Special Photosensitive Systems, Special Techniques, and Applied Photography

The high working speed (efficiency of converting light into permanent images) of silver halides makes them almost the only materials suitable for camera use. Numerous light-sensitive systems not using silver have been known since the beginning of photography. In view of silver's high price, a number of substitute systems have grown in importance, and new ones have appeared. Most of them are limited to office copying, microfilming, the graphic arts, and other applications in which flat copy is reproduced.


In xerography the photoconductive layer is selenium, and the image is made visible by dusting the plate with an electrostatically charged powder (toner) having a charge that is the opposite of that of the electrostatic image. The powder adheres to the image portions only and is then transferred to a sheet of plain paper also under the influence of electrostatic fields. A final heat treatment fuses the powder into the paper for a permanent picture. The process usually makes a positive from a positive original. In office copying machines (the main application of xerography) the whole operating sequence is programmed and automated. A zinc oxide-coated paper may replace the selenium plate; if so, the pigment powder deposit is fused directly into the paper surface.

The process is used mainly for line images without intermediate tones between black and white. Modified procedures permit continuous-tone reproduction and—with coloured pigments—also colour printing.

In the electroplastic process a transparent thermoplastic serves as the photoconductive layer. After the plastic is charged and exposed, the residual electrostatic charge forms stresses in the thermoplastic. Controlled heating deforms the surface in the image areas into a grain pattern, which is frozen into the plastic on cooling. The resulting image is light-scattering and is viewed by reflection or in special projection systems.


A comparatively early non-silver process depended on organic colloid (gum or gelatin) treated with a bichromate. Exposure to light hardened the gelatin, rendering it insoluble, while unexposed portions could be washed away with warm water, leaving a relief image.

Photopolymer systems substitute a plastic precursor in place of the gelatin. The plastic precursor polymerizes to an insoluble plastic when exposed to light, and the unexposed soluble material is washed out by a suitable solvent. Photopolymer processes have been adapted for forming resists (protective coatings) for etching, as, for instance, in the manufacture of printed circuits. In indirect photopolymer systems a light-sensitive substance is mixed with a plastic precursor and on exposure decomposes into compounds that initiate polymerization of the plastic. The polymerizable layer may include a pigment for a final coloured image. Superimposing colour images derived from separation negatives can yield positives; systems of this type are used for quick colour proofing in photomechanical reproduction.


A diazo, or dyeline, process depends on the decomposition by light of organic diazonium salts. These salts can also couple with certain other compounds to form dyes. After exposure only the exposed (and decomposed) diazonium salt forms dye, producing a positive image from a positive original.

The materials are usually papers or transparent supports impregnated with the required chemicals. They are mainly sensitive to ultraviolet rays and can therefore be handled by normal tungsten lighting.

The light-decomposition of diazonium compounds also produces gaseous nitrogen. This phenomenon is utilized in vesicular processes that incorporate the diazonium compound in a thermoplastic layer. The nitrogen slowly diffuses out of this layer, but, if heat is applied immediately after exposure, the expanding nitrogen gas forms minute light-scattering bubbles visible as an image. The scattering power corresponds to the exposure. Further general exposure, after the plastic has cooled, decomposes the residual diazonium compound with gradual diffusion of the nitrogen out of the layer, destroying the latter's light sensitivity. This process and thermal dyeline systems are dry-processing instant-access systems and are used for making microfilm duplicates.


Certain dyelike substances can exist in a colourless and a coloured state. They are called photochromic compounds. The coloured state is formed by exposure to radiations of a certain wavelength. The compound reverts to its colourless state either in the dark or on treatment with radiation of a different wavelength. This reversibility is a primary characteristic of photochromism, and it is an instant-image system involving no processing.

Glasses containing certain metal compounds also act as photochromic materials. Exposure to light breaks down the compounds into metal that forms a visible (and permanent) image in the glass. Another type of photochromic glass contains silver halide crystals dispersed in the glass melt. The action of light decomposes the silver halide, forming a visible silver deposit. The halogen cannot escape from the glass, so it recombines with the silver in the dark and the image fades. Such photochromic glasses are incorporated in automatic light-control devices; light transmission decreases as the intensity of the light reaching the glass rises. Such glass has found use in certain types of sunglasses.


