eyes and colors

January 28, 2024  •  9 Comments

This week had me wishing, once again, that I had taken physics in high school and college.  It seems everything with which people deal on a daily basis involves three subjects that many students tend to avoid in school - math, chemistry, and physics.  Particularly in photography, all these subjects come into play.  Today's subject, once again, has to do with the physics of light.

 "Whiteness and all gray Colors between white and black, may be compounded of Colors, and the whiteness of the Sun's Light is compounded of all the primary Colors mix'd in a due Proportion."  Sir Isaac Newton, 1704.   His book Opticks was published in 1704.  It should be on my reading list...

But let me digress a bit.  Every person who has a taken a photograph - whether with a camera or a phone - knows that her or his own eyes, light, and the piece of equipment are essential elements of the image that is ultimately produced.  And when one of those elements is missing or behaving oddly, things are not quite right.  The only reason I began delving into the subject matter again is because I had a cataract removed this week, and the results were quite astonishing.  Everyone I have talked with says that, but the results are hard to explain.  So my mission was to try to come up with a clear explanation of the difference in the colors that I was seeing, and that was a tough one.  

As wonky as it is, I now have the ideal laboratory for experimentation - one eye containing a brand new lens and the other with my birth lens, aged by a few years.  By closing one eye and keeping the other open, I can instantaneously compare the view.  So to begin the work, I turned again to my favorite source on the subject of color - The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair.  I proceeded to search the book trying to identify one that most closely resembled how my eye was being filtered.  St. Clair's "white" category, seemed to include the closest matches, although given variations in the book printing process, none really matched.  Isabelline leans more toward a pale yellow, whereas whitewash feels peachy to me.  Chalk is close, but not a true fit.  Which took me to Shirley Williams' "Color Wheel Artist" website, discovering the intricacies of Hue, Tint, Tone, and Shade. As a photographer rather than a painter, my knowledge of color is mostly experiential, enhanced by some reading, and not color theory.  So I turned to my photographs to see if one existed that could duplicate the filtration color.


Was the fall hollyhock bloom, with its bright yellow-green throat and yellow-white petals a possibility?  Sadly, no.

hollyhock, late fallhollyhock, late fall



How about the curved-bill thrasher in her cholla cactus nest?  A bit dark and smokey.

Birds - curve billed thrasher 4Birds - curve billed thrasher 4


Any part of the mushroom show below, gill to center?  Nice variations in color but it was not close enough.


The image of Great Sand Dunes in Colorado also has a wide variety of possibilities.  Getting closer.  

Great Sand DunesGreat Sand Dunes


But the one photograph that seemed to replicate the filtration is one of wildfire smoke I took on 29 April 2022.  The gradation from the right hand side to the left in the image shows blue sky being slowly obscured by a graduated filter of St. Clair's colors of Isabelline, chalk, and beige.  The contrail adds a special touch.

forest fire smoke 29 April 2022forest fire smoke 29 April 2022

When a wildfire has been extinguished and is no longer burning, the smokey haze clears, resulting in a stunning brightness and blueness in the sky. It is truly incredible.  Exactly like having a lens with many miles on it removed.  I am lucky to live in a time and place in which there are medical professionals and facilities available to make cataract removal possible.  And I am grateful to have such excellent auto-focus features on my cameras in this time of vision transition!

"The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most." - John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice 



Thanks to Christina, Barbara F. R., Tim A., Minna, Brenda M., Ann A., David O., Charlie K. C., Catherine, Steve, Jean & Sam, Lucia, and Charleen for writing this week.     

until next Monday,


a passion for the image©


Now I know what I have to look forward to in the future!
Lawrence Jones(non-registered)
Daryl, you are so right about colors after cataract surgery. Had both eyes done in November and December and the result is, as you said, hard to explain.
Sara Woodburn(non-registered)
What a fascinating study you made of your question! It really makes me think about how people respond to colors in art physically and emotionally.
Thanks for sharing your insights and photographs.
Steve Immel(non-registered)
This is a marvelous examination of colors and color theory about which I know little. I am, however, the beneficiary of two cataract surgeries a year apart roughly ten years ago. They were transformative on every level. The first, my right eye took me from nearly blind to 20/20 and the second a year later to 20/25. I have maintained those levels. It was miraculous and immediate. Sadly, I didn't compare the repaired eye to the one nature gave me. I don't know how they differed.

What I do know is that these images are delicate and subtle. They are tack sharp yet somehow soft and ethereal. They are some of your best.
Nice photo of the dunes.
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