Edwin Land was a remarkable man whose knowledge of colour science and the chemistry of silver halides (as used in photography) left a lasting impression on society.

One of his inventions was the Polaroid camera. So iconic were the polarised tones and occasional light damage to the unexposed paper, that people born long after the heyday of the Polaroid select the somewhat variable results achieved ‘back in the day’ as a filter for digital images on Social Media today. The square format of the pictures that came out from the front of the camera within seconds of snapping (along with their tendency to fade) makes them instantly identifiable. These snap shots of memories from the 1970’s and 80’s can be found in old biscuit tins around the globe!

Edwin was also a firm believer in the fun of colour science and his colour cards are used to entertain and teach visitors here at our factory in Wales today. We take a card (the size and shape of a birthday card) in which we have painted the internal pages in two distinctly different colours. It’s not a classic ‘trick’ as it is not intended to deceive, rather to highlight the brain’s remarkable ability to fill in the missing gaps visually and interpret a bigger colour picture from an incomplete ‘data set’.

We give the viewer a brief and sneaky glimpse at the inside pages by opening the card by only a fraction. The first cards may be a green opposite a blue or a yellow opposite a black. ‘What did you see?’ we ask, and generally (unless there is a problem of colour blindness), the viewer gets it right. Until…..the last two card. This card pairing presents an optical illusion of a kind. This has a red in juxtaposition with a subtle pink.

Because of the brilliant and complex design of the human eye and the vast instantaneous computing power of the human brain, the viewer subconsciously calculates that the pink must surely be the reflection of the red and invariably the viewer sees red and white! This subconscious decision is literally made in the blink of an eye. Without this ability to ‘calculate’ as well as ‘see’ colour, how would we find our car again under a sodium street light or how would we recognise that the strawberries are still looking delicious even by candle-light?

This discovery is always enjoyed by guests and normally takes our discussion into the whole world of contextual interpretation of colours by the brain. This very issue went viral in an entertaining way some years ago with the big question on social media about the dress on a hanger being blue, black, gold or purple. Whilst people may not have known it at the time, the results were generally swung but what people imagined the light source to be. It was based on this first assumption that the brain got to work!

Colour is further open to different interpretations by the brain depending on the gloss or level of reflection. Metamerism and colour consistency play their part as does (for some nations and cultures) the brains difficulty to differentiate between colours that certain cultures do not have a specific name for.

Good lighting of a wide gamut as opposed to a light source with only a very narrow selection of the visible spectrum will also let your colours sing.

All of this is colour science but above all the theory, colour is all in your head and according to Edwin Land, should be celebrated!