Working with Memory Colors

This article was originally published on PremiumBeat’s blog.

Rendering “memory colors” accurately can bring your project to life.

Humans store memories of specific colors like we remember life events. The most common of these memory colors include grass, sky, and human skin tones. It’s curious that all of us recall nearly the same colors for these specific things, perhaps the result of millennia of evolution.

It’s poetic that the strongest memory colors are tied to the red, green, and blue primaries on which fundamental color theory is based. Skin is a shade of red, grass is green, and the sky is blue. As we grow, we form specific color memories for textures like wood and steel. Humans also tend to remember the color of distinct animals like giraffes and peacocks.

Rendering memory colors accurately makes your projects more lifelike. Whether you’re in session as colorist or creative, pay attention to several objects in the scene, notably sky, grass, and skin tones and depict them as authentically as possible. If there are multiple people present, there may be a range of what is acceptable. One person may want grass very saturated, while another might prefer less saturation with an emerald-green hue, not a yellow-green one. This scope of reasonable values could be based on each person’s different cultural experiences and varietal intake of media. Over time, these experiences alter our perceptions of how things look.

The majority of us that aren’t professional colorists may not always be aware of media’s influence on our color memories. I believe one of the biggest influencers is our perception of black and white, our most fundamental colors.

Changing Black and White Points

A current trend, especially in fashion work, involves tinting the blacks a shade of blue. Many creatives think this effect rarely worsens the image, and I personally agree. Pleasing color contrast occurs when bluish whites or shadows play against reddish skin tones.

I remember coloring for a fashion brand several years ago. One setup featured a model against a white background. I balanced for white using my scopes to make sure the red, green and blue combined to make perfect white.

When the client arrived, they had me skew the whites dramatically toward blue. To them, and maybe to you, this read as a cleaner white. What’s going on here?

I’ve recreated the client scenario above with an image courtesy of Shutterstock. The scopes on the original image show a slight bias toward red, evidenced by the slightly higher red in the upper part of the waveform.Original Shot

I’ve white balanced the image as best I can.

White Balanced Shot

This approximates the look the client actually went with. The whites have been skewed toward blue, a look which may look cleaner and brighter to you.

bluish white

One of the factors at play is the shift away from incandescent bulbs, which are rated in the warm range of 2,700 to 3,300 Kelvin. The shift towards energy-efficient lighting isn’t just good for the environment. It also means there are more availablecolor temperatures from which to choose. For example, LCD and CRT screens aremore blue and can rate up to 10,500 Kelvin.

Read the rest of the article on PremiumBeat’s blog.

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