As television cameras and recorders became more compact, home video recording began to replace home movies in the amateur field in the late 1970s. Video recording of still images was incidental to this; it became widely involved in the storage of computer-generated or computer-processed images on magnetic tape or discs, for instance, in satellite photography, radiography, image scanning in picture transmission, and photomechanical reproduction.


High-speed photography is generally concerned with exposure times shorter than about 1/1,000 second (one millisecond) and often exposures shorter than 1/1,000,000 second (one microsecond). This field partly overlaps that of high-speed cinematography—sequences of very short exposures. Exposure times can be reduced by high-speed shutter systems or by short-duration flash sources.

This photograph of a hummingbird in a flower garden was taken using a high-speed exposure time.

This photograph of a hummingbird in a flower garden was taken using a high-speed exposure time.

The shortest electronic-flash duration is around one microsecond. Spark discharges in air between electrodes yield still shorter exposures; discharge voltage may go up to tens or hundreds of thousands of volts. Short-duration pulses applied to X-ray tubes produce X-ray flashes for high-speed radiography. The shortest exposures are between 20 and 50 nanoseconds. Special switching modes turn lasers into high-speed sources with durations down to a fraction of a nanosecond.


Generally the event photographed is made to trigger the exposure (the current pulse to operate the shutter or flash or spark source) to ensure correct synchronization. Examples are bullets interrupting a light beam to a photocell or self-luminous phenomena (explosions) triggering the system via a photocell circuit. The event and the exposure may be also triggered together by a signal from a common source.


Electronic-flash units designed to flash in rapid succession (up to several hundred times a second) can photograph a moving subject in front of a stationary camera with its shutter open to yield multiple images of successive movement phases. The technique has been used in pictorial and sports photography (e.g., recording the movement of dancers or golfers) and for analyzing movement cycles without a motion-picture camera. Stroboscopic flash can be synchronized with a selected movement phase of an object in rapid cyclic motion (e.g., a rotating machine component); the moving component illuminated in this way then appears stationary.


Photographs from airborne or spaceborne vehicles either provide information on ground features for military and other purposes (reconnaissance) or record the dimensional disposition of such features (surveying).

Reconnaissance photographs call for maximum sharpness and detail rendering. Infrared films are often used to bring out details not discernible visually. In nonmilitary applications such photographs may reveal ecological factors (tree diseases, crop variations) and traces of archaeological sites not visible from the ground. Such shots are generally taken with cameras using 5- or 9 1/2-inch roll film in large magazines, built into the aircraft and operated electrically by the pilot or other crew member, or automatically at set intervals. Some systems incorporate a shutterless technique; the film runs continuously past a slit at a rate matched exactly to the image movement in the camera's focal plane as the aircraft flies over the ground (image motion compensation).

An aerial photograph of Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland was taken using a drone. Cutting-edge technology is making aerial photography readily accessible to greater numbers of photographers.

An aerial photograph of Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland was taken using a drone. Cutting-edge technology is making aerial photography readily accessible to greater numbers of photographers.

Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820–1910), who was a French writer, caricaturist, and photographer and who is remembered primarily for his photographic portraits, which are considered to be among the best done in the 19th century.

As a young man, he studied medicine in Lyon, France, but, when his father's publishing house went bankrupt in 1838, he was forced to earn his own livelihood. He began to write newspaper articles that he signed “Nadar.” In 1842 he settled in Paris and began to sell caricatures to humour magazines.

In 1854 he completed his first Panthéon-Nadar, a set of two gigantic lithographs portraying caricatures of prominent Parisians. When he began work on the second Panthéon-Nadar, he made photographic portraits of the persons he intended to caricature. His portraits of the illustrator Gustave Doré (c. 1855) and the poet Charles Baudelaire (1855) are direct and naturally posed, in contrast to the stiff formality of most contemporaneous portraits. Other remarkable character studies are those of the writer Théophile Gautier (c. 1855) and the painter Eugène Delacroix (1855).

