Why Are Old Photos Brown?

By Mark

Roger wrote about our very successful Photowalk in Harpers Ferry last weekend.  Since there was a huge Civil War reenactment ongoing, lots of our group have been processing our photos to look older.  I started thinking that we all know what images from then look like, but wanted to know why?   

Courtesy Library of Congress

Courtesy Library of Congress

Photography was still a relatively new art and science at the beginning of the war.  People had to sit really still for a very long time under very bright light for any kind of image to take hold.  The first “easily” replicated process was done by Daguerre in France.  A glass plate was coated with chemicals and exposed to light.  Mercury vapor then fixed the image.  It created a bright image, but only one.  There was no way to reproduce them.  Starting in the 1850’s they created the Ambrotype.  

It was easier to produce, but also used dangerous chemicals.  It too only could produce one image.  Finally a relatively inexpensive process which printed the image directly on to a metal plate-a tintype was introduced and soon everyone had pictures in their pockets.  These tended to be fairly dark, but were relatively stable

Tintype effect

Tintype effect

Now the great Civil-War photographers like Gardner and Brady used a different wet-plate process, which did produce negatives and could make prints. Gradually during the war, this process largely replaced the others for fine photography.  Unfortunately the prints made from these negatives had problems all their own.  The silver nitrates tended to crack and turn all black when exposed to sun.  Photographers discovered that they could use different chemicals which would replace the silver salts, and which would add new tones to the image, but preserve the relationships between the lights and the darks in a picture.

Cuttlefish ink, or sepia added to the image imparts a nice warm brown tone, while selenium adds a cooler bluish tint.  Because these colors are stable they became the standards for what we think of in old photos.   

It's fun to play with these and see the history come to life.  

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry

From now looking back to then.  Reenactment Family at Harpers Ferry


2014 Worldwide Photowalk Wrap-Up

By Roger (14 October 2014)

We had a great group at Harpers Ferry for our part of the Worldwide Photowalk on Saturday. Mark and I met lots of new photographers. So, I thought I'd give you a quick overview for those who are unsure what this photowalk thing is about and didn't sign up this year.

Weather is always a common excuse, and the weather-guessers weren't passing out optimistic forecasts. The rainy weather caused a couple of people to stay home, but the vast majority of our registered walkers showed up. For their effort, they were rewarded when the rain stopped 15 minutes before our scheduled walk. The rain stayed away for the entire walk. (Yay!)

We started out from the Amtrak station. It's a small and quaint, two-track depot. Everyone got to shoot some trains as they came rumbling through. I've been very interested, lately, in trying to get a few good train shots. I don't know where this interest comes from, since I'm a people photographer, but I think I'm going to put this on my 2015 list of projects.

My favorite train photo

My favorite train photo

When we took off, we found we were in for another treat. There was a special event in town that brought in a large group of Civil War re-enactors. They became additional subjects for our photowalkers. They had several displays and demonstrations set up along Shenandoah St. and were very obliging to our 30 cameras clicking away.

Civil War drummer boy

Civil War drummer boy

We had a steep hill to climb, next, but it provided everyone a great view of the historical town, the railroad bridges, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. I had high hopes that Mother Nature was going to put on a spectacular fall foliage show, but we were still a couple of weeks early for that.

On the hill climb, we came across two churches, one in ruins. St. Peters was open for photographs, and many went inside for stained glass photos. The ruins of St. Johns pulled in nearly every one of our walkers, trying to capture something special. I spent most of my effort on the steeple of St. Peters.

St. Peters Steeple

St. Peters Steeple

While we were heading up the hill, we stopped by Jefferson Rock. It is supposed to be the very rock where Thomas Jefferson stood in October 1783 and wrote that “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.” I'm not sure how they know this is the exact rock, but the view is awesome.

After a trip through the old cemetery, we headed down the main drag of Washington St. to our walk endpoint, the Potomac Grill. The folks there treated us right and served up some great food. We sat around, chimping each others' photos, eating, and chatting for another hour or so. I'm pretty sure everyone had a good time.

Harpers Ferry street

Harpers Ferry street

I've set up a Flickr group for the walk, and several photographers have started to populate the gallery. If you're interested, click here.

I ran through the walk to, hopefully, entice you to join one when you get the opportunity or set one up yourself. They are fun events and opportunities to try new things with your photography. They happen all year long and most are free. You need to get out and use your camera.

Our thanks to all who came out.

Our group for the 2014 Worldwide Photowalk

Our group for the 2014 Worldwide Photowalk

Quick Notes for This Week

By Roger (6 October 2014)

My apologies for being so absent on the blog, lately. I've been involved in an important family event; it was more important than the blog. I'm back home, and, after this week, things should get back to normal. Tonight's blog is short. Thanks for bearing with me.

Last year's Photowalk

Last year's Photowalk

I want to remind everyone that this weekend is the Worldwide Photowalk. You can find all the links to sign up at the bottom of the blog. This is a great opportunity to practice your photography in a new location and meet some new photography folks. We always have a fun time. In addition, Scott Kelby is trying to support the Springs of Hope Orphanage, in Kenya. You can find that link on his blog (here). We always encourage charitable giving to the many good causes out there.

When you get ready for the Photowalk, consider challenging yourself with something you wouldn't do. Pick a theme: only people; just architectural details; a specific color; or a shape. Maybe, just limit yourself to one camera and one lens (bonus points if that lens is not a zoom). Pick whatever you desire, but if you go with a specific goal or constraint, you'll challenge your creativity. That isn't a requirement on our walk, just a suggestion.

Nothing but smiling faces on our photowalks

Nothing but smiling faces on our photowalks

If you're looking for some interesting night photography, there will be a blood moon over North America, late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, 7/8 October. Our local photography club (link) has monthly themes, and this may work well for this month's theme of Harvest Nights. I may have to try to stay up late, on a school night, to make an attempt on this thing. If you're interested in more information on the event, here is a link to the Wikipedia article.

Finally, if you are an Adobe Creative Cloud member, there are new upgrades coming out as I type. Make sure you check for upgrades the next time you log in. There are some big changes to the mobile programs that look interesting. I'm sure one of us will be writing about them in the near future.

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Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there. If you can't come to Harpers Ferry, you join one of the other photowalks, in a location near you. Look on the official Worldwide Photowalk page here.