Spectrum Expands For Color Blind Photographers!

by Arthur H. Bleich–

If you have normal color vision, here’s how you would see this garden scene.

If your prints look good to you but not to anyone else, you could be color blind. More than 14 million people in the U.S. and Canada are afflicted with some type of color vision deficiency ranging from mild to severe which makes it impossible for them to see colors that normal-sighted people see– and to tell different colors apart from one another.

With almost 60 million people seriously involved in photography, (excluding snapshooters) more than 2.5 million of them have color vision problems; you may be one of them or know someone who is. If you are a photographer or working in the creative arts, this condition can range from a minor annoyance to a big problem depending on how important color recognition is in your daily life.

The same scene as a person with Red/Green Deutanomoly color vision would see it.

These color-related eyesight anomalies are classified into several different types and affect 1-in-12 men (8% of the male population) and 1-in-200 women (0.5% of females)– and that adds up to more than 300-million people worldwide! Many are not aware of their condition; they simply accept what they see as the only colors in the spectrum.

Many famous people have been color blind. To name just a few: Pres. Bill Clinton, Sen. Marco Rubio, HRH Prince William, Jack Nicklaus, Sen. Bob Dole, Rod Stewart, Nicolas Cage, the late Paul Newman, and many others.

Color blindness is an inherited condition and there is no cure for it. About 99% of color blind people have the red/green type of which 75% is diagnosed as Deutanomoly and the other 25% Protanamoly. Are you color blind? You can find out in five minutes by taking a free test online (see Resources). If you have children, test them, too, because color blindness can affect their grades in school.

And heres what a person with Red/Green Protanomoly color vision would see.

Not much could be done about color blindness but recently a breakthrough occurred by chance. A company named EnChroma grew out of an incident at a Frisbee contest in 2003 when Dr. Don McPherson was wearing glasses he had developed to protect doctors’ eyes during laser surgery. He liked the way they enhanced colors.

One of his teammates–who was color blind–asked to try them. He marveled at all the colors he could see that he had never seen before, prompting McPherson to begin exploring the possibility that these glasses might help the color blind see colors better. Of course, refinements had to be made.

Enter Andy Schmeder, a math and electronics whizz. He joined McPherson and together they developed sophisticated computer models that simulated wavelengths of light and color vision deficiency. With the support of three government grants, EnChroma was born seven years later with co-founder Schmeder as its CEO.

And now seen with Tritanomaly, a rare form of color blindness and, so far, not correctable.

Most color blind people are not blind to color, but have trouble seeing certain colors and hues. Normal color vision is based on light entering the eye, and activating three photo-pigments sensitive to different parts of the visible spectrum (red, blue and green). In a normal eye, the green and red photo-pigments overlap. For the color blind, the overlap is more pronounced, causing distinct hues to become indistinguishable.

The absorption of light in the right ratios by the three photo-pigments in the eye is critical to color perception. McPherson and Schmeder created special eyeglasses that were able to optically remove small slices of light where the red and green cones overlapped the most. This resulted in a more accurate ratio of light entering the three photo-pigments so that a color blind person was able to enjoy more normal color vision.

EnChroma says their eye glasses are effective in 80% of Red/Green Deutanomaly or Protanomaly color blind cases.

EnChroma emphasizes that the glasses, are not a “cure” nor will they correct all types of color blindness, but says they are effective for about 80% of red-green color blind people. And while not providing 100% color vision, they enhance the vibrancy and saturation of certain colors and improve color discrimination, depth and detail perception.

It usually takes about 5-15 minutes for them to work after putting them on so to reduce that lag time and make them more convenient, (which would be especially useful to photographers) the company is developing a contact lens version.

For those whom the glasses work, the results can be emotionally overwhelming, as evidenced by videos shot of people trying them on for the first time; you can view these at EnChroma’s website. Both prescription and non-prescription versions are available and are priced from $270


EnChroma’s Website: Take an eye test, see the videos and learn more.

Chromatic Vision Simulator: You can download an extraordinary, free, smartphone app that shows you what different types of color blindness look like in real-time. You can also upload your own images to see how how they would look to color blind people.

Visit the Red River Paper Website.



