The main problem we seem to have with light is figuring out the quality of the source and how that affects everything else.  The reason this is such a problem is because we do not see things as they are; we see what we have been conditioned to see.  What colour is a banana? Or grass?  Or an asphalt roadway?  Conditioning gives us answers of yellow, green, and black, respectfully.  In reality, these answers are often wrong.

CFL and traditional fluorescent tubes have a notable green tint.  Tungsten bulbs are decidedly yellow, and many LEDs have a blue cast.  Street lamps have various colours depending upon whether they use tungsten, mercury or sodium vapor tubes, or other high intensity sources.  Go out onto the street late in the evening and check out all the different colours showing up in the various residential windows; that might be an eye opener if you have not really looked from that perspective.

We have a big problem in this regard.  Our brains.  Knowing the kitchen wall was painted with light tan paint, that is the colour we register regardless of the light illuminating the room.   The recipe book we refer to still is printed on white paper, so that is what we see, when it should be registering as yellow or blue-gray.  Take some photos with the auto-white colour balance turned off (and no flash!) and you might be surprised to see the real colours of things.  Take a picture with the normal lighting, then place a table lamp on the counter and use that for your light source.  You can remove the shade to eliminate the colour effects that introduces.  Then take a picture using your flash.  The camera will show up the differences in light quality that our brains have been conditioned to ignore.

Trying to recondition the brain to see actual colours takes time and a lot of exercise, but pays big dividends at each step along the process. 

The two photos were taken with the same camera and lens, from roughly the same place, and with the same colour settings.  The only thing different is the time of day - and the consequent changes in light quality.  The sky is burned out in the evening shot, but there was no sunset; the colour change was due only to the overall ambient lighting.   The view is from our backyard in Raleigh, and by this time next year will probably be filled with other homes. 

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Comment by Wenda Spooner on January 14, 2017 at 11:34am
Sounds like a winning combination Charles!
Comment by Wenda Spooner on January 14, 2017 at 11:34am
Sounds like a winning combination Charles!
Comment by Charles Eisener on January 14, 2017 at 11:26am

Since posting this, I have been looking at lighting for my model train/painting space in our house in Raleigh.  First off, I repainted the ceiling (originally warm beige) with several coats of ceiling flat white.  The existing ceiling light has two CFL tubes, so the light is both unbalanced and inadequate.  Most LED replacement fixtures have several issues.  They are rather expensive for multi-head fixtures.  The individual LEDs cannot be replaced if one or more fail to operate for whatever reason; you have to replace the whole fixture.  Any perceived energy savings quickly disappear at that point!  The power consumption for these multi head units was also quite high.  Finally, most emit light at the warm end of the spectrum.  This is OK for the trains, but not for painting.

Checking around the internet, I found "CFLs" rated for 50W and up that put out light in the actual daylight range, eliminating the colour shift present in most consumer products.  At about 4" in diameter and 10" long, they are not as compact as the typical CFL, but look like a CFL on steroids.  I already had a metal light stand from earlier photography days, so I did have to get a socket/clamp to hold the lamp to the stand.  I also have a white umbrella for plein air use.  So the lamp is placed on the stand, pointing into the umbrella, which in turn is aimed to cover the work area and the ceiling above.  Wow!  Talk about bright diffused light!  Cannot wait to move and get the studio into active mode.

For perspective, the lamp and clamp/socket hardware cost me $30.  A similar light stand is about the same amount, and a plein air umbrella would be about $25 and up depending upon brand/supplier.  So for about $85 one could provide a diffused high output daylight source in the studio and get a bonus plein air umbrella!  A multi head LED ceiling light with lower output and warm light starts at about $160 at Lowe's or Home Depot.  The tripod base of the light stand is about 24" across, so it does take up a bit of floor space roughly 8 feet away from the easel.  Umbrella can be collapsed when not in use, so overall footprint is quite reasonable.  The 50W CFL is loads for a residential setting.  They are available with much higher output, but would only suggest those if you are in a large room/warehouse with a high ceiling.   The typical CFL for home use has a power consumption in the range of  7 - 13W while the most common incandescent bulb was listed at 60W.  My new CFL puts out as much light as one would expect from a 250 - 300W bulb without the heat, and daylight balanced.  Cool, eh?

