Light plays a HUGE role in the way we perceive color. It’s actually the color of the light that determines the color your brain will perceive. The color of light makes things appear to change throughout the day, even though the objects themselves remain the same.
At night, colors appear much darker and lose their saturation and intensity. At sunrise everything has a yellowish-orange cast. At noon on a sunny day, the environment is cooler and more blue. Under fluorescent light, everything appears more green. And at sunset, colors are deeper and cast in shadow.
As strange as it sounds, objects themselves don’t have color. They have properties that determine which wavelengths of light are absorbed, and which are reflected. It is the mixture of the reflected light that enters our eyes that gives us the perception of color.
(Question: Does a color exist if there is no one around to see it?
In addition to "lighting", there are a number of other factors which play a role in our ability to accurately see color, such as, surrounding colors
, poor color memory
, color deficiency
, retinal fatigue
Do you recall the social media controversy around "The Dress"?
What did you see? "Blue and black" or "white and gold"?
(Note: The original picture is the one in the middle.)
It all has to do with our perception of color. Our eyes can play tricks on us as our brain is managing vast amounts of information and processing it the best it can. Without a point of reference, we each perceive color in our own way.
If you believe the dress picture was taken in bright sunlight, your brain will apply darker colors and you’ll think it’s "blue & black". But if you think the dress is hidden in a shadow, you’ll imagine the colors to be "white & gold".
The photo of the dress was not taken under ideal lighting conditions, and it is that lack of information that confused everyone’s brain. Lighting and the technology we use to view things is a major factor in color perception. Different people pick up on different visual cues, which changes how we interpret and perceive colors.
(Incidentally, the actual colour of the dress was confirmed to be "blue & black")
While lighting explains part of the dress color mystery, there’s something else at play. Our brains have "learned" how objects should
look (color memory), and we apply this knowledge to everything we see. However, human color memory is not very reliable.
Have you ever gone to the Paint Store and tried to choose, from memory
, a color from "color samples" that will match the color of your couch or curtains? How did that work out for you? Even looking at two colors across the room from each other to see if they match is often futile. To compare colors, you need to look at them together, side-by-side, in a neutral environment… preferably under controlled lighting conditions.
Take "white", for example. Magazine pages, newspapers, and printer paper are all white, but if you lay them side-by-side, you’ll see that each "white" is actually quite different. The newsprint will appear more yellow, and next to the newspaper the printer paper will probably look even brighter than you originally thought. Whites look alike unless we have a point of reference to change our impression.
Conversely, the same white sheet of paper viewed under different light sources with different color temperatures and intensities (bright sunlight vs. a tungsten bulb for instance) will be perceived as a different "color" or "shade of white". However,
your brain can easily fool your eyes into seeing the same shade of white in both cases. That's because your brain knows what color the paper should
be and can compensate for the effect of the lighting and trick your eyes into actually seeing the same white.
This feature of the visual system is also known as "chromatic adaptation", or "color constancy". Chromatic adaptation is the human visual system’s ability to adjust to changes in illumination in order to preserve the appearance of object colors despite the wide variation of light which might be reflected from an object and observed by our eyes. [Wikipedia: Chromatic Adaptation]
Here’s a cool optical illusion from R. Beau Lotto
) that illustrates how color memory can completely change the appearance of a color. The center squares on the top and front side of the cube look pretty different – orange on the front, brown on the top, right?
But when you "mask" the rest of the squares, you can see the two are actually identical.
That’s because our brain subconsciously factors in the light source and mentally corrects the color on the front of the cube as shadowed. Amazing isn’t it?
Below is another example of this. The squares marked A and B are the same shade of gray.
White Balance and Color Temperature
To understand the concept of White Balance, you need to first understand the concept of Color Temperature.
Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light. It provides a method of describing these characteristics and is measured in Kelvin (K). A light having a higher color temperature will have more blue light or larger Kelvin value as compared to a light with a lower color temperature, which has a smaller Kelvin value.
5000K produces roughly neutral light, whereas 3000K and 9000K produce light spectrums which shift to contain more orange and blue wavelengths, respectively. As the color temperature rises, the color distribution becomes cooler. This may not seem intuitive, but results from the fact that shorter wavelengths contain light of higher energy.
You must have noticed some photos turn out with an orange/yellow cast if shot under a tungsten bulb (a normal household incandescent bulb) or a bluish cast if shot under fluorescent lights. This occurs because each source of light possesses a different color temperature.
In a photo taken under the midday sun there is the whole spectrum of light (which makes up "white" sunlight). Under these conditions, the colors in an image appear nearest to the "true" colors.
An image taken under tungsten lighting, without adjusting the digital camera for white balance, produces the dull orange shade as it spreads the biased light. Similarly, an image taken under the fluorescent lighting produces a brighter bluish cast. Capturing accurate colors with a camera starts with proper White Balance. Setting the white balance will tell the camera what white really is, so it can capture the correct colors based on the light source.
"White Balance" Settings
As I mentioned in my "Picture Settings Guide
", Color Temperature (or the temperature of "white") refers to the color of the light source that's being displayed on your screen. Generally speaking, the "Cool" settings are more suited for viewing in a brightly-lit room whereas the "Warm" settings are more suited for viewing in a dimly-lit room.
The "White Balance" setting on the TV is used to make more precise adjustments to the color temperature of the picture in order to make white objects look white and the overall picture appear natural. It changes the overall mixture of colors in an image and is used for "color correction" in order to provide a neutral shade of white and make colors appear pleasing and as accurate as possible.
In other words, adjusting the "White Balance" of an image removes unrealistic color casts, so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white on your screen. However these values cannot be accurately adjusted "by eye".
Even the best trained eye cannot determine if the values are near 6500K as our eyes cannot accurately detect differences in the luminance of bright images such as white.
The ability of the display to do this all the way from darkest gray to the brightest white is called "Grayscale Tracking", which is just White Balance at multiple levels of image intensity. It has to be purely black or white or a shade of grey in between. This greatly improves your display's ability to not only produce black and white accurately, but every other color in between. If the display can't do this well, then all of the colors will look very unnatural.
In order to properly calibrate your TV’s "White Balance", you need to optimize the red, green and blue scales at each level of brightness along the black/white spectrum (grayscale). However, properly adjusting these values requires using expensive calibration instruments and software. Therefore, unless you are professionally calibrating your TV, you should leave these adjustments alone.
Most Accurate Picture Mode and Color Tone
Most TV "experts" and professional TV calibrators agree that the most accurate picture mode 'out of the box' is the "Movie" mode - that is to say, it is the mode that will bring you closest to a properly calibrated display.
Additionally, according to the "experts", you should also set the "Color Tone" setting to one of the "Warm" settings. Why? Because it is the setting that will bring the image closest to the recommended D65 television standard.
In order for your TV to adhere to the director's vision, it needs to reproduce white as closely as possible to the ISF recommended D65 (Daylight 6500K) which is similar to ambient daylight at midday (on a cloudy day). D65 is the standard used throughout the film and TV world.
If you have been conditioned to seeing a cooler/bluer, more dynamic picture, the "Movie" mode and a "Warm" Color Tone will appear far too "red" or "yellow" and too dim at first (cooler/bluer colors appear brighter than warmer/redder ones). However give it a few days for your eyes and brain to adjust to the new more accurate settings (trust me, they will).
After a few days, if you go back to one of the more "dynamic" modes and a "cooler" Color Tone, you’ll notice that the picture will appear far too bright and too blue.
Now all that said, it does come back to a matter of personal preference. In the end, it's your
TV and your
eyes, so adjust it the way you
P.S. Be sure to also check out my article: "What is Color Volume?"