15 January 2008

Pigmenting imagination

Color is not a physical property of objects, but rather our physiological and psychological response to light reflected by these objects. Carl Ingling once said:

"color is only a pigment of your imagination".

The first impression of the color of a room should not be taken too seriously - it will change with time. Just as the body adapts to the temperature of warm water so will the eye adapt to color.

We commonly describe white light based on associations with other colors. Yellowish white light, perhaps reminding people of a wood fire, is called "warm", while bluish white light is called "cool."

All light sources used in general lighting will gradually shift in appearance to become "white" to the viewer, whether they are “warm” like incandescent lamps and high pressure sodium lamps, or “cool” like daylight. Our color vision tends to compensate and fill in for those colors that are lacking in the light source’s spectrum: red in the case of daylight, blue for incandescent, etc.

As in the case of many other human perceptions, we are only sensitive to variations of color and not to the color value itself. Therefore, the eye's previous state of adaptation is significant. A “warm” space will look even warmer to the occupants if they enter it from a “cold” bluish space. It will look cooler if they come from a yellowish or pinkish one. But then the eye will slowly adapt until the space appears to be lighted with "white" light, no matter what the eye previous adaptation was.

While side-by-side color comparisons are an excellent way to show the differences between two light sources, since the eye never becomes completely adapted to either source but to a combination of both, a proper color evaluation is best achieved:

  • using a relatively large space,
  • lighting one light color at a time.

The ultimate test is to live with the colors for an extended period of time, in that way adaptation effects are accounted for.

The light from an electric light source is not inherently different from the light of the sun and the sky. In effect, visible light sources vary only in the relative amounts of energy at each wavelength. That however, is important because it is visible and we react to visible stimuli.

There is no "best" color lamp, nor is there any formal definition of "true" color. Each light source distorts objects’ colors, whether the light comes from a natural source such as sunshine or sunset, or electric sources such as incandescent, fluorescent or LED.

But there are certainly strong preference factors associated with light and color just as, for example, when people select clothing, furniture or decorations for themselves and their surroundings. The "right" light source for a given application largely depends on these personal preferences, custom and, in growing proportion, on an evaluation of the trade offs in efficiency, cost, and color rendition.

About This Blog

Form is the visual shape of mass and volume. Light makes form legible. There is no form without light.


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