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Look at This! Lumière's Colorful Peacock


Today's Image: Peacock by Louis-Jean Lumière; public domain.

A Closer Look at This Image

Auguste and Louis Lumière were French inventors. Part scientists and part photographers, the brothers cut their teeth in their dad's camera shop. 

To fully appreciate this image, it's important to realize it was taken in 1907 using a process pioneered by the brothers. The Lumières created and popularized the autochrome technique, and helped make color photography mainstream.

Several things strike me when looking at this image:

In Living Color

What better way to show the world the potential of color photography than with a photo of a peacock?

Early color technology certainly didn't capture colors in the way that Velvia film would, almost 80 years later, but it was still pretty mind-blowing. The tonal range of this image caught my eye as soon as I saw it. Despite the fact that the colors aren't fully saturated, the peacock's body really stands out to me. I think it's that lack of saturation that makes the blue-green body of the peacock so striking: while most of the image has orange-brown tones, it brings more focus to the color of the bird.

Modern cameras capture every part of an image with brilliant color. We're lucky to have such accurate color reproductions, but we're almost spoiled by it. The early color photographers really knew how to focus your eye on the key colors.


I also love the framing that the fence behind the peacock gives this composition. The hard diagonal lines of the metalwork leads your eye to make eye contact with the contrasting soft, natural curving lines of the peacock, lifting the bird forward in the image.

Also, the bird's shadow really creates a sense of depth. You can really feel the space between the bird and the background by the shadow that is cast.

Reading a Photograph

Have you ever wanted to learn more about how to study photographs? Maybe something catches your eye in a shot, but you want to explore it more deeply. Check out How to Read a Photograph for an interesting perspective on going beyond the surface of a photograph.

What do you see in the Peacock? Let me know in the comments below.

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