The Unrecognized Weak Link in Color Management

Software and hardware for calibrating computer monitors have existed for years. Color printers and even digital projectors can now be calibrated. This way, colors remain realistic throughout the entire workflow. For example, the colors of an image captured with a camera can be managed to remain exactly the same during the retouching process, and these colors will remain true to the original in the final product, usually a print or digital file.

Alternately, the colors can be manipulated in Photoshop or other software to enhance the appearance of the final product. Color management will help to carry the vision of the retoucher through to the final result. However, there is a weak link in this process: the lens of the human eye.

In 2014 I suffered the unfortunate circumstance of a detached retina, which was repaired by a fantastic ophthalmologist in Singapore, Dr. Ong Sze Guan. Dr. Ong warned me that the surgery would accelerate the formation of cataracts in my lens. A little over a year later, my lens was replaced by another fantastic ophthalmologist, Dr. Robert N. Fabricant of Upland, California.

One noticeable change was that my vision in the eye with the new lens was brighter, but with a pinkish/lavender color cast. In the eye with my original 67-year-old lens, the greens and yellows were much stronger, and the colors appeared more saturated since everything was a bit darker. Dr. Fabricant told me that as we get older, our lenses tend to accumulate a green/brown color. It was the eye with the new, perfectly clear lens was actually seeing the world more accurately - and my other eye had the color cast!

This made perfect sense to me. I recounted in my mind the many times I had struggled to remove green from an image, and was unable to do a decent job of it. No wonder - the green was coming from my eyes! Our eyes change so gradually as we age that we don't notice a change. It takes something sudden like cataract surgery to realize how our color perception has changed over the years. From now on, when I retouch, I will be judging color using only the eye with the new lens.

If you are a senior, and lucky enough to not need cataract surgery, just remember that you may be seeing the greens, yellows and browns more strongly than they really are.