography

Photojournalist Steve McCurry is renowned for his color portrait “Afghan Girl” (1984), which rose to fame when it was featured on the cover of an issue of National Geographic. David Muench is known for his vibrant landscape photographs of the American west. Ernst Haas was an early pioneer in the field of color photography and is known for blurring his subjects to create expressionistic images like “La Suerte De Capa” (1956). Cindy Sherman is also known for her untitled color portraits in which she often dressed up in different stereotypically female guises. Other artists known for their color photography include Lauren Greenfield, Annie Griffiths, Robert Capa, Annie Leibovitz, Pieter Hugo, and David LaChapelle.