Light--Optics--Solar Spectrum--Decomposition of Light--Light, Heat, and Actinism--Blue Paper and Color for the Walls of the Operating Room--Proportions of Light, Heat, and Actinism composing a Sunbeam--Refraction--Reflection--Lenses--Copying Spherical Aberration--Chromatic Aberration.

It is advisable that persons engaging in the Daguerreotype art should have at least a little knowledge of the general principles of light and optics. It is not the author's design here to give a full treatise on these subjects, but he only briefly refers to the matter, giving a few facts.

It has been well observed by an able writer, that it is impossible to trace the path of a sunbeam through our atmosphere without feeling a desire to know its nature, by what power it traverses the immensity of space, and the various modifications it undergoes at the surfaces and interior of terrestrial substances.

Light is white and colorless, as long as it does not come in contact with matter. When in apposition with any body, it suffers variable degrees of decomposition, resulting in color, as by reflection, dispersion, refraction, and unequal absorption.

To Sir I. Newton the world is indebted for proving the compound nature of a ray of white light emitted from the sun. The object of this work is not to engage in an extended theory upon the subject of light, but to recur only to some points of more particular interest to the photographic operator.

The decomposition of a beam of light can be noticed by exposing it to a prism. If, in a dark room, a beam of light be admitted through a small hole in a shutter, it will form a white round spot upon the place where it falls. If a triangular prism of glass be placed on the inside of the dark room, so that the beam of light falls upon it, it no longer has the same direction, nor does it form a round spot, but an oblong painted image of seven colors--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. This is called the solar spectrum, and will be readily understood by reference to the accompanying diagram, Fig. 1.


To those who are unacquainted with the theory of light (and for their benefit this chapter is given), it may be a matter of wonder how a beam of light can be divided.

Fig. 1 (AMDG_1.jpg)]

This can be understood when I say, that white light is a bundle of colored rays united together, and when so incorporated, they are colorless; but in passing through the prism the bond of union is severed, and the colored rays come out singly and separately, because each ray has a certain amount of refracting (bending) power, peculiar to itself. These rays always hold the same relation to each other, as may be seen by comparing every spectrum or rainbow; there is never any confusion or misplacement.

There are various other means of decomposing {134} white light besides the prism, of which one of the principal and most interesting to the Daguerreotypist is by reflection from colored bodies. If a beam of white light falls upon a white surface, it is reflected without change; but if it falls upon a red surface, only the red ray is reflected: so also with yellow and other colors. The ray which is reflected corresponds with the color of the object. It is this reflected decomposed light which prevents the beautifully-colored image we see upon the ground glass in our cameras.

Fig. 2 (AMDG_2.jpg)]

A sunbeam may be capable of three divisions--LIGHT, HEAT, and ACTINISM; the last causes all the chemical changes, and is the acting power upon surfaces prepared to receive the photographic image. The accompanying illustration, Fig. 2, will readily bring to the mind of the reader the relation of these one to another, and their intensities in the different parts of a decomposed sunbeam.

The various points of the solar spectrum are represented in the order in which they occur between A, and B, this exhibits the limits of the Newtonian spectrum, corresponding with Fig. 1. Sir John Herschel and Seebeck have shown that there exists, beyond the violet, a faint violet light, or rather a lavender to b, to which gradually becomes colorless; similarly, red light exists beyond the assigned limits of the red ray to a. The greatest amount of actinic power is shown at E opposite the violet; hence this color "exerts" the greatest amount of influence in the formation of the photographic image.

(Blue paper and blue color have been somewhat extensively used by our Daguerreotype operators in their operating rooms and skylights, in order to facilitate the operation in the camera. I fancy, however, that this plan cannot be productive of as much good as thought by some, from the fact, that the light falling upon the subject, and then reflected into the camera, is, coming through colorless glass, not affected by such rays as may be reflected from the walls of the operating room; and even if it were so, I conceive that it would be injurious, by destroying the harmony of shadows which might otherwise occur.) The greatest amount of white light is at C; the yellow contains less of the chemical power than any other portion of the solar spectrum. It has been found that the most intense heat is at the extreme red, b.

Artificial lights differ in their color; the white light of burning charcoal, which is the principal light from candles, oil and gas, contains three rays--red, yellow, and blue. The dazzling light emitted from lime intensely heated, known as the Drummond light, gives the colors of the prism almost as bright as the solar spectrum.