The curious science and psychology of these daily events.
Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
Have you ever woken up to a breathtaking sunrise and felt compelled to share with others? Wake up your boyfriend and exclaim, ?Look! Look at the sunrise!? as if it were the first of its kind. Pick up the dog and point at the orange sky. ?Look, that?s where all the ducks go at night.? She doesn?t understand, so you can embellish a bit.
Every colorful rise and fall of the sun over our horizon feels important. It catches our eyes and excites our minds. It?s involuntary at this point. Why is that the case?
Answering that question requires breaking down what is happening in the heart and the mind. Some science. A few psychological theories. We?re going to explore both and you?re going to love it.
Best to start here. We can?t talk about color without understanding what it is and how it works. Don?t worry, we?re not going down too deep of a rabbit hole. But this is exciting and totally worth understanding!
The foundation of what color we see begins with the waves. The visible light spectrum contains the range of light that our eyes can process. Various wavelengths represent those colors.
You have probably seen the effect of white light hitting a prism. I?ll remind you of the legendary Pink Floyd album, ?Dark Side of the Moon? and its album cover art.
As visible light interacts with molecules, it becomes scattered, absorbed or reflected. Be it the Earth?s atmosphere or that ripe avocado in your kitchen. What color we see comes down to which color waves don?t reach us.
Why is the sky blue? Is the sun actually orange? These are questions you have likely heard from little kids. Yet, these are excellent questions with really interesting answers.
Our sun is white. Take a deep breath and let that sink in. Those crayon masterpieces you made in 3rd grade are still amazing.
Remember those various color waves? The lower the sun is positioned along the horizon, the more molecules the light will pass through. Which means more light scattering. More scattering of light and boom ? we have brilliant red, orange and purple hues flooding the sky.
Spoiler Alert: Shorter color waves scatter more than longer ones. Thus the red waves at sunset fight through like an angry 49ers linebacker.
Oh and the blue sky? I didn?t forget. The same effect of scattering happens during the day (our atmosphere doesn?t take days off) but it has the opposite effect.
The blue waves scatter like crazy as they hit the atmosphere. They are shorter and of a higher frequency. This causes the charged particles in the atmosphere to scatter more blue waves. You guessed it, that results in our eyes perceiving a blue sky.
I can describe a sunrise to you in great detail. You may even have a vivid imagination and be able to picture it quite well. But the experience is never quite the same as seeing it for yourself.
The Emotion of Color
When we stand on a mountain top or at our bedroom window to watch a sunrise ? something unique happens. There?s a moment of awe. We have seen this before but it never ceases to capture our attention.
When those blue waves get to your eyes, you most likely experience a sense of calm. Maybe safety or stability. There have even been tests showing a reduction in pulse rate when being exposed to blue hues.
That perception of the sun being orange? Not wrong, as the light we see at sunrise and sunset can, in fact, be orange. And that color? It evokes a different set of emotional responses.
Excitement. Enthusiasm. Warmth. Do those sound like feelings that help your day start well? Of course. It?s common to relate warmer colors like orange with comfortable objects and experiences. Unless you hate pumpkin spice and everything nice.
Both of the dominant colors during sunrise and sunset awaken different yet uniquely positive emotions.
The secret sauce in that emotional dish is the complementary colors. Specifically, how nature uses them as an experienced chef.
A color wheel shows the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Those color waves we talked about previously? You guessed it.
Find blue and orange on the color wheel. Notice how they are on opposite sides? Bingo. These are what we call complementary colors and our eyes totally dig them.
When staring at a bright blue wall, our eyes are processing that part of the spectrum at 100%. When you look at a white wall immediately afterward, it looks orange. Why? The photoreceptor cells in your eyes become exhausted and suppress the blue waves. Still doing so when looking at a white wall means you see a faint orange glow.
When we pair two complementary colors together in a room or in a sky, it creates a sense of tension and pleasure. Our eyes need a break from one extreme and perceiving the opposite lets them relax.
The science doesn’t lie. And your emotions are always valid. So what does it all mean?
Think about how you feel about those two colors for a moment. The calmness of blue or the warmth of orange. Where do we encounter those in nature?
The sky. The oceans.
The sun. The Earth itself; the ground and dirt.
There are plenty of scientific explanations for how and why we perceive light and color as we do. And more theories on why it affects us emotionally. As a photographer, I can?t help myself when seeing a gorgeous sunrise ? I have to document and share. I can?t help but wonder if there is another reason.
Our ancestors interacted with the world differently than we did. Technology and scientific understanding have grown. We have made some progress.
Go much further back to the hunter-gatherer days. The rise and fall of the sun represented so many things. The warmth from the sun, safety from predators at night, and the beginning of a new day. Water is the source of life and it stands to reason that humans have always valued its power. (Granted you can argue the color depending on where it?s found)
We see our world with different eyes, depending on generation, culture, and perspective. Yet, we can?t deny our fascination and curiosity about the rise and fall of the sun. We?re curious creatures by our very nature.
I believe the reason we love those daily moments is more about being residents of Earth. Our home is vast and spectacular; brilliant and frightening. When we stand on this enormous stage, we?re reminded of how small we are and how much is happening all around us. All of those motivational posters and phrases? There?s a reason we feel that way in the morning or evening. We?re overwhelmed with a sense of who and what we are, simply by watching that gigantic star appearing in the sky.
Next time you wake up an orange glow breaking through the clouds, think about those waves and particles? kidding. Remember how amazing our planet is and why we need to protect it.
Thanks for reading! ? ?Leave some comments below or connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!