What was I thinking...? Notes to myself are cryptic.
September 15, 2006 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What does this statement mean, "Life is 18% grey."?

Recently, I came across one of my old notebooks from a photography class that I attended about 15-20 years ago. The class covered the usual: composition, aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, lighting, etc.

In the margins of one page, where I had notes about using a gray card in determining lighting needs, I have philosophically written that "Life is 18% grey."

I can't figure out what I meant by that. As I study the handwriting in the notebook, the only thing I remember about that night in class, is feeling really wowed by myself during the lecture when I wrote the note... like, "that's deep." So, now I feel really bothered because I can only recall that I had felt like I had this really powerful thought... but now I have no clue what it means exactly.

I have bipolar disorder... and hence, I often view the world using a very polarized perspective. I remember being in a depressed state at the time of this particular class. So, I'm not sure if I was being morbid.

Anybody have some ideas of what I was thinking that day long ago? What does a photographer's gray card have to do with defining life?
posted by chase to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe not!
posted by kcm at 6:19 PM on September 15, 2006

Best answer: As you probably learned in the photography class, in most scenes the light and dark in a scene averages out to medium gray, which is 18%. One way this could be applied to life is that the good and the bad average out and if you calibrate your expectations for medium, you will generally be able to cope. It could be a reminder to not allow how you feel color the way you make decisions.

That's the kind of thing it would mean to me, at any rate.
posted by kindall at 6:21 PM on September 15, 2006

It refers to the Zone System, employed in black-and-white photography, formulated by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1939.

18% gray/grey is "middle gray/grey"/ zone 5 -- the mid-point for calibrating light meters, etc.

You likely were considering 18% as "balance" -- as a "settled" state in which emotion and logic is balanced; in which one might feel restive and not on either end of polar opposites one experiences with bipolarity.
posted by ericb at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2006

Or, what kindall said!
posted by ericb at 6:22 PM on September 15, 2006

And the standard Kodak Grey card is 18% grey.
posted by Gungho at 7:43 PM on September 15, 2006

Following from what kindall said, it sounds like a note to yourself to keep your perceptions of things in perspective. Sometimes, if your life is going badly for a long time, or if you slip into depression, you no longer even see how crappy things are. You sink into resignation, settle for small happinesses here and there, and forget that life is actually supposed to be a lot better than that. Similarly, you could have everything a person could ask for but fail to realize it.

If you have a psycological condition that makes it hard for you to keep perspective in life, the "18% grey" rule from photography would probably seem like a really cool thing. Your own internal light meter is really unreliable. Makes sunny scenes look dim. Makes a candle in a dark room look like a big blurry sun. But if you have that 18% grey card around, you can always calibrate your meter to it so the darks come out looking dark they almost look wet, and the lights actually blow your hair back with their brightness.

Could be a note to self about something like that.
posted by scarabic at 7:50 PM on September 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

If could also be a reference to your perspective on life with bipolar disorder. Life being a mix of deep shadows/highlights, while trying to aim for that elusive middleground.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:41 PM on September 15, 2006

if 18% gray is the average of any given moment captured on b/w film, then any given moment of one's life is 18% gray.
posted by carsonb at 11:55 PM on September 15, 2006

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