Friday, September 4, 2009

One Hundred Year Old Color Photos

Here's some color photos from Russia that were taken around one hundred years ago! I found the introductory photo (which is also photo 21) to be quite nice in a romantic sort of way. But they're all very interesting. The photographer's name is Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. (Thank you, cut and paste!)

These aren't painted over color photos like you may have encountered before. These are "true" color photographs. The original pictures were taken as three separate black and white images through red, green, and blue filters. This produced three separate black and white plates of each color. To reproduce the photos during the time they were taken, the photographer would use a light projector and project each of the black and white plates through appropriate colored filters onto a single area. When overlapped in that manner, the projector could display the color photographs.

Very clever. Very clever, indeed...

Anyway, to create the digital copies that you can see online, it was merely necessary to digitize the three black and white plates, align them, and then combine the red, green, and blue channels (this last step is essentially how our computer screens work). This is practically child's play with the sophisticated tools we have today, and now everybody gets to enjoy these images!

The people at the Library of Congress are the ones who have preserved and digitized these plates. You can get more information and photos here.

(Via Tim Bray's twitter stream.)

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