Colors in Nature: Depth Perception

Grey water, purple fur, and blue trees sound a little alien. You’d find them more often in photorealism – paintings or graphics meant to replicate the world as we see directly – than cartoons.

Although there’s no way to cross into each others’ eyes and brains to check how closely our worlds resemble each others, there are a few guidelines for showing shape, depth, and light that look “real” to most of us. These rules are abstracted and exaggerated in cartoons and games.

Cool Shade and Warm Light

Reviewing [ link: warm and cool colors }, the closer colors to blue will be in the creases, corners and under umbrellas while

What about those confusing in-between colors, like pink and green? This is a journey each of us must go on our own. You could have a color palette that looks natural with a warm pink and cool green – as well as one with a more lime-like green and a demure, muted mauve.

Thinking in terms of more blue and more yellow might help lay out your colors, especially when it comes to shading. The part of a leaf in the sun will be a more lime green, while the bottom will be a sea-like green.

Day, Night, and The Part of Day Everyone Wants Pictures

Color falls over objects differently in different times of day, so darkening all the colors in a scene to show night falling might not work.

[ same picture with that slider for dawn > day > evening > night ]

Sunshine as the sun rises passes through the atmosphere and air particles – in relation to where we are on Earth – to reveal more oranges and pinks with blue shade. Direct mid-day sunlight casts a bright yellow with strong shadows, then returns to more colorful ranges of yellows and purples when the sun retreats under the horizon.

Color over Distance

The farther something is away from you, the less saturated – or bold and colorful – it will become.

Does this mean that everything the 20 feet away from you has the same saturation level? Not exactly, but if the same item is 5 feet, 20 feet, and 100 feet away, farther ones will be closer to grey, fainter, and slightly more cool-toned.

If it feels unnatural at first, try working on the scene in two parts (background and foreground) and making small adjustments first.

Coloring Through Materials

Figuring out photorealistic color through translucent materials – like tinted glass, water, plastics, gels, etc – can get muddled, since light bounces through within the material. A spot light behind foggy glass spreads out wider and dimmer, and a hole deep in the snow becomes an effervescent blue as the light dances in and out of the crystals of every snow flake.

A common but notably frustrating material is also inescapable: skin. All skin has ranges of thicknesses, encasing blood and layers of skin, so your skin between your fingers will look a little warmer in light than at your elbows.

We all have varied ranges of skin tones, pore sizes and hair density, so look at friends, family and see the humanae project (photographer: Angélica Daas) for reference.