44 Old Color Photos Made With Autochrome That Remain Stunning A Century Later

Published March 14, 2018
Updated October 18, 2021

These old color photos courtesy of the autochrome process may date to the early 1900s, but they don't look it one bit.

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44 Old Color Photos Made With Autochrome That Remain Stunning A Century Later
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Long before digital photos and even Kodachrome color film, the Autochrome process helped bring color to the world of photography. Patented by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière of France in 1907, Autochrome was history's first commercially successful color photography process.

Even today, it's hard to believe your eyes when you see Autochromes taken more than a century ago. These old color photos just look so... alive.

The complicated, revolutionary process responsible for these images involved glass plates, soot, and even potato starch. In short, light passed through tiny grains of potato starch that had been dyed in various colors in order to impart those colors onto the image.

And although this process was effective, it was very slow. Long exposure times meant subjects needed to stay very still in order to prevent blurring. But even with some blur, the effect was marvelous.

The softness of motion paired with the subtle palettes made these old color photos resemble paintings. Aside from the aesthetic benefits, Autochrome images allowed photojournalists and documentarians to explore new realms of realism.

In the words of Adrian Coakley, photo editor for National Geographic:

"We often think of images from the early 1900s as being exclusively in black and white ... with autochrome, you're seeing those images in a way you wouldn't imagine them. It's like a look at history in color."

Nevertheless, the popularity of Autochrome lasted only about 30 years until Kodachrome was popularized. The new film paired with a 35mm camera was lighter to travel with and much easier to use.

However, some photographers were slow to abandon Autochrome simply because they didn't want to lose the misty beauty that it provided.

See some of the most stunning Autochrome images as well as some other of history's earliest color photos in the gallery above.

After this look at old color photos taken using Autochrome, see some of the most incredible images of World War 2 in color. Then, check out these popular interesting photos from all around the world.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.