Long before color-sensitive films were invented, Russian photographer Prokudin-Gorsky used to take 3 individual black-and-white photos, each with a filter (Red, Green, Blue) to create high-quality pictures in full color. This self portrait of him is 107 years old!
He probably had an assistant press the shutter button for this one, but he didn’t have to stay in that position for very long. He reportedly had a custom camera that used a single large rectangular photographic plate for all the colors, and used a clockwork mechanism to move the plate and change the filter so you’d get the three color “channels” in quick sequence.
“Back in 1861, the year of abolition of serfdom in Russia, the English physicist James Clerk Maxwell accomplished an amazing experiment: he photographed the multi-colored band three times through the Green, Red, and Blue filters. Lighting the negatives received through the same filters, he was able to obtain color images – the world’s first color photos. This technique was called Color Separation (or Three-Color Photography), but it took another 40 years of hard work by the best European scientists, including Prokudin-Gorsky, to make it possible to correctly transmit all natural colors, catching all their subtle shades. The glass plates needed to be covered by a special emulsion of complex composition, making them equally sensitive to the entire color spectrum.
Using his superior knowledge in chemistry, Prokudin-Gorsky created his own recipe for sensitizing the emulsion, which led to the most advanced, life-like transmission of natural colors at that time.
In 1903 the best German companies Görtz and Bermpohl according to the designs of A. Miethe built special equipment for Prokudin-Gorsky for taking three-color pictures and projecting color slides. Prokudin-Gorsky then could print their color photographs in very decent quality in the form of postcards and book illustrations, but their true beauty and quality could be disclosed only by projection of images directly from glass plates onto a big screen. During the first demonstration of such slides (in modern terms) in St. Petersburg and Moscow in the winter of 1905 viewers couldn’t hide their amazement and delight with what they saw, greeting the author with thunderous applause. The era of color photography in Russia had begun. ”