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How colors relate to each other

Our eyes are perfected to see color in context. The picture below shows a stone head decorated with a flower in a Balinese garden. In a scene like this, colors are described relative to each other. The three basic characteristics to describe colors as we see them are lightness, color and saturation. The illustration at the right shows natural variations of the color of the stone head.

basic contrast il1

Left : Image by Arjen Benders
Center : Simplified image filled with average color from the regions
Right : The stone heads color with natural variations

 

Lightness
Possibly the most important difference between colors, is their lightness. A scene rendered only using lightness differences is still very understandable. However the emotive message changes in a black and white picture. Some information is lost. The difference you see between the green leaves and the stone head in the original is almost invisible in the black and white version. The right illustration shows lightness variations of the color of the stone head, such variations are called tints and shades.

basic contrast il2
Left : Black and White image, showing only the lightness of each color
Center : Simplified image filled with average grey from the regions
Right : The stone heads color with lightness variations

Color
Color is how every day language refers to what is also known as ‘hue’. Hue defines how red, green, blue or yellow a color is. If we could only see lightness and color as hues at their maximum levels the Balinese garden would look strangely surreal. Although our world is full of color, it is rarely highly saturated colors. The right illustration shows color variations of the color of the stone head, all three stripes have equal saturation and lightness levels.

bc_3.jpg
Left : Image with maximum visibility of the accurate hues
Center : Simplified image filled with average color from the regions
Right : The stone heads color with hue variations


Saturation
Describes how much of a specific hue is in a color. The way it is used here is officially called chroma or chromaticness. A mono colored world often looks quiet composed, especially when lightness variation is included. Notice how sensitive your eye is to the green in all variat

bc_4.jpg
Left : Image rendered using only a single hues in all saturations and lightness levels
Center : Simplified image filled with average color from the regions
Right : The stone heads color with chroma variations

If you like to read the scientific definitions of all color terms visit http://tigger.uic.edu/~hilbert/Glossary.html written by Alex Byren and David Hilbert