Join Bruce Heavin for an in-depth discussion in this video relative value, part of Working with Color.
- Let's go look at the first aspect. This is value. Now value to me again is the most important aspect of any color and value is relative. So let's go look at value. Here I wrote value emerges. I just kind of have the value come out softly from behind. Value demands attention. Value speaks softly. So what I'm telling you here is by lowering your values you could actually make your information read softer, not be as intense.
You could do something annoying like have a lot of noise. This is silly but magic has visual powers. Magic visual powers... Value can be elusive. Here I'm fading the word value in and out. Value pops with contrast, because the edges of the word value are near black and white together. It makes the word pop. Value offsets from the background. So we could see where the value is further from the value of the background it offsets more.
It's more visible. Value defines the invisible. In this case we're only seeing the word defined by the drop shadow. The value of the word value is identical to the background. Value is the edge that defines. Again, the text is the same value as the background. We're only seeing the word value through the bevel and emboss of the word. Value hides detail. In this case the word value is actually in blue, but because it is identical value to the background it is difficult to read.
You might pass this up if it was on the wall as you drove by. Value defined by glow. Value plays with you. Value holds it's own. Value ranges from black to white. Value ascends and descends. Value is pure visual definition. Value is relative to other values.
So this is my main theme here. Value is relative. Value is not always what you think it is. Where to a computer value is absolute. It is 100%. If you say it is 255, 255, 255 in RGB sliders, it knows exactly what that value is. If you have a gray scale value it's dead on the nose always that value, but to the human eye it's a different thing. I don't care what the value is on the computer. We could make different values read different ways.
So let's go look at this. Our background right now is only a gradient, and I'm gonna move in a piece onto our gradient. It's gone from black to white on the left to the right, and in the middle we have a gray bar. Now this is proof testament that value is relative. You may be believing in your head, in your brain right now, on the far left to that bar in the middle it is actually darker on the left of that bar than it is on the right.
On the right part of the bar it appears to be getting lighter. Now this gray bar is solid gray. Your brain is actually increasing the contrast for you to make this more readable. So if we look at the right it looks lighter. Look to the left it looks darker. This is because our brain tries to make information more readable by popping the contrast. Let's go look at this bar against white, and now we see that it's just a solid gray bar.
I could put it to black it looks solid and gray, but let's do a split screen of the same gray bar with white on the bottom and a gradient on the top. We could see when it gets darker our brain likes to take the information and actually make the gray bar look lighter and on the far left it does the opposite. It makes it look darker. So this is not actually happening in our eyes. This is happening in our brains, and starting to understand little principles like this is what we like to call "Learning to See".
So we're looking at these details and you start understanding these and these could start helping you out in your compositions and in your designs. Here we have a gradient in the background and the same value of bars run across five times. In the middle of course we could see right where it intersects the identical value, and again it looks like each of those bars is a different value, but I tell you they're not. Contrast. Eyes are always drawn to the highest point of contrast.
So again, let's go look at this. We're looking at the edges. Our eyes are drawn to the hard edges because everything else is so soft, and we have contrast. At the top, our gray looks dark. At the bottom our gray looks light, but if I cut it in half our eye is gonna pop to the bottom of the screen because there's more contrast in the light bar than there is at the top with the same gray bar against a lighter background.
Here I replace those bars with text of the identical value. Each of those texts uses the same value of gray. Because it's on a subtle background that's a gradient, that gray reads differently. So the word high contrast reads better than low contrast, because the value difference between the background and the text is greater below than it is above. Here's a chart showing dots going from light to dark against a striped background going from light to dark and we could see that in the upper right and the bottom left corner is where the contrast is greater.
We are gonna have well more contrast. Those dots are gonna be a lot more defined. So contrast is a control element. Our eyes are typically drawn to the point in the image of the highest contrast. The largest objects of high contrast draw the most attention of the eye in general, but not always. Low contrast can move elements to the background of attention in an image and lower the importance of that element. So if you just wanted a background pattern to be, well, in the background, lower the importance.
Testing Relative Value. So, let's go look at this. What we think and what we believe we see here is a light square on a dark background. Now I'm never gonna change the value of the square as I change my slides. So let's go ahead to the next one. Now what we thought was light is now a dark square on a light background. Now what we have is we have a light square but it appears to be lighter, because the element in front of it is darker.
Because that element is darker, we have relative value to compare to. So that value in the middle isn't as dark anymore. Now again, that square in the middle is light because we made the background darker, and of course in front of that light square we have a dark square as well. Now by merging the background value we lose our square and again we could do the same with the front.
Now if I go to black with the background we do get a light square in the middle, and a medium gray square in the front. And now we have a full value because we have a lighter square in the front of our gray square. So learning the value of values. White is not white. Black is not black. It's all relative: it's what we see of it. Nothing ever hits full black or full white in our eyes.
So here's a photograph. I was in New York City and we just happened to photograph these mail boxes on the street. I don't know where I'm at here but the point here is we're looking at this image and in our brain we're determining what is black, and we are determining what is white, even though it might be a gray. At the bottom right corner I have an little chart. I have absolute white and absolute black, and I have a white point and a black point and what's happening is our brain will determine what is white in the image by finding the lightest light and you kinda have to cover up the little full value range on the right to make this happen because once you see white on the page or on the screen it redefines what white is and it makes the image look grayed out.
Here I went ahead and made my black black. I determined the black in the image. Now my white isn't really white. On one hand you could think of it as being washed out. On the other hand you are looking for the lightest light and determining that to be white. Here, I made white actually white and black I made gray. So again you're finding the darkest dark and in your brain you are determining that to be black. Here we're pretty close but again our brain's making up the difference, and here we're pretty much right on black and white.
So the image does have a full range. So it's always what you make of it onto a screen. So Applying Relative Value. In this exercise we're gonna look at these three numbers and I'm gonna try to draw your attention to one of them using different means of value. First of all we look at the one on the left. It has the highest contrast. We look at the three on the right. It has the highest contrast.
Now our eyes are drawn to two. Now our eyes are drawn to number three. Now again our eyes are drawn to number three. Now number one. Now number three. Remember this is just an exercise in playing with value to draw the attention or to deem what is the most important thing for the viewers eye to go to. Number one.