Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Earliest Known Photograph of a Halo

Following the publication of the recent Kertész post, a lively discussion ensued as to what is the earliest known photograph of a halo, either in black and white or colour? This brought to mind Marko's post on his blog submoon, about the first recorded halo from Lowitz orientation with a 315/325 raypath. In that post, he includes a photograph taken by Paul Schultz on a 1905-06 expedition to Alaska and later reproduced in the book Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled by Archdeacon Stuck (Scribner's, 1914),

Very recently, I also had the great fortune to come across a book, Cloud Studies by Arthur W. Clayden, (John Murray, London, 1905) which includes two photographs of halos. The first shows a 22° halo which exhibits a thickening around the area of the upper tangent arc and a second one which shows a section of the parhelic circle. Considering the book may have been in preparation some time prior to publication, these images might even be slightly older.

Now the question I would like to pose is can these really be the earliest photographs of halos ever taken? I have an extremely hard time believing this to be the case. My gut feeling is that earlier examples must be in existence somewhere. Photography had been around for nearly eighty years when these photographs were taken. The first black and white image was produced  in 1826-7 and the first colour image in 1861. The quality of photographic equipment and technique had been refined to such an extent by this time that high quality images were able to be produced by the average photographer. However, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, large format plates coated with slow emulsions were capable of recording some of the finest images that have ever been produced, exhibiting the most exquisite detail and tonality. In the following examples of early photographs, we see that the clouds and the sky play a principal or prominent part in their composition,

Sky Study, Paris, Charles Marville, 1856-7. © Metropolitan Museum of Art.
September Clouds, Roger Fenton, 1859.
Seascape at Night, Henry Peach Robinson, 1870.
So here is where I hand the investigation over to you to play detective. The bar has been temporarily set at 1905, but I am quietly confident that with a little effort we can push the timeline back into the nineteenth century and even further, possibly back towards the 1850's and 1860's. One last sobering thought to bear in mind. The very first photograph ever to be taken was View from the Window at Le Gras by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826-7 and was taken from a vantage point looking out on to the open sky which could potentially have contained a halo.

View from the Window at Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1826-7.
Happy hunting!


  1. What an exciting challenge! I should be working, but I keep getting back to the computer searching for early halo photos.

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  3. Hello,

    I found two photos for this exciting challenge.

    - One from the book “Manual of Meteorology” by Napier Shaw.

    Pictures start at p. 209 and it’s in Plate XIII. The second halo picture is from 1902.

    - The other one is at this link (I am not sure though):

    It seems there is a faint halo in the first picture of the second image. This tableau is from 1895. So the picture might be taken even earlier. The inside of the arc is darker which might be a clue.

    Let’s keep going : )

    1. Great find Aysun! The 1902 is a definite and in all likelihood taken prior to the date of publication. I like the way they are captioned "with" and "without" halos! I have more difficulty however with the 1895 possibility. The image reproduction is so small that I can't really make anything of it. Perhaps someone else with better eyesight than myself can. However, I was very excited to see the photo album dated 1884-88. I wonder what gems and rarities that might contain? If an item like that exists, I'm pretty sure that eventually we will be able to push the date back into the 1880's and even further. We are now 76 years from the advent of photography....and counting.

    2. Thank you Alec : ) It seems that book was published in 1919. But the photo was taken in 1902 according to the index of the photos with detail info, date and photographer etc. The first photo is from 1910. And as you are, I am also sure that there are many gems in museums and collections waiting to be revealed. Alec, I have a facebook page called Atmosphere, Light and Color: I share some old sketches and paintings besides photos. Today I am gonna share a sketch of a multiple halo display created by Edward Adrian Wilson during the Discovery Expedition in 1902. I’ve seen many of his paintings before but I found that recently. I like that he made two versions of the halo with fish eye and panoramic views. I would like to share that here first in the case you don’t use facebook. It is in the page 36:

    3. Thank you for all your efforts Aysun, they are very much appreciated! We look forward with anticipation anything else you might like to share with us. As you say, let's keep this thing going!

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