“In 1891, Professor Gabriel Lippmann demonstrated to the French Académie des Sciences interference colour photographs of the spectrum and of stained glass windows, taken by a modification of Wiener’s method. An exceedingly fine grained, virtually transparent emulsion of silver bromide in an albumen coating on a glass plate was exposed in contact with a film of mercury, with the glass plate towards the lens. The mercury, in optical contact with the emulsion, reflected light which had passed through the emulsion back on itself, producing the standing waves and layered exposure predicted by Zenker. The developed plate appeared to be a conventional negative by transmitted light, but when viewed at a suitable angle, by reflected light the image appeared as a brilliantly coloured positive.”

(Coe, Brian (1978): Colour Photography – The first hundred years 1840-1940. London: Ash & Grant, p. 21.)

“Lippmann-type photographs suffer from other limitations in addition to those imposed by the very narrow range of angles through which they may be viewed. One is the extreme slowness of the fine-grain emulsions. Exposures of 104 to 106 times those for standard emulsions must be used (Friedman, 1944, p. 24). The process is also exceedingly sensitive to development effects. Because of competition for developer and the retardation effects of oxidized developer, complex wave patterns are not always exactly reproduced. Marked deviations in color often result in such instances. Slight changes in the over-all thickness of the film will also result in color distortions. Absorption of moisture increases the thickness and tends to shift all colors toward the longer wavelengths. Similarly, anything causing shrinkage of the film tends to shift colors toward the shorter wavelengths.


Attempts have been made to reproduce Lippmann photographs by exposing through the original to produce a photograph in complementary colors and then exposing through this one to obtain a duplicate of the original. Because of the low intensity of the transmitted image in each case this process has never appeared practicably feasible. Duplicates of Lippmann photographs have never been successfully prepared.

Despite all these limitations, many excellent Lippmann photographs have been made. These show brilliance and excellence of reproduction which compare favorably with present-day three-color processes.”

(Evans, Ralph Merrill / Hanson, W.T., Jr. / Brewer, W. Lyle (1953): Principles of Color Photography. New York: Wiley 1953, pp. 277-278.)

  • CoePhotography_Lippmann.jpg
  • Lavedrine_Lippmann.jpg
  • Coote (1993)
  • Pénichon (2013)
  • Pénichon (2013)

Original Technical Papers and Primary Sources

Ball, J. Arthur (1946): Quality in Color Reproduction. In: Hollywood Quarterly, 2,1, pp. 45–49, on pp. 46–47. View Quote

Lippmann, Gabriel (1891): Photography in Colors. In: The American Journal of Photography, 12, pp. 180-183. Translated from La Nature, February 14, 1891. View Quote

Secondary Sources

Coe, Brian (1978): Colour Photography. The First Hundred Years 1840-1940. London: Ash & Grant, on p. 21. View Quote

Evans, Ralph Merrill; Hanson, W.T., Jr.; Brewer, W. Lyle (1953): Principles of Color Photography. New York: Wiley, on pp. 275-278. View Quote

Lavedrine, Bertrand (1998): History and Technology of Colour Photographic Processes. In: Luciano Berritua et al.: Tutti i colori del mondo. Il colore nei mass media tra 1900 e 1930. = All the colours of the world. Reggio Emilia: Edizioni Diabasis, pp. 117-119, on p. 117. View Quote

Pénichon, Sylvie (2013): Twentieth Century Colour Photographs. The Complete Guide to Processes, Identification & Preservation. London, Los Angeles: Thames & Hudson, pp. 17-18. View Quote