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Light Attracts Eye


Explanations > Perception > Visual Perception > Light Attracts Eye

Energy | Warmth | Brightness | Purity | Dark repels eye | So what?


When the eye contemplates a scene, where does it go? Contrast is a fundamental attraction as this helps us to see things. As a part of this and also as an additional factor, light is particularly attractive, and more so than black. You will see a white spot of light at night far more easily than a black spot during the day.


It is perhaps unsurprising that light attracts the eye as light is energy, and the eye contains energy sensors that are activated by light. As light waves strike the cones and rods in the eye, signals are created and send back to the brain for processing. 

The energy of light can be low or high, ranging from hardly detectable (though it is surprising how little light we can detect) to painfully bright. Looking at the sun, especially through a lens, can blind you as the concentrated energy destroys the sensors in the eye. In between dark and bright is a range of energy in which the brighter the light, the more we notice and are drawn to it.


Light is electromagnetic radiation though what we call 'light' is a narrow band of visible light of frequency ranging from about 380 to 750 nanometers. Smaller wavelengths of blue and green are considered 'cool' while higher wavelengths, including yellow, orange and red, are seen as 'warm'. This is probably due to associations of blue with ice, water and nature, while yellows and reds are associated with fire, blood, sex and danger.

In terms of attractiveness, we generally are attracted to things we like, and the red end of the spectrum attracts us more, possibly as a potential threat (although research has shown that women who wear red dresses are found to be more attractive by men).


As mentioned above, the more energy in light, the more the sensors in the eye are stimulated and the more lighter we perceive the object to be. We are hence attracted to brighter areas in our field of vision.

Colors also have perceived brightness, with yellow as the most bright colour and white even brighter again. One might expect red to have a high perceived brightness too, but it is actually one of the darkers colours. Violet and blue, however, are darker still.


Color Lightness
Yellow 94%
Cyan 87%
Chartreuse 83%
Spring Green 82%
Green 80%
Magenta 70%
Orange 65%
Rose 60%
Azure 57%
Red 54%
Violet 52%
Blue 44%



When an area of color has consistent coloration, with no shadow or (particularly) texture, it attracts the eye more. As few things in real life have pure colors in them, a pure area tends to look smooth.

There is probably a size effect here as it assumes a more dominant proportion of the field of vision. Also, in a blank area, the eye will look harder, seeking defining contrast that will give more detail about what the item is.

Dark repels eye

The reverse effect is also notable, which is that as white (and any light) attracts the eye, any form of darkeness tends to be shunned by the eye. A reason for this is that there is generally more useful information in lit areas. There is also a cultural fear of the dark, in which hidden threats may loom, so we unconsciously tend to avoid it.

So what?

There are a number of factors, even within the simple question of brightness, that affect how attracted we are to the things we see. When creating photographs and persuasive visuals, take account of this as a basic principle.

See also

Color Space, How the Eye Detects Light, Twelve Color Wheel, Dark Repels Eye


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