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I'm beginning to work with color, after a decade of using blacks and grays only.

There are helpful tools, such as gray/value finder cards that you hold up to your subject to get a good feel for which shade/tint to use. For example:

enter image description here

Is there a reliable method to find the local color of a subject, using a tool or method, when bright white light is not available?

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Unless I am misunderstanding your question, the answer is embedded in the question itself.

The purpose of a good gray-scale card is to give you a standardized point of reference for what is true black, true white, and the intermediate shades of gray in between. So if you hold that card up to your subject, the card will be illuminated under the same lighting conditions as your subject… so it will experience the same color shifts that your local lighting conditions produce.

So, for example, if the white in your subject looks a bit yellow under incandescent lights, the true-white (value 10) on the card will look a bit yellow, too. But as long as your subject and the value on the card look the same, you know the color of the subject is truly "true white."

Make sense?

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  • So, it may make more sense to also have a similar hue-based card, to reliably see how far off your white is, based on the light, as you're training your eyes? – user24 Apr 29 '16 at 17:55
  • @CreationEdge I'm not sure what your application is, but in photography (for example) you would always take a picture of your subject next to a "white-balance card" so you know exactly how much the lighting is throwing off the color of your subject. Think in terms of "everything I see has a yellow cast" (because of the light). Once you know how much that true white is off, you can adjust every other color accordingly (assuming your goal is to do true "color correction" — that is not always the case). – Robert Cartaino Apr 29 '16 at 18:04
  • I would be trying to train my eye for both traditional color mediums and digital. So, I can see the differences, but I'm trying to train my eyes to understand why they're different so I can reproduce the colors. – user24 Apr 29 '16 at 18:11
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    @CreationEdge Then photography is a great medium to get that experience. You can take pictures of various subjects in different lighting conditions which would also include that white card as a point of reference. You can then compare those photos side by side and observe/learn (for example) "Hey, look how the candle light makes my whites look golden-yellow." You can then study what those lighting conditions do to a face, or a flower, or whatever else you are trying to reproduce in traditional media. But you'll always have that standardized point of reference for comparison between shots. – Robert Cartaino Apr 29 '16 at 18:19
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    That is a helpful idea, and certainly a lot quicker than painting the same object 20 times in different light. – user24 Apr 29 '16 at 18:20

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