Comment by KC Cooke on September 6, 2016 at 7:16am
Charles, you are so right about getting up close to paintings and seeing brushstrokes, colors, etc. I am fortunate to have been at The Art Institute of Chicao again on Sunday, seeing an exhibit of pieces from American artists from 1930 to just after the start of WWII. I was obviously not the only one who leans up really close, as there are lines on the floor for those works not framed in glass. This is not my favorite period, as the geometric and abstract works don't make for easy viewing for me (although Wood's story telling is terrific). However, getting up close, even to what looks like a flat, one dimensional circle, reveals subtle color variations below, and viewing "up" (I am 5'2") and from left and then right, changes lighting and reveals even more! If one only casually views a painting from a distance, one never really sees it! Same is true with nature, a spouses face, etc. great topic...thank you!
Comment by Mary on August 21, 2016 at 4:37pm

Thanks Charles - great Blog.

Comment by Charles Eisener on August 21, 2016 at 7:49am

When police are interviewing witnesses to a crime, why do they end up with multiple versions and descriptions?  Ever think about it?  Reason is quite simple.  Our vision system (eyes/brain) is not designed to show a wide field of view in fine detail.  Our central vision is quite good, but blurs rapidly towards the peripheral areas.  If you are looking at the traffic signal ahead, you might be aware of a "red" vehicle in the next lane, but have no idea how red, how many occupants, brand, model, etc even though it is only feet from your side window.  We can only focus on one area and one distance plane at a time.  We were not designed to be going 85 miles per hour on a four lane highway; we simply do not have the constant visual input from multiple directions that we need to keep our relative place in the traffic pattern.  Then there is the issue of processing the information quickly enough to make major or minor adjustments as needed.

This is why it is important to get up close to the art of others.  We need to stick our noses in there to appreciate the brush strokes, pencil lines, textures, nuances of colour, and value.  How did they achieve the visual impact?  We will not "see" that from ten feet away.

Frames separate pieces of art from the room and the wall where they are hung.  Distracting colours and values are isolated from our central field of view.  In the same way, plein air painters use adjustable plastic or paper viewers to isolate the area of interest and rationally study the composition, colours, and values before touching a brush.  The need to separate the main interest from the peripheral fluff is crucial.  It's one way to work with our vision instead of against it.  The same can be said of gray cards with small circles punched out; these are immensely valuable for looking at the colour/value of select small areas of our subject to eliminate visual contamination by the adjacent colours/values.

Take a fresh look at a nearby tree.  What colours can you pick out in the foliage?  What colour is the bark?  Is the new foliage a different colour?  How do the colours change from morning, to mid day, to evening?  The grass on your lawn - is it always the same, uniform green? What else is in there?  Little exercises like this will gradually become second nature and you will be amazed at the colours you always looked at but never really noticed before.  And it's free!

Comment by Wenda Spooner on August 21, 2016 at 5:34am

Thanks Charles! i love being reminded of these things. I call it looking at the world with my painters eyes. I do have to remind myself constantly! the thing that i always notice the most? Snow! everyone knows that snow is white. If you look at snow with your painters eyes?  Snow is very colorful! i have two snow scenes i want to paint. i haven't done it yet, because they are both photos and it is much harder for me to wrap my brain around it. 

Comment by Charles Eisener on August 20, 2016 at 6:26pm

The darker shot was taken first - it was the overall warm colour shift that caught my eye.  The dried grasses and also the greens definitely demonstrate a shift to the warm side of the spectrum.  The other shot was taken mid morning the following day to record the "normal" appearance.

Comment by Charles Eisener on August 20, 2016 at 6:20pm

Comment by Charles Eisener on August 20, 2016 at 6:20pm

I tried attaching the photos when posting, but messed up somewhere.  Now it will only let me add one at a time, so here goes . 

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