Shapes & Contrast, 4

One final look at how contrasts in tone and hue can fool our eyes – leading us to see (perceive) differences where there are none. This phenomena has the potential for both good and bad when making images.

  • If clever, we can use this to help call attention to our subject (or, conversely to downplay potential distractions)
  • Of course, we might do just the opposite if we’re not careful
  • There’s a risk when editing images of misinterpreting tone and hue and, as a result, making incorrect adjustments

The previous three installments of this series are at #1, #2, #3.


Here’s the final example – sun glasses optional. Click to enlarge. It’s intended to be viewed as three separate rows. Each row has three squares with one of the primary colors (RGB) in the center. The primary is surrounded by a second color. In the center square of each row, the surrounding color is the primary’s complement, i.e., opposite on the color wheel. The left square surrounds are nearer the primary on the cooler side of the color wheel, and the right side nearer and warmer. Got all of that?

OK – look at any row and consider the primary color. Do you notice anything different among the three presentations? For example, in the 1st row, do all three red squares look the same? Once again, as in each of the previous three installments of this series, the hue & tone of each red square is identical (true color) but they appear different (apparent color). Specifically, the primary in the center square of each row appears to be brighter than its companions to the left and right. This is because any color (not just primary) appears brighter when surrounded by its complementary color. This also applies to a degree when the complementary is nearby although not surrounding.


The colors you perceive are just that – perceptions formed in your brain. Because of how the eye works and how the brain processes signals received from the eye, we’re often fooled (surprised?) by the result. Receptors in your eye are affected not only by the frequency (color) of light emitted by a particular point but also by the colors surrounding that point. Different surround equals different perception. Although these phenomena do not always have significant impact on our images, they sometimes may.

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