I had a conversation with a commercial photographer friend yesterday that got me thinking about color blindness and photography. Color perception is something many of us take for granted, but you would be surprised at how many people suffer from some form of color perception deficiency (commonly called color blindness). For many people this has little real impact on their lives. But for photographers seeing color accurately can be important.
The photographer I spoke to yesterday told me his color perception is weak in the red/green spectrum, which is the most common form of color blindness that affects 99% of color blind people. My friend said that whenever he needs to adjust critical color on images that have predominant red and green colors, he asks his wife (who sees color quite well) to look over his shoulder.
I have met several photographers who have various stages of color perception deficiency, from mild to severe. Each has developed methods for successfully dealing with color in his or her photography. The key here is these people are aware of their color blindness. If you don’t know if you have a color deficiency, there’s an easy way to find out.
Several years ago I was a supervisor at a professional photo lab where I managed a group of highly-skilled color correcters. When we needed to hire a new person for the team, one of the first things I would do during the interview was to have the applicant take a Ishahara Color Blindness Test to determine if he or she could see all ranges of the color spectrum. This test, which was developed early last century, is the most well know color perception test in use today.
The Ishahara Color Blindness Test consists of 38 printed plates of patterns like the one shown above. You can take an online version of the test here. Though the online version isn’t as accurate as the printed plates, you can still get a good idea of what colors you can see, or more importantly the colors you can’t see. Then you’ll know if you need to develop strategies for dealing with color when it comes to critical adjustment. One thing to keep in mind when you take the test is that many people with normal color vision still don’t pass the test free of errors.
Interesting facts about color blindness:
- About 8% of all men are suffering from color blindness.
- About 0.5% of all women are suffering from color blindness.
- A father can’t pass his red-green color blindness on to his sons.
- If a woman is red-green colorblind, all her sons will also be colorblind.
- Strongly colorblind people might only be able to tell about 20 hues apart from each other, with normal color vision this number raises to more than 100 different hues.
- See 45 other interesting facts about color blindness here.