Munsell Color System; Color Matching from Munsell Color Company > Color Education > Learning How to Measure Color in Photography

Learning How to Measure Color in Photography

Studying how to measure color in photography and color management at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.

Here at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences we have a diverse population of students using a variety of approaches to study imaging. Our students are involved in multiple programs including fine art photography, photojournalism, advertising photography, imaging and photographic technology and biomedical photography. These programs stress excellence in imaging as well as the science behind image making. First-year photography students across all programs in the Photo School take a required course titled Photographic Technology. While teaching a class that includes both artistic students and scientifically-minded students can be a challenge, it is also a great opportunity to explore new and diverse approaches that resonate well with both right- and left-brain learners. The Munsell System, we have found, is one great approach that helps us bridge that gap as we introduce the theory and practices of color management.

Color Notion Studies for Photography

Understanding that aspects of color management are based on the CIELAB system can be overwhelming and unintuitive for our first-year visual learners. So we build up to this subject by starting with the visually-based Munsell System in order to address the need for organizing, describing and measuring color in photography. Our students are presented with disassembled pages from the Munsell Student Handbook and asked to re-assemble the pages. They develop a quick appreciation for inventor Albert Munsell’s formidable efforts after just one page. We then go one step further by having students provide a Munsell designation for several color samples, which they then later measure and compare for accuracy. For one of these color samples, students are required to examine it and wait a few minutes before estimating the Munsell notation. This reinforces the notion that our color memory is not completely reliable!

Teaching the Munsell system is also helpful in rounding out our students’ fluency for working with color in Photoshop. Photoshop’s color picker tools offer numeric displays for pixel values as RGB, CMYK, Lab, and HSB. The HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness) notation is often overlooked, but teaching the background of Munsell notation helps to connect the foundation of color organization with today’s contemporary digital tools.

About the Authors

Nanette L. Salvaggio is an Image Scientist and Instructional Faculty at RIT.Nanette L. Salvaggio is an Image Scientist focusing on image quality and chain analysis. She is an Instructional Faculty at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences.

Josh Shagam is a Visiting Lecturer at RIT who specializes in Biomedical Photographic Communications. You can view his work here:

(Featured image by Andrew Judd)

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