The oldest known color photograph: 1872
Color Photos from the Russian Empire
Monastery from the Solarium
Color film was non-existent in 1909 Russia, yet in that year a photographer named Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii embarked on a photographic survey of his homeland and captured hundreds of photos in full, vivid color. His photographic plates were black and white, but he had developed an ingenious photographic technique which allowed him to use them to produce accurate color images.
The Emir of Bukhara
He accomplished this with a clever camera of his own design, which took three black and white photos of a scene in rapid sequence, each though a differently colored filter. His photographic plates were long and slender, capturing all three images onto the same plate, resulting in three monochrome images which each had certain color information filtered out.
A Zindan (prison)
Sergei was then able to use a special image projector to project the three images onto a screen, each directly overlapping the others, and each through the appropriately colored filter. The recombined projection was a full-color representation of the original scene. Emir of BukharaEach three-image series captured by the camera stored all of the color information onto the black and white plates; all they lacked was actual tint, which the color filters on the projector restored.
Tsar Nicholas II fully supported Sergei's ambitious plan to document the Russian Empire, and provided a specially equipped railroad car which enclosed a darkroom for Sergei to develop his glass plates. He took hundreds of these color photos all over Russia from 1909 through 1915.