Incredible Color Photographs of Early 20th Century Russia


Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the lat Emir of Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan)

Looking back at photography from the past is always an incredible experience, and this beautiful collection of color images from the early parts of the 20th century in Russia is no exception.

Captured by the late Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky after being commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, these images were taken in extremely unique color through an age-old process he learned in 1902 when he went to study under photochemist Adolf Miethe.


A group of jewish children working with their teacher

Capturing three separate frames, Prokudin-Gorsky would use a different color filter for each shot: one red, one blue, and one green. Using these three resulting monochrome photographs, they would later be projected through a set of according filters onto a screen and superimposed onto one another. Upon one final filter, the image would come to life, turning three monochrome images into a true-to-life color image.

The commissioning of these photographs was done after Tsar Nicholas II came across one of these color photographs Prokudin-Gorsky captured of noted author Leo Tolstoy.

The agreement between the two gentlemen was that Prokudin-Gorky was to travel across the country over the course of ten years documenting everyday life and landscapes. In the end, he would come back with 10,000 photographs.


Two parents and their daughters resting in a field during golden hour.


A self-portrait of Prokudin-Grodsky


A group of Russian workers taking a quick break for a picture in the fields


A scenic shot of an unidentified early 20th-century Russian town


A portrait including Prokudin-Grodsky (right-front) of workers on a railway handcar along Lake Onega


An unidentified water-front town in the foreground, with a large mountain overlooking


A seemingly wealthy woman poses with her ornate rug and accompanying outfit


A small worker village set up alongside an unidentified body of water in Russia


Workers and their supervisors pose before pouring cement for a dam foundation across the Oka River Near Beloomut in 1912.

Unable to finish his 10-year, 10,000 photo project, Prokudin-Gorsky was forced out due to escalating tensions in Russia. At this point he had amassed an estimated 3,500 negatives, but many of those were taken away when he left the country. Only 1,902 were saved, all of which have been purchased by and are now stored in the U.S. Library of Congress for safe keeping.


A group of children sitting on a hill outside of an unidentified town (this photograph goes to show just how difficult this three-color process could be with moving subjects such as children)

If you’d like to read the entire story behind his journey and see the whole collection of photographs for yourself, head on over to the Library of Congress website by clicking here.

(via Daily Mail)

Image credits: Photographs by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky.

  • Genkakuzai

    Great stuff. Truly a window to the past, even more so in color.

  • Mark Brown

    That is incredible. I didn’t even realize colour photography went back that far – and I have no idea how he managed to get non-blurry photos of people with three shots and two filter changes.

  • David Liang

    This is truly remarkable in terms of the technical skill and knowledge, to be able to create such vivid images with early analog equipment and chemistry.

  • Fabien de Serres

    It’s not color photography per se, it’s monochrome photography, but the filters allow you to capture only the red, blue, or green spectrums, which can then be assembled to form a color image. This is something that is still in use for astrophotography, for example. The benefit (for astrophotography) is that you use all the photo sites on the sensor for each color, thus increasing the definition.

  • Egor Gudaev

    Remarkable man, compatriot… I read an article about him earlier… Most, if not all, of his Russian works were done before the Bolshevik’s revolution as he fled into France soon after.. Incredible that his genius was appraised by USA, not Russian library of whatever…

  • Metasepia

    its been around for a decade on interweb

  • lemon

    Amazing glimpse into Russia’s past.

  • Aaron Bornfleth

    I didn’t think it was possible to troll this story, but petapixel commentators are not to be underestimated, well done!

  • Fabien de Serres

    I was certainly not trolling. As for Mark, I don’t think he was either; his remarks made perfect sense, and I was just adding to his post.

    But, hey, nice troll bait there, dude :)

  • Liam

    Action Bronson?

  • Alex

    Interesting, where among the uzbek kids are found jewish children?

  • Justin Sheely

    I am curious as to how he went about capturing the three monochrome frames. Did he have a rig that changed filters quickly or did he have a three-camera setup?

  • Tigerlily

    The color photos really bring it to life for me, giving me the sense that I am right there, much more so than a black and white. These are great!

  • Norshan Nusi

    Yet the colors are more natural than I’ve ever seen.


  • Daire

    They’re neat. One interesting point is that as B&W colour separations they’re probably more archival than any modern colour film. I’ve tried one or two myself. With the right filtering you can get surprisingly accurate colours. I only did some still lives tho…

  • Quentin

    I am 100% sure that was on Petapixel before though…

  • just passing by

    How is this not color photography? its almost exactly how digital photography works, even more so with foveon sensors. Take the bayer filter array off a digital sensor and you have a monochrome sensor. even film uses layers that are sensitive to different wavelengths layered on top of each other to create a color image. However you look at it this is color photography.

  • Josue

    I was going to say the same thing.