Nadar was a tireless innovator. In 1855 he patented the idea of using aerial photographs in mapmaking and surveying. It was not until 1858, however, that he was able to make a successful aerial photograph—the world's first—from a balloon. This led Daumier to issue a satirical lithograph of Nadar photographing Paris from a balloon. It was titled Nadar Raising Photography to the Height of Art. Nadar remained a passionate aeronaut until he and his wife and other passengers were injured in an accident in Le Géant, a gigantic balloon he had built.

Aerial survey is a systematic procedure of photographing the ground for map production; exposures are made at intervals to partly overlap the view of successive pictures. The individual photographs are enlarged to the same degree and then assembled in a precise mosaic. Aerial photographs taken under precisely specified conditions can serve for accurate measurements of ground details by stereoscopic evaluation.



Since the refractive index ratio of glass to water is lower than for glass to air, the light-bending power of a glass lens is less in water than in air. This factor reduces the lens's angle of view and makes objects appear at about three-fourths of their actual distance. This difference must be allowed for in focusing—possibly by a suitably calibrated distance scale or by fitting the housing with a compensating porthole, which acts as a diverging lens.

Underwater cameras with lenses designed for direct contact with the water eliminate the air space between the lens and the porthole. Such lenses can cover wider angles of view without distortion, but they do not give sharp images outside the water.

An underwater photographer prepares to take a picture of coral and a clown fish using an underwater camera with video lights. Most underwater photographers use flat or dome ports to cover the lens.

An underwater photographer prepares to take a picture of coral and a clown fish using an underwater camera with video lights. Most underwater photographers use flat or dome ports to cover the lens.


Near photography to reveal fine texture and detail covers several ranges: (1) close-up photography at image scales between 0.1 and 1 (one-tenth to full natural size); (2) macrophotography between natural size and 10 to 20× magnification, using the camera lens on its own; (3) photomicrography at magnifications above about 20×, combining the camera with a microscope; and (4) electron micrography with an electron microscope at magnifications of 10,000 to 1,000,000×, which involves photography of the electron microscope's phosphor screen or placing a photographic emulsion inside the vacuum chamber of the electron microscope to record directly the image formed by the electron beams.


Extension tubes or extension bellows or both or “macro” lenses of extended focusing range are used for the macro range of distances. For optimum image quality macrophotographic lenses specially corrected for large image scales may be used or the camera lens reversed back to front.


There are two principal methods of photographing through a microscope. In the first the camera, with its lens focused at infinity, is lined up in the optical axis of the microscope, which is also focused visually on infinity. In the other method the camera without lens is positioned behind the microscope eyepiece, which is focused to project the microscope image directly onto the film.

Special photomicrographic cameras generally employ the second method. Microscope adapters to provide a light-tight and rigid connection between the camera and microscope are available for both systems. Such microadapters may incorporate their own shutter and a beam splitter system for viewing and focusing of the microscope image through a focusing telescope. Photomicrographs are the essential adjunct to all microscopy to record biologic, bacteriologic, physical, and other observations in black-and-white or colour.


Visual three-dimensional depth is perceived partly because of the fact that the human eyes see a scene from two viewpoints separated laterally by about 2 1/2 inches (6.4 centimetres) The two views show slightly different spatial relationships between near and distant objects (parallax); the visual process fuses these stereoscopic views into a three-dimensional impression. A similar impression is obtained by viewing a pair of stereoscopic photographs taken with two cameras or a twin camera with lenses 2 1/2 inches apart, so that the left eye sees only the picture taken by the left-hand lens and the right eye only that of the right-hand lens. Binocular viewers or stereo-selective projection systems permit such viewing.

Stereo photographs can also be combined in a single picture by splitting up the images into narrow vertical strips and interlacing them. On superimposing a carefully aligned lenticular grid on the composite picture, an observer directly sees all the strips belonging to the left-eye picture with the left eye and all the strips belonging to the right-eye picture with the right eye. Such parallax stereograms are seen in display advertising in shop windows. They also can be reproduced in print, overlaid by a lenticular pattern embossed in a plastic covering layer.

