"Color - The sensation produced by the effect of light waves striking the retina of the eye.

"The color of something depends mainly on which wavelengths of light it emits, reflects, or transmits."


The color we perceive of any object, then, depends on how light is being reflected off of the object at any particular time.

1) I photographed these California fan palm trees, Washingtonia filifera, first in the early afternoon, and again about one hour before sundown:

image image

In the first, the high angle of the sun casts a rather "cool" light (high Kelvin temperature) onto the palms, and the dull midtone values of the tree are accentuated.

In the second, the lower angle of the sun "warms" the light by reducing the Kelvin temperature, and a more "golden" color results, even changing the hue of the green fonds.

Quiz for the day: Which is the "real" or "true" color of those palms? Which is the "true" green? Is there such a thing? Does it matter?

2) It's quite fashionable for people to praise the "colors" of this or that camera. What does that mean? That the camera adds more "punch" to the colors, as some people have stated? Or does it mean that the camera records the color exactly as you see the object you just photographed? Or that the colors are more "realistic" (whatever that means)?

When you get to the computer monitor and look at the image, will you remember exactly how the the color of the object was when you photographed it? Does it matter?

Maybe not, if your approach is that the image directly from the camera is just the starting point, and that the final image will result according to the vision and interpretation that you achieve in the digital darkroom.

3) Then, there are problems in how people perceive your final image. If five people see your image on their monitors or other viewing devices, there are likely to be five different color casts.

If five people print your image you have sent them, there are likely to be five different color renditions. Change the paper, and more differences will result. You may be shocked to learn that the images you email Aunt Milly from time to time, she prints on recycled copy paper! And then proudly shows her friends examples of your work!

If you show a print you made to five different people, you are likely to get five different opinions as to their perceptions of the color. If those five people take a color perception test, their results are likely to be different, meaning that they will respond differently to the colors.

(One of the members on, the fine bird photographer and Canon Ambassador, Romy Ocon (member ID, Liquidstone) is color-blind:)

     About Romy Ocon

Also, the colors will look different, depending on the light source in which you view the print: tungsten indoors, daylight outdoors, etc.

The same thing occurs when people post images on the forums: some praise the colors. Some say they have too much, or not enough, "punch." Or, it's become fashionable now, to complain that there appears to be too much of an "HDR" effect.

How can someone respond to those criticisms? How can you know how your image appears on other's monitors? Perhaps on someone else's monitor, skin tones appear reddish.

The only control situations we have are:

--> calibrate our monitors so that we can show people on our monitor exactly how we want the colors in the image to appear.

--> make a print on our paper and show people how we want the colors to appear.

Then we can say, "This is the way I want the colors in the image to appear."

Even then, we are back full circle to other's interpretations of our work and how their eyes respond to color!

4) Color in Flora. Most botanists agree that color not a reliable identification feature. For example, there are many species of Lupines and color is variable. I have an Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus, in my garden. This is the description of the petals in the California Jepson Manual:

     Lupinus succulentus
     Flower: petals generally blue-purple (white, pink, lavender), banner spot white, magenta in age,

Most of mine are blue to purple, but I have seen lighter shades of blue in other areas. Differences in soil conditions? Water? Exposure to direct sun? Who knows.


Another example is the California Golden Poppy, Eschscholzia californica. From the California Jepson Manual:

     Eschscholzia californica
     Flower: petals 20--60 mm, orange, or yellow, bases generally orange.

Two examples:

image image

Color is a fascinating topic to ponder. Photographers often agonize over how colors are captured by their camera/lens. My approach in botany is to record the color as it appeared when I photographed the subject, as illustrated in the palm trees above.

—Richard Jones

Return to Flowers