Sunday 29 March 2015

Colour - Birder's Colour Pallet - Rev. 2.0

A recent focus an colour has prompted me to tidy up some loose ends.  I developed the Birders Colour Pallet (below) at the end of a process of research into colour standards and nomenclature.  The principal behind it is that we all discuss and analyse colours in bird images but we lack standards to be able to do so objectively.  The birders pallet goes part of the way to achieving that using as simple a tool as possible.  Many of the other elements are referred to HERE.

Rev 2.0
I recently revised the pallet nomenclature slightly as I was unhappy with the naming in the region containing buff, ochre, tawny & cinnamon.   The accurate naming of colours is far from straight forward, least of all online, where no agreed nomenclature exists.  I started this process by leafing through my collection of field guides and studying the list of birds of the world for colours most often used in the naming of birds.  I then created the simple colour matrix above consisting of 24 hues, each with 3 saturation increments.  Lastly I began the task of trying to assign names to each of these 72 colour swatches.  This required an internet search for each colour and a careful analysis of the hues and saturations most often assigned to those named colours online.  What we have is a simple standard.  It may not be perfect but it is a good start.  At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what names we apply so long as we have a standard which we can reference.

Colour nomenclature altered among the blue hues in REV. 3.0.  Pallet above is current Rev 3.0.

The third scale and intermediate colours
Colour classification requires three scales.  In the diagram above we have two of those, namely hue and saturation.  The third scale is luminance, i.e. the brightness of colours.  Lighting is forever changing the appearance of colours but what changes most notably is luminance.  Look at any modern car for instance, with its carefully and stylishly crafted lines.  It has likely been painted uniformly in one colour, but the angles of each component reflect a range of tones or luminance levels as it moves through it's environment.

Therein lies the problem for any field-based colour pallet.  In the field it can be very hard to measure the accurate luminance of a colour as it would appear under optimum laboratory or museum conditions.  And yet, as humans we are masters at simplifying this complex world of light and colour.  Ask any child to name the colour of a car and they will give just one colour.  They will not be confused by lighting.  We are accustomed to the complex tones that define the colours of objects in our environment and from an early age can attribute a Colour Constancy to objects whether lit well, partially or poorly.  So, if we are to include a luminance scale in our pallet (which really we must) how can we apply some sense to it.  In the initial posting I advocated using just three luminance  increments and I still feel that is appropriate.  These are simply light, dark and a 'silent' mid-tone.

What I haven't done so far is clarify what I feel should be the line between these increments.  I think the sensible points would be Dark = 0-33% luminance, Mid-tone = 34 - 66% luminance and Light = 67 - 100%.

The other loose end which I left unclear from the illustration above is a clarification around the naming of intermediate colours.  Hopefully this is a bit clearer from the illustration below.

Why all the alternative names?  Wasn't this supposed to be a simple standard I can hear you ask?

Well, the simplicity is in the pallet of 72 swatches.  I believe in keeping the nomenclature a bit more fluid for a couple of reasons.  Firstly observers and taxonomists it seems have different naming preferences.  Cinnamon seems to be a word that North American birders might be more comfortable with.  While Tawny might be more familiar to European birders.  It doesn't matter which is used, provided everyone is applying the same pallet of 72 swatches.  The second point is that when we have a hue and saturation which sits roughly equidistant between four swatches, such as the example above, it would be very nonsensical to try and create a quadruple-barrel name.  Instead I recommend crossing diagonal swatches and allowing the user choose which name they deem more appropriate.  Once again, the chosen name is inconsequential once everyone has access to the pallet and understands how to use it.

The last point to note from this illustration is the latitude given to each swatch and intermediate.  I have tried to strike a balance where the primary swatches have more latitude than the intermediates, and I hope it works.

Colour Pallet Increments Explained
Colour Swatches = 72
Hues = 24 in increments of 10, latitude +/- 3
Saturations = 3 in increments of 80 +/- 20
Intermediate Hues = 24 in increments of 10 +/- 1
Intermediate Saturations = 2 in increments of 80 +/- 15

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