The Joy of Seeing the World in Full Color for the First Time

As photographers, we appreciate the importance and the simple joy of experiencing the world in full color. However, for about five percent of the population, color blindness prevents that experience and affects their everyday lives. One company is hoping to change that, and I was lucky enough to witness firsthand the way they are improving people's lives.

Color blindness (or more accurately in the majority of cases, color vision deficiency) is more common than most people realize, with about one out of 20 people affected, (about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women.) A normal person can see about a million colors, but a person with color vision deficiency may only see just 10,000 of those (one percent), significantly affecting not just their perception of the world, but their interaction with it. 

Color vision deficiency even affects some of the most talented photographers out there (Joel Grimes, Brandon Adam, and David Wilder, to name a few). There are three types of color vision deficiency: red-green (the most common), blue-yellow, and monochromacy (complete lack of color vision — relatively rare). Men tend to be more likely to have color vision deficiency because the most common variant is inherited from the X chromosome. Since women have two X chromosomes, if they still have a functional gene on one of the chromosomes, their vision generally remains full intact. Men only have one X chromosome, so they do not have a chance for the other to compensate if the gene is mutated. 

Being a photographer, I have all the more appreciation for how lucky I am to see the world in full color and all the more respect and admiration for those producing spectacular work with CVD. So, when I found out my girlfriend's dad has deuteranomaly, I took particular interest. In this type of CVD, the green cones are present, but they do not detect enough of the color. In addition, they are overly sensitive to shades of yellow, orange, and red. People with deutananomaly will also commonly experience trouble distinguishing between blue and purple or pink and gray.

Image by Nanobot, public domain.

We have talked about EnChroma glasses on Fstoppers before. Brandom Adam is an incredibly talented photographer who has written about the glasses, as has David Wilder. EnChroma's glasses work by precisely filtering certain wavelengths of light to restore a greater contrast between red and green, thereby allowing the eye to discern between the two more easily and more closely approximating the range of colors a person without CVD sees. Theoretically, the glasses should work for about four out of five people with CVD, being designed for people with red-green color vision deficiency. 

My girlfriend's father found out as a child that he has color vision deficiency, though he was not told the precise variant. He has lived with it his entire life, but it didn't stop him from becoming a highly successful person with a great family. In particular, he has trouble distinguishing red and green when light levels go down. He mentioned situations like a stop sign against green bushes causing particular difficulty. Knowing how lucky I am to experience the world in full color, I wanted to be able to share that with him as well.

So, knowing EnChroma offers an online test that will evaluate if someone is good a candidate for their glasses, we convinced him to take it by saying we were simply curious about the exact sort of color vision deficiency he has. It turned out he has moderate deutan color vision deficiency, for which EnChroma's site gave us good news!

You have Moderate Deutan color blindness, a type of red-green color blindness. Good news! People with your type of color blindness usually respond very positively to EnChroma color blind glasses. 

Deutan color blindness (also known as deuteranomaly) is a type of red-green color blindness in which the green cones in the eye detect too much red light and not enough green light.

As a result, red, yellow, green, and brown can appear similar, especially in low light. It may also be difficult to tell the difference between blues and purples, or pinks, and grays

As you will hear in the video above, in addition to his difficulties in distinguishing red from green, Mr. Martinez has never experienced purple; it normally appears blue to him. Seeing as I was meeting him and my girlfriend's family at their home in Colorado for the first time for Christmas (no pressure at all!), I thought it would be the perfect gift, so we snuck a pair of Cx3 glasses (the pair recommended for him by his test results) with us! 

Christmas morning, we woke up early (thankfully, I was still on East Coast time, because I am not a morning person) and headed downstairs to prepare the surprise. One of the neatest parts is that EnChroma includes a bunch of colorful balloons that can help the new user to experience the joy of the full rainbow right away. So, part of the early wakeup was getting those balloons blown up and ready! One unforeseen complication was the fact that we went from Cleveland to Denver, and the thinner oxygen made blowing up the balloons a bit of a task! Luckily, we worked as a team so that none of us fainted from the thin air, though I was definitely feeling lightheaded! Well worth it, of course, however! 

When we surprised him with the glasses, you could see a bit of excitement cross his normally emotionally reserved face. As he put them on, he started pointing out different balloons and the colors he suddenly saw, then started happily pointing out familiar objects that suddenly appeared new and brilliant. Even something seemingly as mundane as a cat litter container suddenly became radiant, as what was navy blue before was now a shade he had never seen before: purple! That was when my favorite moment of the entirely holiday happened, as he exclaimed: "You guys gave me purple today!" and threw his arms in the air in jubilation. 

He wouldn't want me to tell you, but afterward, even after we had gone back inside and he had taken the glasses off for a bit, we saw him sneaking around the house, holding them up to his eyes and taking them down again to see the difference in common objects. It was truly touching to watch his excitement as he experienced the world differently for the first time.

Altogether, the surprise was a huge success and made for a really special holiday memory. If you are interested in EnChroma glasses yourself, you can take their test to see if they would likely work for you here and browse their full line of glasses here.

Check out the video above to see his reaction to seeing the full spectrum of color for the first time in his life! 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I am slightly colorblind according to the doctor, but it's very subtle.
The fun part was the Ishihara dot test when I saw numbers not originally intended on the slide.

Doc: 3 or a 5?
Me: 8
*draws the 8 path on the slide*

In a nutshell, knowing that not all color was as it seemed, I found:

Two shades of red look brown
(tracing network cables in the ceiling with fluorescent lights)

Two shades of forest green look like a medium gray
(noticed first when pointing out a car doing dumb things)

Two shades of gray look brown
(Can't remember the brand of bath towel, but the color looks brown to me)