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An Introduction to Colour

It's all subjective 'innit!

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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As photographers you’d think we had a pretty good handle on what colour is wouldn’t you. I certainly did until I started looking into it and had the proverbial rug pulled from under me. It turns out that if you talk to colour scientists and colour psychologists they’ll tell you that there is no such thing as colour! This article will look a little bit more into that disturbing revelation.

Color is subjective

The reason your colour scientists say there is no thing as colour (apart from being interminable know it alls) is because there are a bunch of different steps that need to be addressed in order to understand what is happening between the subject you're looking at and your brain saying “BLUE!!” (or "Bleu!" or whatever).

Firstly you need to know that in terms of science the only physical, real world phenomenon that we can refer to when discussing colour is the distribution of the amount of energy for each of a continuous range of frequencies of light. i.e. How much of each colour in the spectrum there is. This is often referred to as a 'spectral distribution'. If you look at the diagram below you'll see a spectral distribution for daylight bouncing off a few different substances.



We've tried to keep it interesting so these are four M&Ms we looked at. As physicists we would say that this is the main information about the M&M that has anything to do with the actual colour of it. And in this case we're only looking at the frequencies from 400nm to 800nm (actually we can't "see" beyond about 700nm as that is infra red).

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