What Do You Know About Color?

by Micah Walter


Aperture has a real advantage to the photographer in that you can set up your own customized work environment. Not only can you change the way Aperture’s layout is set up, you can also change your surround. If you are in the normal viewing mode Aperture offers a gray background for both your image viewing area and grid view. And, when you are in full screen mode Aperture places your images against a black background.

In the Preferences pane you can also customize the brightness of both the viewer are and the grid view area backgrounds.


But which is the best choice for image editing. Well, the answer to that question relies on a number of factors. In addition to these factors you also have to consider the variables of your environment. Are you working at your desk under tungsten light, window light, or fluorescent light? Have you calibrated your monitor? And if so, what settings did you use?

On top of all these questions, the real, most important question you should be asking yourself is, “how will this image be viewed?” Are you going to be making a print to be viewed in a gallery, or will it be stuck to your refrigerator? Or, are you planning to post this image on the web?

But let’s get back to the concept of surround for a minute. One of the most elementary concepts in imaging and perception is called Simultaneous Contrast. At the top of this post is an image that explains simultaneous contrast in very simple terms. The two smaller squares are exactly the same shade of gray, but because they have different surrounds, one of the squares appears lighter than the other. Your visual system is playing a trick on you. So, extrapolate this simple experiment to Aperture. Obviously we can see that viewing and adjusting an image on a gray or black background can make a huge difference as your visual system will perceive lightness and color differently depending on the surround.

Apple has a really incredible resource on their Pro website having to do with color and perception. If you really want to understand all of these variables, I highly recommend you check out this site.

In addition to being a great primer on color management, they also delve deeply into color perception. Check out the part by John Paul Caponigro that deals with Simultaneous Contrast. He really gets it right.

All of this color theory stuff can seem a bit daunting at first. It is important to sort of “get” some of these concepts, but it is more important to be able to apply them to your real world workflow and image editing environment. What I think is really cool about John Paul Caponigro is that he is a fine artist, and not a color scientist. He is applying this knowledge to his art, which is exactly what we should all be doing.


Graeme Smith
2007-09-07 10:44:20
When I output images to Flickr from Aperture I find it a good idea to look at the image against a white background (like it will appear on Flickr) in Aperture and potentially up the contrast and saturation. The background really does make a big difference…