Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hi-Viz Camouflage?


I was in the passenger's seat of a friend's car as we drove toward town, when suddenly he pressed the horn and gestured out the window. "Hey, there's our friend So-and-So!"

"What? Where, I don't see him."

"There, right beside you! Must be doing his evening run."

Finally I spotted him. Jogging along the side of the road in a luminous green windbreaker, his figure was nearly invisible against the background of lush pastures. The grass had taken on a particularly neon cast that evening in the cumulus-filtered light of the overcast sky, and I marveled at how perfectly his jacket blended in with the landscape. It was like looking at a Neo Rauch painting. I had seen this effect at play before, with both runners and cyclists dressed in hi-viz garb. With a feeling of unease, I hoped the drivers on this road would have an easier time spotting him than I did.

Hi-viz attire is hardly the stuff of fashion statement. Cyclists wear it for a practical purpose, and that purpose is to be highly visible. The idea behind neon greens and yellows in particular, is that these hues are in sharp contrast to the cyclist's environment - which, presumably, is comprised of shades of gray and brown.

But Ireland, after all, is called the Emerald Isle. In most parts, the landscape is dominated by endless expanses of bright-green grass, made especially luminous by the light's unique quality. The greenery is supplemented with swathes of bright yellow. In Spring the fields are littered with buttercups and the hedges become a mass of yellow gorse blossoms. In Summer bright rapeseed flowers spread through the land like rolls of psychodelic yellow carpet. And come Autumn, a hardy, weedy type of flower outlines the fields with a pervasive yellow lacieness.

When cycling through such a hi-viz landscape, it is hardly surprising that hi-viz attire can in fact become camouflage.

Of course not everybody lives in Ireland. But my point is that every locale comes with its own colour pallet. And if the goal is for our outfit to stand out against the landscape, it is worthwhile to consider whether it actually does - rather than assuming that garments marketed as hi-viz are truly such in each and every circumstance.

In the open, yellow-green landscape I now call home, I find that stark black clothing is actually quite effective in daytime - creating a sharp, easy to spot silhouette that is distinctly human in form. And when I do wear hi-viz clothing, I go with either hot pink or bright orange for contrast.

"Um yeah... Just don't wear those in Vermont during leaf season!" a friend reminds me.

Good point. Good point indeed.

29 comments:

  1. Camouflage and alternatively hi-viz are highly related to color sensitivity and lighting conditions. Deer, for example, are color blind, so some hunters wear brightly colored mottled camo so that other hunters can see them more easily. On the other hand, certain types of color blindness were discovered by the British in WW II (something about genes coding for opsins, look it up) to render common types of camouflage ineffective for those otherwise considered sight impaired, so those with the right impairment were sought out and used for photo reconnaissance, a closely held secret which seems to have persisted through the Korean conflict as a secret.

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    1. That reminds me of synaesthetes being able to pick out single digits instantly in a screen of numbers because of their "colour".

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    2. I have some degree of synesthesia. But considering how this disorder/trait (whatever way you want to look at it) works, I'd be surprised if it could ever be harnessed as a reliable tool for this kind of stuff the way, say, colorblindness can - too much subjectivity and emotion-regulated variance in synesthesia.

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  2. Well said. This is something I often thought about where my daily commute is through a rural farm and forest country side. Thank you.

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  3. Funny, most of your photos give me the impression of grey skies, stark and dark as the dominant weather mode. In many I can imagine one wearing a hi-viz vest to stand out clearly. Also you've mentioned the changing weather as a constant, too. All this is to say sure there are conditions everywhere which may contradict the general thoughts/wisdom with regard to the safest clothing. Rides can take on from one kind of landscape to another within a mile…It's tricky. Thankfully, no laws require everyone to wear hi-viz so there's choice. But as I sit and type this I'm looking out the window of our coffee shop. It's bright September sun, there's street construction going on with lots of orange construction webbing, sidewalks are filled with bright umbrellas, reds, yellow, neon, trees have bright green leaves reflecting the morning light. It's a visual overload but still I notice those construction workers even out of the side of my eye. Their shirts seem to do the trick. Personally, I bike in everyday clothes which may be tempting fate a bit but I always carry a vest in my bag for those instances when I freak out about the speed of traffic or places in town where bikes are not so common. Mostly, I think we're stubborn, or conditioned, or both when it comes to some things.

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  4. Perhaps pink or international orange visibility gear would provide better contrast in your environment. The belt in your picture looks like a Tuvizo which is also available in pink.

    :djm

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  5. I switched from chartreuse hi-vis to orange after a series of SMIDSY near-misses in traffic and also noticing that I also tend to not notice screaming yellow against our yellow-brown local background. Once pointed out, it is impossible to miss, but I wonder if we just tend to tune out that color? One friend drives a bright-yellow/green car, and it is apparently effectively invisible as well based on his tales of near-misses. Anecdotes, but disturbing ones.

