What is Color?

“What is color? No object of itself alone has color.

We know that even the most brightly colored object, if taken into total darkness, loses its color. Therefore, if an object is dependent upon light for color, color must be a property of light.

And so it is.”
Paul Outerbridge, Photographer 1896 – 1958

Vase Color Temperature

Have you ever wondered why things look different when you change a light bulb, say swapping a compact fluorescent for a good old incandescent? It is because the compact fluorescent has different color properties than the incandescent. The primary difference is know as color temperature.

For most common purposes color temperature is generally referred to as warm or cool, warm meaning more of the red spectrum in the light source and cool meaning more of the blue. Some scientists theorize that humans are pre-programmed to be more accepting of warmer color temperatures because our ancestors, for all the millennium,  only experienced light from campfires and torches which is very warm light. This may or may not be true, but it is interesting to consider.

Of course preference for warm or cool light is a personal matter and varies among cultures around the world and even between areas in the United States. Residents of Northern climates tend to prefer warm light and residents of hotter ares lean toward cool. Here is another interesting fact: Sunlight changes its color as it crosses the sky. At dawn and sunset the sun appears more reddish, due to the filtering nature of the denser atmospheric layer it’s rays are passing thru at that angle. It has a correlated color temperature of approximately 2000°K at sunrise / sunset, and 5600°K when directly overhead.

Why is all the important to you? It is important because, for example, if you buy draperies for your house at a window treatment store they might not look the same in your house as they did in the store. Or, if you buy your draperies in your home at noon, they will not look the same at sunset. Just be aware the color is in the light, not in the surface from which that light is reflected.

For good, concise information and interactive examples of color and other light facts, consider downloading the Underwriter’s Laboratory app, LightSmart. Another good resource for lighting information is the American Lighting Association‘s web site. And, of course, please visit fogglighting.com to read our blog posts and learn how we might help you solve any lighting problem or challenge you may have.