Skip to Content

Why does purple look blue in pictures?

Why does purple look blue in pictures?

Purple is a beautiful and regal color that has long been associated with royalty, luxury, and creativity. However, many people notice that purple can often look blue in photos and digital images. This phenomenon has to do with the way our eyes and digital cameras perceive color. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind why purple may appear blue in images, looking at factors like color perception, light, and digital sensors. Understanding these elements can help explain this curious effect and even provide tips for capturing true purple tones in your own photos.

How We Perceive Color

To understand why purple looks blue in pictures, we first need to review some basics about color and vision. The colors we see are determined by wavelengths of visible light. Light waves with short wavelengths appear blue, while longer wavelengths appear red. Purple light sits between these on the spectrum, with wavelengths between around 400-450 nanometers.

Our eyes contain special receptors called cones that detect these wavelengths and allow us to perceive different colors. We have cones most sensitive to red, green, and blue light. The brain combines input from these three cone types to produce all the colors we see. For example, both red and blue light together are interpreted as purple.

This means the appearance of purple is our brain’s constructed interpretation. There is no single “pure” purple wavelength. This subjectivity already hints at why purple may not always look the same. Slight differences in how our eyes or cameras capture and process light can shift purple’s appearance towards red or blue.

Factors Making Purple Look Blue

Given the complexity of color vision, why does purple most often look blue rather than red in photos? There are a few key technical factors at play.

Image Sensors

Digital cameras and scanners rely on image sensors to capture color. Many use sensors with photosites filtered into a Bayer pattern, with alternating pixels capturing red, green, and blue light. Since there are twice as many green pixels as red or blue, sensors are more sensitive to blue and green wavelengths. This can cause purple hues to skew towards blue.

Color Balance & Temperature

The overall color balance and temperature used in a camera or editing software can also affect purple’s appearance. Cooler, bluer white balance settings reduce warmth from red/orange tones. This diminishes purple’s red hues, shifting it towards blue. Warm color balances have the opposite effect. But most cameras default to slightly cool temperatures for a more pleasing image, nudging purple to look blue-ish.

Environmental Lighting

The lighting conditions when a photo is taken influence results as well. Different light sources emit their own mix of wavelengths. For example, overcast days have more blue light vs sunny days. Fluorescent or shade lighting also adds blue/green cast. These environments imprint a bluer tint on purple objects in the scene being photographed.

Tricks for True Purple

If you want to capture genuine purple tones in your digital photos, there are a few tips to try:

– Use RAW photo format – This retains more color data before processing.

– Adjust white balance – Try warming up settings slightly.

– Increase exposure – More light means more color information.

– Play with saturation – Boost purple channels in editing.

– Try different lighting – Experiment outdoors and with lamp types.

– Use color charts – Include a purple reference card in shots.

– Check test prints – Printed proofs show more accurate colors.

With some adjustments, you can often coax purple hues to look more vibrant and true to life. Yet some deviation is inevitable. Rather than a bug, the blueish cast of purple can be seen as a feature – a visual reminder of the fascinating complexity of color in both our eyes and cameras!

The Science of Why Purple Looks Blue

The question of why purple appears blue in digital images comes down to the science and mechanics of color perception, light, and digital photography. Here’s a summary of the key technical reasons at play:

– Purple is a mix of red and blue light, with no pure purple wavelength. Our eyes and brains construct the perception of purple.

– Digital sensors use a mosaic filter with twice as many green/blue pixels, making them more sensitive to cooler tones.

– Most camera color balances and white balance defaults are slightly on the cool/blue side for pleasing skin tones. This reduces the redness of purple.

– Different lighting conditions imprint their own color casts onto images, often adding blue (shade) or subtracting red (overcast).

– JPEGs sacrifice some color data for smaller files. Raw images retain more complete color information before processing.

– On screen displays also introduce their own color tints based on technologies used.

– When printing, ink formulas may lack specific true purple pigments.

Our perception, cameras, software, displays, and printers all introduce subtle biases into color reproduction. Their combined effect results in purples skewing blue more often than other hues. But with care and tweaking, true vibrant purple is still possible to achieve in photographs.


While purple may appear muted or blue-tinted in many digital images, the effect has logical origins in our vision, camera sensors, lighting, and color reproduction. With knowledge of these contributing factors, we can intentionally compensate for the blue bias through white balance adjustments, controlled lighting, post-processing, and color management. Vibrant purples can be captured digitally. Yet the phenomena also serves as an important reminder of the complexity of color and vision. Plus, sometimes we can embrace the unexpected beauty in the interplay between the colors we see and how cameras see the world.