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Author Previous Topic: Mini Seamless backdrop for Model Photography Topic Next Topic: Help Finding a Cable!  

George Rapp
Section Hand

Posted - 02/25/2009 :  3:51:07 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
One of the hardest things to do is guess the colors in an old B&W photo. There is no one size fits all answer but I would like to clarify some notions and falsehoods about really early photos. I have other hobbies and one of them is Living history or Civil War Reenacting. Through this I met Rob Gibson who is an ackmowleged expert in the old Wet Plate process.
For years the prevailing "facts" were that old time B&W was like modern B&W film shot through a dark blue filter. The answer is an agravating Yes and No. When you are refering to the original "Dry Plate" film of say 1880 through 1920, this is on the money, however, the prevelant large format glass plate was the Wet Plate process used from 1850 through the 1920's. The wet plate was and is unpredicable in it's color renderings. A dark red apple will come out in a light hue while a yellow lemon will come out almost black. A great example of this is a photograph of Confederate wizzard John Singleton Mosby. We still have the uniform he wore in this photo. It is light gray with yellow(denotes Cavalry)trim on the cuffs and collar. In the photo, it is light gray with what appears to be black trim. The old wet plates were monochromatic and very blue sensitive. The others can be guessed at but not a wet plate.
There is one other interesting item concerning wet plates, they have no grain. If the shot is properly focused, it can be blown up to incredible proportions. I have seen a photo of a riverboat where the pilot house was blown up 1500 times and you could count the ruffles in a lady's skirt that was standing by the rail.
Why delve into a long dead process, there are still controversies raging today over color from thes photos. the next time someone insists a D,SP&P Tiffany refer is yellow, it just could'ny be as the process would have made a yellow car dark gray.

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Jan Kirkwood
Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 02/25/2009 :  3:57:40 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
thank you

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Oliver W. Jr.
Engine Wiper

Posted - 02/25/2009 :  8:20:29 PM  Show Profile  Visit Oliver W. Jr.'s Homepage  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the information, George. This is a problem I've struggled with a number of times.

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Posted - 02/26/2009 :  1:03:38 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
They had some pretty great optics in those 'primitive' times, too, if the blow up is as detailed as described.

Karl Scribner
Sunfield Twp. Michigan
Kentucky Southern Railway
The Spartan Line

Country: USA | Posts: 11243 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 02/26/2009 :  9:21:22 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Interesting stuff George. And particularly because color can be such an important factor in our modeling. I know military modelers angst over the right colors constantly trying to replicate old b&w photos.


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Crew Chief

Posted - 02/27/2009 :  12:16:25 PM  Show Profile  Visit DaVinci1953's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I constantly angst over colours when I do illustrations of old aircraft...even when using original colour photos as reference. Colour photos can (and usually do) fade. Old Kodachromes are better than most but still, can they really be trusted? Right now I'm working on a picture of a P-51B in the olive camo scheme of the USAAF in WW2. Getting the exact shade of the base colour is really elusive. Sometimes it looks like light brown, other times it's more of an "Olive" hue. Maybe that's what they call "Khaki". It all depends on the light, the time of day, the accuracy of the printing...etc. Even paint chips can fade. Recipes for paint formulas may not work because pigments may have been made differently back then. I have found differences between modern manufacturers for what is supposed to be the same pigment.
The upshot is: Short of someone inventing time travel, we can never REALLY know these things for sure.

We have all seen Hollywood movies that, when they show scenes from the past, use a filter that imparts a golden haze to everything. I think this says "The past" so much, because we are familiar with so many old, faded, inaccurate pictures from past generations.

I remember going to see "The Blue Max" with a friend in the mid sixties, when I was about 12. I joked: "Hmmm....I just realized that World War One actually did happen in colour!"

I find that, if I am working from B&W, I tend to be a bit less obsessive about the "Exact" shade.

I didn't know the stuff about different processes in different eras posted by George above. It is indeed interesting stuff!

And yes, the optics were quite amazing in the early days....as long as movement and slow shutter speeds didn't spoil things. On some of those Civil War photos over on the "Shorpy" site, you can make out blade of grass and every brick on the buildings in the 1860s.


Lance Russwurm

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