Seeing colour – What we see. What the camera sees.

color, Learning, perception, Seeing, viewing

Seeing Color

What we see and what the camera sees are different entities. Our eyes are incredible skilled at seeing color and differences in light, whereas, cameras are not.

The human eye is truly amazing. You can walk through a dark house, from dark rooms, into lit rooms, stop and view a bright television across a room, look inside a dark cupboard, check a text message on a phone, and then we can also step outside and experience bright sunshine – all without having to adjust anything. Your eye adjusts itself in an instant to different lighting situations, seeing different colours, and different focal aspects.

We can be reading something up close and then look up at the horizon and our eyes refocus instantly. Some of us need spectacles to correct vision and focus, but largely, for the majority of people one doesn’t have to think twice about it. It just occurs.

But a camera, no matter how good it is, will never come close to outperforming the human eye. We see color differently. With a camera we have to adjust exposure for each lighting conditions, we have to alter and refine focus, consider depth of field and color balance settings, and sometimes we even have to hold the camera very well to keep it steady. Even using a tripod to make it super steady.

There is an old saying on professional photography circles –

“I can show you every studio lighting technique over a few days but it will take a lifetime to understand it”


The camera is a tool: albeit a very highly engineered and technological driven tool, it is still just a tool at the end, and the start of any day.

Using a camera in manual mode is recommended but takes some time and practice to learn. And although the automatic settings on modern cameras have advanced in amazing ways, the camera will never be as good as the human eye at seeing.

And, after we have controlled the camera to capture whatever scene that takes our liking, we still have to adjust what it has recorded because the final output, being a photograph or video, is still viewed and judged by the human eye.

See our notes on Perception here.

Using a camera effectively can become be very complex, but it doesn’t always have to be, and here at ViolaFrank, we are far more interested in keeping things simple and in easy to understand terms and explanations.

Let’s compare some basic differences between the human eye and a camera.

The human eye can’t record anything for us to keep for later on. Imagine if it could!

The human eye is also very poor at seeing highlights and bright light.

No matter how long you look at the sun or a light source, you will never see any detail with the naked eye no matter how hard you try look. Because it hurts your eyes mostly. It’s too bright for us humans and looking at the sun directly can injure our eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum, the human eye can see the clarity and definition of shadows and dark detail very well, whereas a camera does not.

We have all been in dark and dimly lit places, and with enough time for our eyes to adjust, we can see anything that has even the slightest amount of light on it. For example: I used to read the newspaper in my old Black and White darkroom whilst waiting for chemicals to do their job.

A modern camera is a digital device and it can record and see highlights very well indeed. In fact, the amount of data devoted to the brightest of highlights encompasses half of the capturing ability of a camera. Yes, that’s correct, your brightness stop of light takes up 50% of your camera’s data.

And even though a camera can record shadow detail reasonable well, it performs poorly if you try to brighten up and lighten that shadow detail.

Lifting shadow and dark tone is a trap for anyone picking up a camera and learning photographic exposure for the first time. Brightening or raising shadow detail often results in stepping, or as many call it, image noise. Truth be known, nearly all modern sensors are noise free, but it is incorrect exposure and the subsequent lifting of shadow detail in processing that causes noise in nearly every noisy image.

Rule of thumb here – don’t underexpose.

All of the above relies upon the premise that you are manually adjusting your camera settings. But for the majority of camera users, we use automatic functions more than manual, and although that can be a good approach, it’s an approach that will never be fully under your control and therefore, potentially lacking in many areas.

And then, when we consider the output of our image and videos we have many more devices that allow many photo and video faults and problems to go unnoticed.

In conclusion – you cannot learn how a camera sees the world overnight, or by watching a few instructional videos. But you can try, and you can learn, with application and hands on experience.

Also see:

Describing color

What is color

The best advice on color – Ever !

Visual Perception

Learning about color

Dynamic Rage and LUTs


online color grading

Professional LUTs made specifically for your camera.


Color Grading

Online professional grading services. Get the right color for your video.

Custom made Lut's

Get professional Lut's made specifically for your camera.

Drone Videos

Watch some of our favourite videos shot from way up high in the air.

Drop us a line

Feel free to come and say hello, get in contact with us today.