// A tutorial by Danny Griffin //
In Issue 03 of Vignette I provided a short piece about reviving an early method of colour photography from the 1910s (with a little twist, of course). Being blessed with a bit more space here on the web, I’ll go into a bit more detail on how to shoot and replicate this type of image for yourself, and some tips on how to get the most satisfying results from the format.
Preparation and equipment
As you will need to scan your negatives later, I chose to use a fine grained 120 film for the original shots, as it gives fantastic detail and a more forgiving size of negative to digitise. It is quite important to use a film stock that isn’t too ‘contrast-y’, as the success of the final image relies on starting shots that contain quite a lot of midtones and grey – I used Ilford FP4, but HP5 would probably work even better.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment for the technique is the filter selection. You will need a set of red, green and blue filters of full stength – they ideally need to reduce the exposure by 1-2 stops. For this slightly rough and ready experiment, I managed to find a complete set of filters online for less than £20.
Shooting the negatives
This method was originally used with static landscape shots or formally posed portraits, to ensure nothing moved between shots. Whilst I kept this in mind as a general rule of thumb, I rather liked the coloured ghost images that occur when the subject did move. If your camera has a mirror lock-up function, it is worth engaging this once focussed, as it greatly reduces camera movement. Shoot all 3 images in a row, and be extra careful to use the filters in the same order for each shot, otherwise compositing the scans later will be a nightmare!
When considering exposure, my experiments seemed to suggest you don’t have to compensate for the light loss due to the filter, so if you are using a hand meter that should be accurate. If the shots come back looking flat or grey then don’t panic – when all 3 exposures are stacked they will look a lot more punchy!
After the negatives are developed, scan them at as high a resolution you can afford…
Compositing the scans
Open the 3 component images separately in an image editing program (I used Photoshop) – this is when it is vitally important to know which image was taken with which filter. Next, open a new file slightly larger than the black & white images (to leave room for cropping), ensuring the image mode is set to RGB (Image > Mode > RGB).
Bring up the image taken with the red filter, then hit Select > All in the top menu (or just “ctrl+a”), then copy it. Select the blank document and, in the ‘channels’ tab on the right hand side, pick ‘Red’, and paste the selection. Copy this process with the green and blue images as well, pasting them into their respective channels.
This should give you a relatively finalised image, but it may still need some editing. The chances are the scanned negatives haven’t been cropped exactly the same, so you may have to select the individual channels and move them a little to get them lined up perfectly. Additionally, you may now find that if you are shooting a portrait, your subject may have moved their head very slightly. I have found that in this situation the finished image looks better if you line up the face rather than the stationary background. Finally, at this stage you can tweak the levels of the individual channels if the exposure isn’t quite perfect.
So there you go! Whilst not quick to shoot, the finished images have a very unique feel, and can give you a great insight into colour theory. Also, be sure to check out the original photos by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, shot during the 1910s in Russia.