American Museum of Natural History has published an impressive video that will help you understand how our eyes see and our brains perceive color. While color is important to understand in photography, I believe that how we perceive and process it is also a crucial thing to understand about ourselves.
You’ve probably learned it back at school: the white sunlight is actually composed of all the colors. It reflects off of objects at different wavelengths, and each of these wavelengths is actually a different color. The light bouncing off an object travels into your eye to the retina, located on the back of the eye. The retina is covered with millions of light-sensitive cells called rods and cones, cones being the cells that detect colors. When they detect light, they send signals to the brain.
It’s worth noting that every color stimulates more than one cone. Their signals combine, allowing us to detect and process around 100 different color shades, and a million colors on average.
Now here’s a very interesting part. If you’ve been wondering how color blindness occurs – it happens in people who have fewer cone cells, so their retinas and brains can detect fewer colors. But as we all know, they can still be great photographers. Also, some forms of color blindness are possible to correct by wearing a special type of glasses.
After our retina detects the colors, it sends nerve signals to the brain’s visual cortex along the optic nerve. Our brain then decodes these signals to recreate the image. In addition to colors, our brain simultaneously analyzes shapes, movement, and location to get the complete picture.
I remember learning about this in science classes in school. But I was around 10-11 years old at the time, and all we could learn from were some pretty crappy course books. In my opinion, animations like this don’t only help adult creatives and artists understand the topic better, but it would be great to play it to school children to make sure they grasp the concept, too.
If you or your little ones would love to learn or get reminded how colors work in our eyes and brain, make sure to watch the video above. And if you can visit the American Museum of Natural History, check out the exhibition The Nature of Color, you’ve got time until 5 December 2021.