How can you be a colorblind photographer?

“Why does that dog look green?”

That comment led to my parents discovering that I was red-green colorblind. Years later, I am now a colorblind night photographer.

What do I see since I’m colorblind?

Some people think that if someone is colorblind, they see only black and white. That is an extremel1y rare occurrence. 

I am red-green colorblind, also known as deuteranopia. Approximately 8% of males have this, so it’s not unusual. There are different degrees of this. Mine is relatively strong. 

It's a fire truck. I know it's red. Got it. Good.
It’s a fire truck. I know it’s red. Got it. Good.

I can easily differentiate between bold colors of red and green. Traffic lights are no issue at all. Grass is green. Fire trucks are red. 

However, throw in subtle hues of reds and greens, as well as related colors, such as oranges and browns, and I’m usually sunk. When people discuss cyan, teal, turquoise, chartreuse or aquamarine, they hold little meaning to me. 

If someone told me a color were teal instead of blue, I might not know any better. I have little concept about what taupe or chartreuse are. Pale pinks and light gray, subtle shades of blue and purple, bright greens and yellows, or dark greens and gray — they are confusing to me.

How do I take photos?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5020_kenlee_october2019trip_191011_0017_12mtotal_3mf8iso320_schoolbus-madmax-blueinterior_1600px-no-metadata.jpg
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Taking photos is relatively simple. However, I sometimes light my subjects with different colors. Sometimes, I’ve attempted to select blue, only to find that I’ve selected teal. If I select a color like green and I want to be absolutely sure, I will increase the saturation and hold the light against a relatively neutral surface. Same with pink. 

How do I post-process photos?

Post-processing colors is one of many reasons why I would never be a wedding photographer. If someone has a specific clothing and I don’t nail the exact color, that’s not so good. 

Consequently, I try to set a proper white balance when photographing despite already shooting in RAW. I find nailing the white balance really helps me later. It also enables me to see the histogram out in the field.

When I begin editing, I simply don’t mess with the colors very much. I rarely use saturation much anyway. 

How do I really know what color this is?

If I’m really not sure what color something is, I use Photoshop’s Color Picker. I select the color in question on the image. This produces a dialog box that tells gives me a visual representation of where things are on the RGB spectrum. Usually, that’s enough.

The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

If I need more information or confirmation, I simply copy the color hex code, as shown above. This is simply a hexadecimal way to represent a specific color in RGB format.

An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

Then I paste the code into a site such as ColorHexa. This provides a lot of information about the color.

Saturation

Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert
Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert.

If I am not certain about how much of a particular color is in an image, I will crank that color to 100% temporarily using a saturation slider. If that color is not there, little will change. If something does change, then I will make subtle adjustments. I don’t overdo it because other people will perceive that as oversaturated. 

I have trouble using things like hue sliders and color mix panels. If I shift hues, I will crank the saturation of that color by 100% temporarily so I can determine what color that is.

Natural looking photos thanks to LuminarAI

More recently, I have been experimenting with the Templates in LuminarAI. Because Luminar is using machine learning from millions of photos, it sometimes helps me to achieve a more natural looking photo. 

Color Cast in Nik Color Efex

I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.
I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.

I occasionally use the Color Cast function in Nik Color Efex. I’ll click on something that I know is supposed to be white. Even if I don’t end up applying the Color Cast function, this can sometimes help me to become more aware of some of the colors or casts in my image.

Asking for help while post-processing

What colors are in the Milky Way? I don't know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.
What colors are in the Milky Way? I don’t know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.

If I create any shifts in color, something that might occur if processing a Milky Way photo, I will ask someone if the colors look amiss. And again, I really try not to change or mess with the colors very much at all.

Is there any cure or treatment for deuteranopia?

No, there’s not. However, there are glasses that somewhat address color blindness. You’ve probably seen the videos on social media where someone weeps because they’re seeing colors for the first time.

Curious about this, I purchased Pilestone red-green colorblind glasses. While I did not experience any emotional revelations, they did help me differentiate between challenging colors. However, the colors looked tinted. It was nothing that would help me edit photos. I returned the glasses.

With some ingenuity and persistence, you can definitely overcome color blindness. While occasionally it might be confusing or frustrating, I would urge you not to be discouraged. Photography is something that has brought me great joy despite my deuteranopia. I hope it does for you as well.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

SOCIAL MEDIA:
Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)
Instagram

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

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