Heritage and Culture
The world's first colour photograph
Did you know that the world's first colour photograph was created by James Clerk Maxwell and featured a piece of tartan? A Scottish scientist of mathematics, Maxwell also did some research and experimentation with colour perception, determining that the human eye perceives colours through three channels. Built on the theory of Thomas Young, called the Trichromatic Colour Theory, Maxwell used photography to prove this theory was correct.
Taking direct influence from his psychology work on colour perception, Maxwell determined that if a sum of any three colours could reproduce any perceivable colour, then a colour photograph could be taken.
Maxwell proposed that he would take three black and white photographs through three different colour filters, red, green, and blue. He would then take transparent prints of the images and project them onto a screen using three projectors with similar colour filters. He concluded that, when superimposed on the screen, the human eye would perceive the image as a complete reproduction of all the colours in the scene.
Presenting the world's first demonstration of colour photography, in 1861, Maxwell implicated his theory, with the first ever colour photograph taken of a piece of tartan. Take a look at the image below:
Although it isn't perfect, Maxwell hadn't accounted for the effects of ultraviolet light on the red filter, we can see this experiment as the exciting beginning of colour photography.