daylight blues

GE advertisement for Mazda bulbs c1935

Toronto. In the mid last century, one could buy daylight or tungsten transparancy (slide) film. The difference was in their white balance. Incandescent bulbs would have a colour balance around 2700 degrees kelvin and a special blue filter on the camera would allow daylight film (designed for 6000 degrees kelvin light) to be used indoors. Alternatively, tungsten bulbs could be tinted a special blue to emulate the 5000 to 6000 degrees kelvin of sunlight. And, of course negative colour film could be colour balanced during printing so the prints appeared to be correctly colour balanced.

Preferring to shoot stills in natural light for the most part, I often forgot the efforts taken by professionals to properly illuminate a scene by floods or flash. When I was first attracted to photography, advertisements used girls and/or the actual equipment to catch the reader’s eye. In the 1930s, Walt Disney characters were a big deal and ads often used them to attract readers. One such ad extolled GE Mazda light bulbs, tinted ‘Photo Blue’ as ideal for color movies.

Like any printed matter back then, the ad itself was in black and white, since color was very expensive requiring a number of ink changes, print runs, and very careful registration. It was about a decade after WW2 before newspapers began the regular use of  colour, often just in ads at first.

So called natural colour was used in movies in a very limited way. Tints and various early colour processes often set the tone of the scene. This ad suggests that the Disney studio cartoons were stepping up to natural color for new releases. In the ad, GE takes advantage of their blue tinted Mazda light bulbs to promote their slogan, “General Electric makes lamps for every lighting need.”.

My thanks once again to George Dunbar – friend, fellow PHSC member, and retired cinematographer – for emailing me this ad on page 237 of the June 1935 issue of American Cinematographer.

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