Photogrammetry makes use of stereo photography in measuring dimensions and shapes of ground objects in depth, as from successive exposure pairs made during an aerial survey flight. If all exposure parameters, including flying height, ground separation between exposures, and focal length of the aerial camera lens are known, the height of each ground feature can be measured. Photogrammetric plotting instruments do this and draw height contour curves of all features for aerial maps. Similar photogrammetric evaluation of stereo photographs of nearby subjects can also be made. For instance, it is possible to reconstruct accurately the scene of a highway accident. In industry a photogrammetric plot of an automobile model can be fed into a computer to program the machine tools that will shape the full-scale motor body components.


Photogrammetry is a technique that uses photographs for mapmaking and surveying. As early as 1851 the French inventor Aimé Laussedat perceived the possibilities of the application of the newly invented camera to mapping, but it was not until 50 years later that the technique was successfully employed. In the decade before World War I, terrestrial photogrammetry, as it came to be known later, was widely used; during the war the much more effective technique of aerial photogrammetry was introduced. Although aerial photogrammetry was used primarily for military purposes until the end of World War II, thereafter peacetime uses expanded enormously. Photography is today the principal method of making maps, especially of inaccessible areas, and is also heavily used in ecological studies and in forestry, among other uses.

Instruments used in photogrammetry have become very sophisticated. Developments in the second half of the 20th century include satellite photography, very large scale photographs, automatic visual scanning, high-quality colour photographs, use of films sensitive to radiations beyond the visible spectrum, and numerical photogrammetry.


Images formed by infrared and heat radiations can be recorded directly, on films sensitive to them, or indirectly, by photographing the image produced by some other system registering infrared radiation.

Silver halide emulsions can be sensitized to infrared rays with wavelengths up to around 1,200 nanometres (one nanometre is 1/1,000,000 of a millimetre). The usual sensitivity range is 800 to 1,000 nanometres.

Egyptian authorities used images formed by infrared thermography to map the temperature of the walls of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) in Cairo, Egypt, in 2015.

Egyptian authorities used images formed by infrared thermography to map the temperature of the walls of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) in Cairo, Egypt, in 2015.

Direct infrared-recording aerial photography shows up ground features of differential infrared reflection but similar light reflection (e.g., different types of foliage) and cuts through haze and mist. Special colour films with an infrared-sensitive layer and processed to colours different from the natural rendering (false-colour films) show up such differences still more clearly. In forensic photography infrared pictures reveal ink alterations in forgeries, differentiate stains, and help to identify specific textiles and other materials. In medicine infrared photographs show subcutaneous blood vessels, as the skin is transparent to infrared.

With suitable equipment it is possible to convert an infrared image into one visible on a fluorescent screen, where it can be photographed. In infrared scanner systems a moving mirror scans the object or scene and focuses the radiation onto an infrared-sensitive cell. The cell generates electric signals to modulate a light source, which, in turn, scans a photographic film or paper synchronously with the mirror. The resulting image records hotter and colder parts of the object as lighter and darker areas and can accurately establish actual temperatures of subject details. This system has been used to record temperature variations in the skin for the diagnosis of cancer.


Fluorescence photography records the glow or visible light given off by certain substances when they are irradiated by ultraviolet rays. The object is illuminated by screening out the visible light with a filter that transmits only ultraviolet radiation, and another filter that absorbs the ultraviolet rays is placed over the camera lens, permitting only the visible light (fluorescence) to be recorded on the film. Normal lenses and panchromatic or colour materials are used.

Ultraviolet photography can identify or separate pigments and fabrics and can detect forgeries of documents. Fluorescence photography can identify dyes, stains, specific chemical substances, and fluorescent components in microscope specimens. Ultraviolet microscopy offers increased resolution through the shorter-wavelength radiations employed. Aerial and satellite photography by ultraviolet can show up ultraviolet-reflective ground features.



X-rays (wavelengths between 1/100 and 1/100,000 that of visible light) are produced by high-voltage electron streams bombarding an electrode in a vacuum tube. For radiography the object to be recorded is placed between an X-ray tube and the film; the film registers the differential absorption of the X-rays by the object's internal structure as a projection shadowgraph.

The most familiar application is in medicine for diagnosis and recording, including dental radiography. Industrial radiography permits nondestructive inspection of castings, welds, and engineering structures.


