I am red/green colorblind.
In fancy terms, I am deuteranomaly colorblind, which means that the green cones (light receptors) in my eyes detect too much red light and not enough of the green light they are supposed to catch. If you want to try and imagine how I see color, you can imagine you have a pair of lightly tinted pink glasses on, which ever so slightly change the colors you are seeing. How can someone be a successful photographer if they can’t see true color? That’s what I’m here to talk about.
So let’s answer some easy questions first:
“Do you only see in black and white?”
I still see colors. They are just different and at times more muted than what you are seeing.
“Have you had this your whole life?”
Yup! Colorblindness is genetic so I’ve always had it and always will.
“Is grass green? How about traffic lights?”
Grass is usually green but colors that are close together in shade are more difficult to distinguish. Changing traffic lights look like: [White], Yellow, Red.
“Do you tell your clients?”
Sure! It’s not something that I hide away, so if it comes up in a conversation, I am more than happy to talk about it. I don’t view it as a disability or even a negative because it has shaped my style and made me extremely intentional in my work.
“Is this dress blue or gold?”
Honestly, this controversy was very funny to me because people struggled so much with understanding the concept, but for me this is a part of my everyday life.
I spy with my colorblind eye…
I experience difficulty with seeing color constantly in my day to day life. The hardest colors for me to see are ones like “Army Green” or “Drab Olive.” It’s just brown. Very very brown. Why is that? Greens and reds that are not pure but rather mixed with other colors are the most difficult to see.
For example, one of the earliest memories I have of my colorblindness affecting me was as a kid. My dad had just bought a new dark green Honda accord, and when he brought it home, my first words were: “OH COOL! YOU GOT A BLACK CAR!” From the look on my parents’ faces, I knew something was wrong.
So I obviously don’t know exactly what everyone else is seeing vs. what I am seeing. What I have learned over time is how to differentiate color, especially when I am editing. I will do my best to show you how I see color in these next two images.
For me, most grass is undoubtedly green, but sometimes it appears very yellow to me. Take a look at these photos that I edited. If I switch them back and forth quickly, I can see the shift in tone, but if I look at them separately, they look almost the same to me.
How I work with it
Like many of you who work at a screen daily, I take breaks to rest my eyes while editing. The difference is, I know that before I go back to work, I need to stimulate my eyes with loud and vibrant colors. Video games and mobile games are great for this as they have larger-than-life, dramatic color. I’ll take 5-10 minutes every few hours to watch a video on a game I like to play or to open a mobile game. These wildly bright and colorful images to help “reset” my color vision.
While this helps my eyes and brain understand natural color better, it doesn’t solve the fact that I basically can’t see most shades of green or red correctly. Over the years, I have learned different techniques to “see” the red and green hues. One of my longest struggles was learning to balance “skin tone”. This term refers to how photographers maintain the true color of someone’s skin while editing. It is very easy when editing a photo to end up with a person who looks too yellow, too red, too green, too blue, etc.
To show you this, I’ve edited these photos incorrectly so they do not have the proper skin tone.
So while this may seem painfully obvious to you, how do I know the difference if I can’t see the colors correctly?
Take a glance back at those images and check out that grid in the middle. That is a tool called the white balance eye dropper. The purpose of this tool is to click on a spot in the image that is “pure white” and it will auto adjust the color so that everything else in the image is correct compared to the white. While that sounds simple, light and color are much more complicated than that, and often times it will look incorrect. I discovered a different use for this tool, and it involves a formula for skin tone.
Skin varies in color, person to person, but that variance still follows a pattern. Unless you have a medical condition that affects the color of your skin, it will generally follow this rule:
“You are more red than you are green, and you are more green than you are blue.”
With that in mind, I spent some time figuring out the numerical difference in Red/Green/Blue. Let’s see what that looks like:
The Magic Formula
Alright, so what is the magic formula? Luckily, it’s simple and easy to follow.
Skin is typically 7-10 points of value more Red than Green, and 7-10 points more Green than Blue.
Boom. Magic. That’s how I see true color and correct images for skin tone. Take a look at those numbers on the graphs for the images that were edited incorrectly. Each of them breaks this pattern in one way or the other.
You know all of this intuitively when looking at an image. For myself, I had to discover a method to validate my way of seeing color to ensure that it is correct. As long as those numbers align according to the formula, I know that the red/green in the image is accurate and I can adjust the rest of the image as needed.
(P.S. If you’d like to see more from Micah and Heather’s wedding, click here!! https://chriskoeppenphotography.com/micah-heather-wedding/)
Besides my magic formula, I have a unique perspective on color because I’ve spent a lot of my photography career trying to combat my own eyeballs. So here’s some stuff I learned along the way.
1. When you lower the saturation of a color, you also lower the brightness of that color.
I learned this before I figured out the numerical values above. My first color test was to go to each color and lower/raise the saturation in order to see what colors were in the photo. I noticed that when I removed color from something, it got darker in the process. As demonstration, here is a frame from my upcoming King Arthur art series.
2. If you shift an image’s color towards yellow, it brightens the image.
Similar to number 1, the more yellow an image is, the brighter it gets, and conversely, the more blue an image is, the darker it becomes.
3. Color can help guide your eye through an image.
When you look at a photo, your brain processes it in under a second, but the colors in an image can help it be something that is intriguing to you.
My deuteranomaly does not limit me as a photographer. When I ask what people like about my photography, I often hear that I have “dramatic images” and “bold color”. During shoots I base my composition, lighting, and posing around storytelling. In the editing process I work to find true and vibrant color that I can see for myself. My color blindness doesn’t negatively influence the images I create, rather it shapes the way I craft them.
I see the world differently than you do, but to me that is not a bad thing. It’s a gift that I’ve been able to use to my advantage to create images artfully in ways I would never have conceived of without it.
Hey you!! Thank you for reading and getting to know me better!
If you’d like to a free resource to test for colorblindness, check out https://enchroma.com/pages/test!!