2.2 Shutterscapes 2: Landscapes of Place posts 4.1 Photographic creativity 4: Audience: Kyrgyzstan posts 5: Presentation: Zemni 2021 posts In Process

Colour Photography: styles and creativity

Reality/surreality/hyperreality. Mechanical vs art. Looking back from digital colour and high levels of control. Capturing images is now so easy. And possibilities of control at shooting and processing stages so broad. Often lose the aesthetics and meaning.

Early Colour BBC 1974 overview of early colour photographers and techniques: tinting, gum bichromate, oil process, 3-colour process and autochrome.
George Eastman Museum 2014. Pigment processes: carbon prints and gum bichromate prints were developed in the 1850s and offer superior permanence and control of the appearance of the final print and are still used today.
George Eastman Museum 2014. History of development of colour processes from tinting to chromogenic film processes of 1970s.

Early photography: pictorialism to modernism

Early colour photography processes produce a feeling of nostalgia for a by-gone leisurely time. As in monochrome photography this ‘elite impressionist aesthetic’ can be enhanced through for example use of chiaroscuro and light, smearing vaseline on the lens, adding brushstrokes or scratches to the film in development process. In colour photography particularly the aesthetic is also partly because of inherent technical limitations of early equipment and processes:

  • Lens aberrations and distortions in perspective
  • Chemicals were unstable, inconsistent and less sensitive leading to colour shifts, grain, limited tonality and dynamic range and requiring long exposure times and hence shallow depth of field and blurring. Effect of long exposures while model tries to be still so get selective movement blur? Giving the reflective feel?
  • Fragile plates and scratches that add to the feeling of human frailty and inevitable passage of time.
  • Edges of the plates? burning and fade?

Processes like hand-colouring and tinting, coupled with the blurriness of the original black and white image give a de-saturated dreamy look. The leisurely feel is enhanced by the very long exposures needed to produce multiple plates in different colours that are then combined. Photographing any action was not possible, and requires shallow depth of field with much of the image dreamily blurred. Grain, scratches and other imperfections are further exaggerated with fragility of glass plates and the nature of pigments and chemicals used.

Colour photography techniques
  • hand colouring of black and white prints
  • monochrome tinting through use of dyes and pigments at the development stage: cyanotypes, carbon prints and gum bichromate prints. They use pigments and bichromated colloids (viscous substances like gelatin or albumen made light-sensitive by adding a bichromate) that harden when exposed to light and become insoluble in water. The resulting prints are characterized by broad tones and soft detail, sometimes resembling paintings or drawings.
  • oil process
  • 3-colour process
  • Autochrome 1907-1935: 3 colour process using potato starch. Soft focus, pointillist grain. Slow process if you want to keep exposures under control.
Colour photographs from 1907: Autochrome and Pictorialism. Ted Forbes 2015 as part as part of his You Tube Art of Photography series. Discusses autochrome process in the context of other early processes, debates on colour photography as art and how we interpret early colour photographs from our current digital perspective. Book Impressionist Photography.
2018 John Thornton and Don Camera: Is pictorialism dead? Looks at the artistic inspira
Debbi Richard 2009 Two short clips from a PBS documentary titled: “American Photography: A Century of Images.” Paul Strand’s straight photography started to re-establish the primacy of black and white as ‘serious’ photography with an emphasis on minimum artifice and attention to tonal abstraction and shapes.
Alfred Steiglitz
Alfred Stieglitz overview of his monochrome work and life, showing his pictorialist art style.
Heinrich Kuhn pictorialism
Overview of Kuhn’s life and work. Ted Forbes 2014 as part of You Tube The Art of Photography series. Interesting discussion of early colour techniques in the context of camera clubs and their debates about colour photography. Detailed discussion of technical challenges of lenses and unstable chemicals and how Kuhn addressed these through scientific experiment and composition to make very evocative images.
Based on book Heinrich Kuhn: The Perfect Photograph
Edward Steichen
Overview of Steichen’s colour and black and white work, including early landscapes. Ted Forbes 2011 as part of You Tube The Art of Photography series. Based on book ‘Steichen’s Legacy’. use of moody low key landscapes. In figure studies takes out facial information to create intensity, drama and mystery. And use of abstraction with harsh lighting to produce patterns. Reduction of the image to just the information needed. Humour in shadows.
Heinrich Kuhn autochrome technique
Neue Galerie New York 2012. Gives a very detailed overview of the autochrome process. Priority of lighting and backlighting to give luminosity coupled with the fragility of the plates. He experimented with colour patches, aiming at being able to apply colour patches like a painter.
Kuhn, Steiglitz and Steichen
Neue Galerie New York 2012. Dr Monika Faber discusses exhibition and book: “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen”. Shows more of his tinted photographs and landscape.
Paul Strand modernism

The Art of Photography 2014 modernist photography using the power of the image to create social awareness. Book: Paul Strand: Sixty Years of Photographs (Aperture)…

Colour film photography: 1970s to contemporary

Overview focusing on era 1970s onwards by Ted Forbes 2013 as part of his You Tube Art of Photography series.
Discusses use of autochrome process in travel photographs by National Geographic.
William Eggleston in 1970s was the person who brought colour photography as respectable fine art.
Saul Leider work was rediscovered in 1990s uses abstraction and faded quality.
Fernando Schiana not high contrast
Auri Gerscht uses splashes of colour in desaturated background.
Dan Winters contemporary muted portraits.
Colours are still not accurate, but that gives a retro- nostalgic feel. Use of colour as part of the composition at time of shooting. White balance is not accurate.
William Eggleston
Saul Leiter
Joel Meyerowitz

see also: Stephen Shore

Luigi Ghirri

Martin Parr

Digital Styles


Lomography is a genre of photography, involving taking spontaneous photographs with minimal attention to technical details. Lomographic images often exploit unpredictable non-standard optical traits of cheap toy camera (such as light leaks and irregular lens alignment), and non-standard film processing techniques, for aesthetic effect.

Lomography is named after the Soviet-era 35 mm LOMO LC-A Compact Automat camera cameras produced by the state-run optics manufacturer Leningradskoye Optiko-Mekhanicheskoye Obyedinenie (LOMO) PLC of Saint Petersburg. This camera was loosely based upon the Cosina CX-1 and introduced in the early 1980s. In 1992 the Lomographic Society International was founded as an art movement by a group of Viennese students interested in the LC-A camera and who put on exhibitions of photos. The art movement then developed into the Austrian company Lomographische AG, a commercial enterprise who claimed “Lomography” as a commercial trademark.

See their website:

But lomography is now a genericized trademark referring to the general style that can be produced with any cheap plastic toy camera using film. Similar-looking techniques can be achieved with digital photography. Many camera phone photo editor apps include a “lomo” filter. It is also possible to achieve the effect on any digital photograph through processing in software like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Analog FX Pro. The lomography trend peaked in 2011.

Because of its ease of use, it has been used in participatory photographic activism because it is easy to use eg by children in slums of Nairobi.

Grunge effects

Starts with a lot of work in Lightroom before adding blur and other effects in Photoshop.
Again produces different line and filter overlays.
Uses blur, high pass and HDR filter effects on a very diffuse original image.
Creates a very impactful black and white version to use instead of highpass filter overlay. And produces multiple versions.

Cinematic effects

Excellent overview. Introduces different cinema looks. Covers curve adjustment layers on channels, pros and cons of LUTs and how to use the phototoning gradient maps.
Uses solid colour adjustment layers in different opactities for hoghlights, ahadows and midtones using blend if. Goves more control than opacity maps.
Uses LUTs and blend if
Uses moody vignettes.
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