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Seeing Red? Our Eyes are Adaptable


by Liz Quinlisk – April 8th, 2020

Eyes are Adaptable

Our eyes are adaptable and easily affected by many factors. We need a monitor calibration and profiling solution to ensure we are seeing accurate color. The red you see may in fact not be the same that others see. And the same red may look different in one image vs another. Many factors affect our human color vision. Our eyes are very adaptable and can change their sensitivity to a wide range of viewing conditions. Let’s take a look at how different situations affect our color vision and why we can’t just depend on our eyes alone and need monitor calibration devices to make sure that what we see on screen is accurate color.

Eyes are Adaptable

Simultaneous Contrast

Surround color can influence our color perception significantly. The surround color can influence color judgement and can cause what is known as simultaneous contrast. Take a look at this example. Here we have black and white backgrounds containing rectangles that seem to be the same shades of gray in the left image, but when we connect them, we see that the left rectangle was actually two shades darker.

Eyes are Adaptable Eyes are Adaptable

Here on the left are the same black and white backgrounds containing rectangles that now seem to be two different shades of gray. But connecting these two gray rectangles shows they are actually the same color.

Eyes are Adaptable Eyes are Adaptable


Let’s look at one more example. This happens with color as well. The blue bars on the left appear to be much darker than those on the right, however when we remove the white they appear the same.

Eyes are Adaptable


Contrasting Frame

Colors often appear more vibrant when they have a contrasting frame around them. By adding a border as shown in this example, the black borders prevent color clashing and make each color shape appear brighter and more intense.

Eyes are Adaptable


Chameleon Effect

Colors of medium value and chroma will appear to change in the direction of lighter, brighter or darker, less saturated colors surrounding them. In this example, the red and green colors when surrounded by yellow on either side appear lighter, but when placed in line with the blue they appear darker and richer.

Eyes are Adaptable

A chameleon changes its skin color to blend into its environment, just as some colors evaluated next to others will appear to shift in the direction of the adjoining colors.


Complementary After Image

Staring at colors for even short periods of time reduces our sensitivity to them. This results in a reverse or complementary afterimage that appears until color balance is restored.

Eyes are Adaptable

Stare at the black dot on the left for 15 seconds, then switch to the dot on the right. Do you see the afterimage of the star? Note that the after image is the opposite of the strong color. In this case, the star will appear to be cyan which is the opposite of red on the color wheel.

Color Constancy

The human eye is quite complex and has a high degree of color adaptation. It automatically changes its sensitivity to a wide range of viewing conditions. Familiar colors or objects remain largely unchanged with variations in lighting or viewing conditions. This phenomenon is called color constancy. For example, the blue jacket you put on at home under incandescent or LED lighting still looks blue when you go outdoors into daylight, and still blue under fluorescent light. Each of these light sources are quite different in energy composition. It’s quite remarkable how our eyes adapt when we view the same color under different light sources and it’s still perceived to be in the same color family.

What other factors affect your color vision?

Many factors affect our color vision like our age, our physical and mental state, and substances we put in our body. There’s a reason why anger is described as seeing “red” and we use the phrase “green” with envy. And our Coloratti Rick Sammon often says, “Don’t Drink & Print”!

Calibrate and Profile Your Monitor

The bottom line is you need a monitor calibration and profiling solution to ensure that your monitor is producing color, contrast, and brightness accurately. Established standards in the photo industry allow us to set our monitor so that it matches other monitors in different places and that images edited on calibrated and profiled monitors match print output as accurately as possible. Check our latest i1Display solutions CLICK HERE!

Check YOUR Color Vision

Curious how well you see color? You can test your color vision on-line – but make sure you do it with a calibrated display!  Color Vision Test

Categories: Color Management, Monitor Calibration, Perception, Profiles, Viewing, Vision | Tags: , , ,

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