Light and colour

Singapore, 15th June 2010

Colours are something magical…imagine life without colours! Don’t we always marvel at fireworks, light shows and other colourful lighting installations? We do have the opportunity to experience life without colours when the sun sets and daylight slowly disappears (and no or very little artificial light is present). You will notice that we stop seeing colours and that only grey scales, shapes and silhouettes remain. Our eye has different sensitivities in regards to lighting. Our main eye sensors are the so called rods and cones with the rods registering the three dimensional forms and shapes and the cones registering colours. To see colours the light stimuli must be of a certain minimum level, hence when light levels drops, we stop seeing colours. Another example is the monochromatic low pressure sodium lighting (common in street lighting)… its yellow light does not allow you to see any other color then the various grey scales.

We don’t really see light, we see reflections.  If we “see” a light beam, we really see light reflected of dust or water particles. So since we see reflections, we need to understand that light will reflect the color of the surface it lights up. When interior designers and clients complain that a space feels dark, their first reaction generally is that there is not enough light! But if you understand the nature of light and reflections you will know that black is black!

Also the interaction between the colour of the light and the colour of the materials it reflects of is crucial for the final end result. Ever put a warm tone light source in a gold coloured reflector or in a warm tone coloured room…that is really yellowish, generally more then you bargain for!  Or try a red light on a green wall. As a rule we enhance coloured environments with similar or neutral coloured light sources.

Choosing the right colour of light is one of our daily key responsibilities as lighting designers. We all want to look good in light, don’t we? So we have to make sure we select the right colours and be aware of those pale and bland colours that may make us look like we are sick and unhealthy….  🙁

15. June 2010 by Martin Klaasen
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