Color is a dominant presence in our daily lives. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, we are constantly viewing and evaluating color. But how does light affect the colors we see? If you’ve ever noticed that your color perception changes with different light sources, then you’ve experienced a vexing phenomenon known as metamerism.
What Is Metamerism?
Metamerism occurs when two colors match under one type of lighting but not another. This peculiarity has to do with the relationship between light and color.
We perceive color based on the way an object reflects light, and that perception is based on the light source. When you compare the reflectance of incandescent light to daylight, for example, you’ll find that incandescent light has a higher level of energy in the red area of the spectrum. This means an object viewed under incandescent light will appear redder than it will in daylight. Daylight has more energy on the opposite, blue end of the spectrum.
Reflectance information about a specific color is known as that color’s “fingerprint.” When two colors look identical under one light source, but different under another, they are known as a metameric pair.