The grass is always oranger. (Answering a search query)

Since beginning this site I've always found it interesting to see what search queries drive some of the visitors to this site. Just the other day someone came here having searched for an answer to the question "do colourblind people see grass orange?"

An interesting question, and one that doesn't have as simple and straightforward an answer as most might think.  As Daniel points out on his site, he wouldn't be able to see an orange laying in grass.  Does that mean he sees the grass as orange, or the orange as green?  I'm sure people could argue over this for a long time but in some ways it's neither.

What's in a name?

As with anyone, when a colorblind person is a kid they learn the colors of common objects which serve as reference points.  Grass is green, oranges are orange and the sky is blue are some common examples.  Whether a colorblind person has trouble with those colors or not, they will still know what color those things are.  Color names are just words used to describe a particular range of spectral properties.  Something that is blue reflects more light in the shorter wavelengths whereas a red object reflects more light at longer wavelengths than it does at medium or short.  While it may seem like an arbitrary system we've all been taught to apply the same names to the same things which means that barring any color vision or cognitive issues, you should be able to identify most things the same way as other people.

Seeing is more than the eyes

The problem I run in to is that sometimes I can look at something and I don't even know where to begin to try identifying the color!  In the soft pastel greens, peaches and skin tones everything starts to blend together making it pretty much impossible to identify a color without any sort of contextual information.  This sort of problem is also exactly why I came up with the term blurple.

Vision is a complicated system relying on the eyes and the brain and since the concept of color is a perceptual property of the human visual system I wouldn't say that a colorblind person sees the grass as orange.  They may not be able to distinguish the green of the grass from something that is orange, but they know the grass is green and the orange would just happen to blend in for them, such as in David's case.  If you showed him a colored patches that match grass and oranges in color he wouldn't be able to identify them but given the context of "this is an orange on a field of grass" he would "see" the colors.   Sometimes I would describe it as though there's a big tool tip hovering over things labeling the colors as I identify common objects and tell myself what color they should be.  Maybe David sees "GREEN" in bold hovering over every lawn he sees, hopefully he uses a nice font.

More searches

I had been thinking about sharing some of the more amusing search queries that have driven traffic to this site in the past, but I don't think I've put any thought towards that in the past year or so now.  This post will likely be the first of a never-ending series of posts that respond to more interesting (or amusing) search queries.

Here are a few other searches from way back, when I had originally been thinking about doing this:
screw the colored blind - October 31, 2008
screw with color blind people - August 23, 2008
being color blind as a white person - September 16, 2008
color blind test color blind people suck - September 17, 2008
blind photographer - September 19, 2008

What does color blindness look like?

If you've stumbled across this site by accident or because you are curious about how being color blind affects people, you might appreciate getting a sense of how the world appears to a color blind person. There are a number of sites out there that provide demonstrations of color blindness. Here I'll mention some of the web sites and tools that have been made available to people who are "color normal" and some of these will likely result in another post on tools for the colorblind. At Vischeck tools are made available to allow the color normal to see what the world looks like to a deuteranope, tritanope or protanope. They also have tools available for the color blind to make it easier for them to tell certain colors apart, which I will test and hope to report on later.

Other color blindness simulators: Upload an image and see it as a deuteranope, protanope or tritanope. Mac compatible program that simulates color blindness. Interactive Java simulation. Provides examples of images viewed by different observers. Thanks for the link Joey!

I unfortunately cannot attest to the accuracy of any of these for obvious reasons!

An interesting tool on the market now is provided by Eizo for their LCD displays which are definitely some of the best out there. This tool allows the display to go in to a protanope or deuteranope mode, mimicking how the image would appear to someone afflicted with those more severe color vision defects. It is available on some of their new FlexScan models.

Software for the colorblind: Tenebraex eyePilot

Pretend you're at a busy subway or train station in a city you don't know your way around. You're supposed to pick out the trains you need and the stations to switch at to get somewhere. The lines are all color coded: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, etc. What do you do if the colors are muted or not particularly clear and you're color blind?

If you guessed stand there frustrated and confused, you guessed right!

Even under ideal conditions, like on a calibrated computer screen, greens can blend in to oranges and they can be difficult to differentiate from reds for many people (and there are certainly other kinds of color vision defects). If you haven't figured it out by now from posts about color vision and the title of this site haven't given it away, I'm one of those people.

There are various programs on the market catering to helping people with color vision problems better understand what is on their computer monitor. Although not generally tools for photography, some can come in handy and since I get a lot of people coming here after searching for color vision related topics I think writing about these programs is appropriate. One tool which I have owned for a couple years and does come in handy from time to time is eyePilot made by Tenebraex and available here:

This program is compatible with OSX and Windows (not Vista yet but they say they may have something available by the fall) for a reasonable $34. It is a simple interface that presents a box over a region of your screen and allows you to interact with whatever is happening in programs or on your desktop behind it.

The program offers four main modes of interacting with color on your display. In one mode a little box follows your cursor and reads out the RGB values for whatever color your cursor is pointing at. It also tells you in plain English what color it is, so you get some idea if that's a orange, green or red color. I really appreciate that, long having hated the boxes of markers without names for the colors. It's something I think would be nice to see even in Photoshop although I've gotten fairly used to just reading the RGB values. This tool at least prevents me from having to take a screen shot to dump in to Photoshop to figure out what colors I'm looking at.

Two additional modes are particularly handy for separating colors. One turns everything but the color you click on gray, and another makes the color you click on blink black.

There's one additional mode called the "hue" tool which cycles colors within the box through the spectrum and allows you to find a combination of colors that maximises your ability to differentiate between whats on the screen. If the example were the orange, green and red train lines, by rotating the hue wheel I might find a postion where the colors are instead presented as yellow, blue and red which I could actually tell apart. I don't know what combinations are likely, and that is just a fabricated example, but that's what the tool does and it does work.

That's it for eyePilot, but I will be looking for more software that can help the color blind and will write about more in the future.