Author: editor

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  1. I have noticed that many people who suffer from color blindness find it difficult to pick out their clothes in the morning and often need to rely on a loved one for assistance. I thought there was something I could do to help. This is why I started the free site colorblindmatching.com. Get complete information at the site

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  2. Most tests for color blind is the “book” of circles with lots of differant colored “dots”. Some of these dots form a number. If you can’t see the numbers, you are “color blind”. The Air Force said I was red/green blind so I wasn’t allowed to fly. I can’t get past the first page on the color blind book. So why do I see your example of what “normal” vision people see with all the colors, and the other pictures showing what color blind people see as being red/green blind. Obviously I see the first picture, or at least I think I’m seeing it. Where I lose it is in “pastel” shades of the value scale and the dark purples, browns, etc. on the low end of the scale. I also happen to be an artist and a lot of people buy my paintings becase of the “vivid” colors but I have no idea what they are seeing. So why don’t optometrists have the color book as well as these glasses?

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    • Well, first of all there are many different degrees (and even types) of red/green color blindness and you may have a mild case which means you may only have that loss in the low end of the spectrum. Secondly, almost all eye doctors have that book to check for color blindness. But you can also take the test on the web at many sites. EnChroma has one at their site. As for your color blindness resulting in vivid paintings that people love– count your blessings! It’s like turning lemons into lemonade, right?

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    • My optometrist did have that ‘color book’. But this was CA 1955 or 1960; once my parents and I knew that I was not color blind, there was no point in testing me again. I’ve no idea what they use now.
      Have you tried the glasses? Did they work for you?

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  3. Still very uncertain to even risk buying these. Went to a ‘referral’ Enchroma doc some years ago and his ‘sample lens’s did not change the ‘white’ in the traffic lights to the ‘green’ which normal folks see. I just checked with two local opthalmologists and both said there’s no clinical proof on these. One just said “no data” and the other said “suggest you try it IF the 100% refund is valid and IF you can figure out how to measure a valid pupilary (PD) distance.) Measuruing PD really requires having the frames on your face, take the measure, return the frames with the PD to have the glasses made. Bottom line: try it. I’m more interested in having my computer screen colors for photo editing gain more realistic colors (like you normal people.) Dunno if that’s likely. Like to hear from Enchroma about this.

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    • The refund is valid as Mr. Gross (see comment below) found out. Also the company does have a way for you to provide them with pupilary distance. As one of your doctors said: “Try it.” You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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    • If you go to your local optician, they have a gadget called a ‘pupilometer’ which, yep, measures the distance between your pupils (but not AFAICT whether the separation is symmetrical).
      If you wear Rx glasses now, ask for them to write your interpupillary distance down when they give you a copy of your Rx.

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  4. I use the lenses. They work for me outdoors. They do not work indoors unless there is very bright light ( practically outdoor light ). This is a problem with computer editing of my pictures as they don’t help you see the screen colors. This is disappointing, but the ability to see red green outdoors makes these glasses really worthwhile .

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  5. Hay! some of us ‘snapshooters’ do good stuff too!
    Some much better than those of ‘shutter bug’ folks!

    And i’d put some of my ‘shot from the hip’ prints
    up against some of the shots i’ve seen from so called pros as well.

    But did enjoy the read–>

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  6. Interesting that these glasses work by filtering out overlap between colors. These days there are apps that filter out blue from our screens during nighttime (blue keeps some people awake). See f.lux for windows and lux for android.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app that filtered the same spectra the glasses do? Or this got added as an option to liveview screens and EVFs?

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    • I am one of those colorblind people. The interesting fact about my color blindness is 1). I’m a female & 2). I’m colorblind by a dominant gene. (Extremely rare).
      I had 3 siblings, only 1 wasn’t colorblind & that sibling had 2 boys, 1 very colorblind & 1 not. I had 4 children, none are colorblind.
      I love photography, but can only adjust the brightness of the photograph due to my degree of colorblindness. I’m red/green & pastel colorblind. It has been an interesting journey.

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    • I tried these glasses and they didn’t work for me. I’ll have to say, though, that the company stood behind their claims and refunded my money right away. It may work for some and is pretty risk-free if it doesn’t. Expensive, but I’d imagine worth it if it helps!

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