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William de Wiveleslie Abney (July 24, 1843 - December 3, 1920) was an English physiologist, chemist, and photographer who in the area of visual perception was responsible for identifying the Abney effect and Abney's Law.


Abney was born in Derby, England, to a clergyman father. He attended the Royal Military Academy and joined the Royal Engineers in 1861, with whom he served in India for several years. Thereafter, and to further his knowledge in photography, he became a chemical assistant at the Chatham School of Military Engineering.

Abney was a pioneer of several technical aspects of photography. His endeavors in the chemistry of photography produced useful photographic products and also developments in astronomy. He wrote many books on photography that were considered standard texts at the time, although he was doubtful that his improvements would have a great impact on the subject.

Abney investigated the blackening of a negative to incidental light. In 1874, Abney developed a dry photographic emulsion, which replaced "wet" emulsions. He used this emulsion in an Egyptian expedition to photograph the transit of Venus across the sun. In 1880, he introduced hydroquinone. Abney also introduced new and useful types of photographic paper, including in 1882 a formula for gelatin silver chloride paper.

Abney conducted early research into the field of spectroscopy, developing a red-sensitive emulsion which was used for the infrared spectra of organic molecules. He was also a pioneer in photographing the infrared solar spectrum ([1887), as well as researching sunlight in the medium of the atmosphere.

Abney invented the "Abney Level", a combined clinometer and spirit level, used by surveyors to measure slopes and angles.

He died in Folkestone, England.


  • Chemistry for Engineers (1870)
  • Instruction in Photography (1871)

Organizations and honorsEdit

  • Royal Photographic Society (president)
    • 1892 to 1894
    • 1896
    • 1903 to 1905
  • Royal Astronomical Society (president)
    • 1893 to 1895.
  • Physical Society of London (president)
    • 1895 to 1897
  • Royal Society (fellow)
    • 1876 and
  • Knighted
    • 1900


  • "[...] whatever little notions of art a person might have in his head would certainly be driven out of it, for the knowledge that he could take an almost unlimited number of pictures would lead him to expose a sheet on every possible occasion, and probably 99 percent of what he obtained would be thoroughly inartistic productions".

See alsoEdit


  • "Abney, William de Wiveleslie." Britannica Student Encyclopedia. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica.

Further ReadingEdit

de:William de Wiveleslie Abney
simple:William de Wiveleslie Abney
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