I don’t usually tell people that I’m colorblind. Not because I’m ashamed of it but rather the fact that I would just assume not go through the whole “What color is this?” game. Anyone who is colorblind (that would be about 1 out of every 10 to 12 males out there) can probably relate to having a friend start pointing to colorful objects and asking you what color they are. It’s not to be cruel, it’s just that most normal-visioned people can’t grasp the concept of what it is that we can or can not see and they are curious.
The truth is that being colorblind doesn’t mean you only see in greyscale, at least for the majority of us (true monochromatic vision is extremely rare). The fact is that there are multiple forms of color vision deficiencies and some folks go through their entire lives not knowing that they suffer from any at all. Myself, I suffer from protanopia with a little bit of deutéranomaly thrown in for good measure. What that means is that I primarily have issues with reds and greens. So if you looking back at those colored circles above, I only see numbers in two of them. The others are just filled with colorful dots that don’t seem to create any numeric patterns.
“Don’t let him fool you, some of those don’t have any numbers on them.”
I still remember the first time I took that test. I was just a young lad and my Mom had taken me and my little brother to the eye doctor. He sat me down and handed me this book with a large circle made of dots on each page. He told me to tell him what I saw for each one. Well, I flipped through each and every one and told him what I saw and then it was my brother’s turn. I can still remember telling him before he started, “Don’t let him fool you, some of those don’t have any numbers on them.” It still makes me laugh.
My colorblindness was never much of a hinderance during my life, save the periodically embarrassing moments where I would put on a purple shirt and think it was blue. I never even gave it much thought, even after I started taking photography classes in high school. Probably because we worked with black and white film. I loved black and white, the magic of it, the fact that it didn’t discriminate against my color deficiencies. Then we did a little color printing. I learned all the theory and new my color wheel and color opposites (red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow). But when it came time to adjust those cc filters to get the right colors, I was sunk.
Flash forward a couple of years and I got the opportunity to work in a photographic processing lab. I still loved photography and I was always learning new things and now I had the chance to work in the industry as well. I was doing a lot of black and white printing, making big 30×40 and 40x 60 prints and loading them onto the 55″ Hope processors. I now had fixer in my blood and was loving ever minute of it. Then one day I was rotated to color printing. They new about my color problems and I was worried that it would be an issue but my supervisor told me not to worry because I wouldn’t have to make too many decisions on my own.
He was right, too. Back in those days, we used something called a Professional Video Analyzing Computer (PVAC), which was a video color analyzer that was timed in using something we called a “Shirley” neg. The Shirley neg was a series of negatives produced by Kodak that had a picture of a girl in a colorful outfit with a standard grey circle on it. I think the first girl who posed for one of these negs was named Shirley and the name just stuck.
We also used this negative to time in the color of our enlargers and roll printers. If everything was timed in correctly, the person operating the PVAC would look at a negative to be printed and turn the color dials until the image looked color-correct on his screen. He would then hit a button that would print off the corrections, which I would then plug into my enlarger. The result was a color print that was pretty darned close to perfect.
Working in the photo lab was a great experience and I knew from my time there that I would, just as the Beatles said, “get by with a little help from my friends.” These days, I am getting by without the help of friends but with technology, and I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it is for me.
Instead of having to rely on someone else to color-correct my stuff, I can use pre-set white balances in my camera. If I place a white balance card in my scene, I can get even more accurate results by simply clicking on the image with an eye-dropper. My monitor is perfectly balanced thanks to my little friend, the ColorMunki. It also makes sure that my prints come out looking just as good and correct as they did on screen (read my review here). And just the other day I was checking out the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport with Lightroom integration and I was blown away by what it could do. Not only can you get accurate white balance, but the software integrates with Lightroom and creates a camera profile that produces unbelievable color accuracy in the image, all with one click. It’s a colorblind photographer’s dream. Check out the video from Seth Resnick to get a better feel for how it works.
These days, I am never afraid that I won’t be able to reproduce great color images on my own thanks to the technology and innovative breakthroughs from companies like X-Rite, Nikon, and Canon. Sometimes I hear photographers lamenting for the good-old days of film and I can’t help but think how fortunate I am to be a photographer living in the digital age. It has given me the tools to create images on my own that I could never have hoped to do with film. At least not without a lot of help from my friends.
If you would like to check out your color vision try the Color Blind Test. You can also try the Hue Test from X-Rite (see image below), which doesn’t tell you what type of colorblindness you have but it gives a nice visual result of where your deficiencies are (if you have any at all) [via Photography Bay].
By the way, if you happen to find out that someone you know is colorblind, please resist the urge to ask them what color your shirt is.