The technique of gamma-ray radiography is similar to that of X-ray radiography except that it relies on rays emitted by radioactive substances. Gamma rays have wavelengths from 100 to 1,000 times shorter than X-rays and correspondingly greater penetrating power. Small gamma-ray sources are placed in areas inaccessible to X-ray tubes, such as inside pipelines. In all radiographic applications the exposure occurs under conditions of normal light, from which the radiographic film is protected by a light-tight (but radiation-transparent) wrapping.


Autoradiography records the distribution of radioactive materials in botanical and histological specimens placed in contact with a photographic emulsion. This technique has been applied to the study of metabolism of plants and animals; it records the activity of organic compounds of radioactive isotopes introduced into the system of the plant or animal. In engineering studies autoradiography can be used to follow the transfer of radioactive substances from one surface to another in lubrication. The technique also has applications in machining and other metal-treatment processes.


Tracks of subatomic particles, such as protons, electrons, and mesons, produced by nuclear reactions can be recorded by photographic means. The most common technique is to photograph the visible traces of such tracks in bubble or spark chambers with special camera and lens arrangements. Different arrangements can provide for coverage of large fields or the recording of tracks simultaneously from several directions for three-dimensional reconstruction.

Particle tracks can be recorded directly in thick (up to one millimetre) emulsion layers or in emulsion stacks (up to 20 inches [up to 51 centimetres]) carried in high-altitude balloons and in spacecraft and satellites. Special processing procedures are required to deal with these emulsion thicknesses.


By the cumulative effect of light received over a long period, a photographic emulsion can record celestial objects too faint to be visible. Before radio telescopes photography was the only way of detecting many such objects.

Astronomical cameras are built onto high-power telescopes, typically reflecting systems. The telescopes run on precision, clock-driven mounts to keep the optical axis stationary with respect to the sky area as Earth rotates during an exposure time, which can run into several hours. For increased recording sensitivity, the telescope image may be intensified electronically.

Astronomical photographs taken through narrow-band colour filters—including infrared or ultraviolet transmitting filters—show selective emission characteristics of stars. In the case of the Sun and of planets, such photographs can reveal some surface details not observable by white light. Colour photographs reveal colours not directly visible because the intensity of starlight is too low to stimulate the eye's colour-vision mechanism.

Spectrography records the composition of light emitted by stars and other objects, the star image of the telescope being photographed through a diffraction grating, a device that disperses white light into constituent wavelengths. Elements present in the star or the gas mantle surrounding it can be identified from their characteristic spectral lines. Displacement of such lines from their known wavelength position can indicate the velocity with which the distant stellar systems recede from or approach Earth.


Microfilming is the copying of documents, drawings, and other such matter at a reduced scale—typically 1:15 to 1:42—for compact storage. Complete microreproduction systems include methods of filing the film copies for easy retrieval and reenlargement. Various duplication methods allow microfilm records to be extensively distributed.

Documents, periodicals, and other printed matter are usually microfilmed on 16-mm film with an image size between 10 × 14 and 14 × 20 mm in a copying camera taking 100-foot lengths of film. Engineering drawings of high information content are microfilmed on 35-mm unperforated film with a standard image size of 32 × 45 mm. Films of up to 105 mm in width are also used. Automated microfilm cameras run continuously, documents being fed onto a moving band carried past the camera at a steady speed while the film runs past a slit at a matched rate.

Readers and reader printers are desk-top projectors that display the frames reenlarged to about natural size on a back projection screen. In a reader printer the image may also be projected on sensitized paper for full-size enlargements. Advanced readers have elaborate retrieval systems based on frame coding and run the microfilm rolls through at high speed until a specific searched image is reached.

Widely used is the unitized microfiche system, which carries up to 98 frames, each about 9 × 12 mm, on a 4 × 6-inch sheet of film. The microfiche camera repositions the film frame by frame after every exposure. Microfiche with a larger frame can also be produced by jacketing strips of 16-mm microfilm in multichannel plastic jackets 4 × 6 inches in size.

For greater space saving, microfilm images may be reduced beyond 1:100 on high-resolution photochromic image materials. Extreme fine-grain silver copies then hold 3,000 to 4,000 individual frames on a single 4 × 6-inch film. This method, useful for complex catalogs and like purposes, offers easy retrieval of individual frames but requires a high-magnification reader.