All the film photography I know of - both colour and black-and-white - uses silver halide as the photosensitive component. I suppose that after over a hundred years of wet photography we have a good understanding of the options. But, if for some reason silver halides could not be used for film photography, what would the second (or third) choice be? How does it differ? Are/were the alternative options actually in use - and if so, what for?


SILVER use in photographic emulsions was a practical and cheaper concession after gold and platinum. While I have never used any of these materials, personally, I have seen prints of plates made from them on display at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. They may still be there. Platinotypes [sp?] had twice the greyscale of silver which seemed contrasty by comparison. There were gold-based emulsions there, too, but I can't remember them.

The Gum Bichromate process is interesting because it produces a relief image on a glass plate after exposure to light and subsequent development. Unexposed emulsion is water soluable and washes off. Dye is added to the image and then it can be viewed.

Blue prints are iron-based emulsions that are developed by ammonia gas. (You need liquid to produce the gas.)

There are several more.

So, I would go with platinum instead of silver for its tonal gradation, excellent definition and long linear response for exposure. The prints are beautiful. It's probably expensive. Blueprints lack the tonal gradation and definition so I'd pass on using it for anything other than photograms and novelty prints. Oh, and to use for line copy reproductions. The gum-bichromate process has nice tonal rendition but lacks the ability to resolve detail which restricts it for photographic rendering.

  • The bichromate process can actually produce surprisingly good detail if you're obsessively careful with it (Here's one example, Ian Sanderson's work is also pretty impressive). The limiting factors seem to be paper texture (which can be eliminated with an acetate support and using something besides a brush to coat it) and registration during printing (seems to be a necessary evil if you want color with this process). – voretaq7 Oct 23 '13 at 5:43

Alkali earth metals have some photosensitivity. Not nearly as good as AgX, though.

I'm assuming you realize that silver halide is not a single material, but refers to silver in combination with any of the halides: fluoride, chloride, bromide, iodide. Usually alternative processes use various combinations of these.

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    It is unfair to single out poor Astatine from the list of Halogens just for its short-ish half life! :-) – Francesco May 6 '12 at 9:44

Very nice article on the history of film chemicals and film stock. http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/04/exploding-photographers-disappearing-clothes-and-the-development-of-film

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