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James Clerk Maxwell Produces the First Color Photograph

Maxwell's first color photograph
The three original photograph plates used to make this photograph "now reside in a small museum at 14 India Street, Edinburgh, the house where Maxwell was born."

In 1861 Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell produced the earliest color photograph, an image of a tartan ribbon, by having it photographed three times through red, blue, and yellow filters, then recombining the images into one color composite. Because of this photograph Maxwell is credited as the founder of the theory of additive color.

"During an 1861 Royal Institution lecture on colour theory, Maxwell presented the world's first demonstration of colour photography by this principle of three-colour analysis and synthesis. Thomas Sutton, inventor of the single-lens reflex camera, did the actual picture-taking. He photographed a tartan ribbon three times, through red, green and blue filters, as well as a fourth exposure through a yellow filter, but according to Maxwell's account this was not used in the demonstration. Because Sutton's photographic plates were in fact insensitive to red and barely sensitive to green, the results of this pioneering experiment were far from perfect. It was remarked in the published account of the lecture that "if the red and green images had been as fully photographed as the blue," it "would have been a truly-coloured image of the riband. By finding photographic materials more sensitive to the less refrangible rays, the representation of the colours of objects might be greatly improved." Researchers in 1961 concluded that the seemingly impossible partial success of the red-filtered exposure was due to ultraviolet light. Some red dyes strongly reflect it, the red filter used does not entirely block it, and Sutton's plates were sensitive to it." (Wikipedia article on James Clerk Maxwell, accessed 10-24-2013).

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