    Best Regards,

    Will

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  6. Bright blue for me, since there's usually some green vegetation or brownish buildings at ground level to provide contrast. Also, color-blind folks usually can see blue.

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    1. My grandfather could not tell the difference between blue and green, as well as some shades of yellow.

      FWIW they are doing some maintenance work to the local railway station, and have put up some blue temporary fencing - which is much more visible than the usual bright orange or yellow variety.

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  7. Well how weird - I am new to cycling but just this morning wrote a post on my blog about high-vis that touched on a similar issue. I live in Normandy, where the colour palette is much like that of Ireland (the weedy flower you've seen may well be ragwort). I've opted for high-vis pink for my gear and the DH has opted for high-vis orange with a lime helmet. What really scares me are the cyclists and joggers wearing grey and blue. When set against grey roads, and grey or blue skies, they become almost invisible - a few years ago when driving I had a near miss with a jogger dressed like this in the dim evening light. In France it is now the law that you must wear a high-vis and retroreflective gilet when cycling but very few people actually do.

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    1. Ragwort! Yes, thank you.

      Is it the law to wear reflective for all forms of cycling, or just road/sport cycling?

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    2. In France it is also law that drivers must carry a reflective jacket in their car and wear it if they get out of the car in case of breakdown on a motorway (but not other types of road, I think) The jacket must be accessible by the driver while in the car, not locked away in the boot (trunk).

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  8. A good insight! As a (very) amateur birder, I've learned that in the wild, the most foreign and striking color that gives one away and raises alarm among birds and wildlife is white. I do tend to favor cycling jerseys that use alternate white and reflective horizontal stripes on chest and back. Thank you. Jim Duncan

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    1. I've noticed also that stripes, checks and zigzags are noticeable from far off; must be something in human vision that is attuned to the contrast.

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  9. I've only a poor man's understanding of color theory...hue, value, and intensity….but there's that difficult other variable which is that it's relative. It's confounding. I guess one has to play to the averages when spending lots of time on a bike, mixed with automobiles, and hoping to stay safe. Intensity often works best.

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    1. Yes. This is why ultimately, I think having good lighting is more effective than any hi-viz colour palette.

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  10. In NYC, my nod to visibility is to run a bright headlight (angled down enough to avoid blinding) and blinking taillight, day or night. I often catch the eyes of pedestrians, drivers and other cyclists drawn to that headlight and not to whatever color top I happen to be wearing.

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  11. You're a photographer, what do you notice when looking through a lens? What visual dynamics are at play? Contrast? Color? Movement? Cyclists want to know.

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    1. More than anything, composition. I always feel as if the people/objects/shapes around me are communicating with each other, and it's this aspect of things that interests me most. There are probably better examples of this here than on LB.

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  12. I detest hi-viz, but I have jerseys in a wide variety of other colors -- souvenirs of various organized events I've ridden over the years. Today I was wearing a mostly-yellow one, because it stood out against this morning's overcast sky. But very soon, my several yellow or gold hued jerseys will be packed away until springtime: Fall in Colorado means acres and acres of aspen trees will render yellow-clad riders completely invisible, and it will be time to ride in red.

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  13. Well I imagine the basic idea of high visibility clothing/accessories is that it is indeed highly visible - so yes, the environment through which one is cycling would determine which colours actually provide this - I personally don't use high visibility clothing/accessories but I often see an older lady riding her mountain bike through town and she stands out because she is wearing a high visibility jacket over regular clothing.

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  14. I'm not sure that the increasing trend towards hi-viz everywhere is a good thing. In the UK, it seems that just about every job that involves doing things outside requires hi-viz. I often see groups of primary-school age kids walking down the street, all wearing hi-viz tabards, like mini construction workers. I suppose it does make it easier for their teacher to keep track of them.

    Maybe I'm being alarmist, but there could be a slippery slope leading to lack of hi-viz clothing being used as an excuse for inattentive driving resulting in a collision between a car and a pedestrian or cyclist. "How did you expect me to see them? They weren't wearing any hi-viz"

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    1. I absolutely agree that hi-viz is vastly overused. Most blood-boiling example I see around here, is kids being taken out for a walk at recess by a certain school, all of them forced to wear hi-viz vests in order to participate in this most extreme of outdoor activities. And you're not being alarmist - there have already been cases where it was used, or attempted to be used, to excuse inattentive driving. Still I do not have a blanket hatred (or love) for hi-viz, but see it as situational. I rarely feel the need to wear it myself, but on occasion I do - and when I do, it seems best to make sure it actually performs the function it is meant to.

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    2. Youre joking what school is this now?

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    3. Email me if you'd like the name of the school; it's a local one.

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  15. The so-called Road Safety Authority of Ireland seem to think that all cycling safety issues can be solved with helmets and hi-vis which I feel is a very sad state of affairs.

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  16. I use a Hi-Viz Vest on Night Rides and in fog and always have head/tail lights after dusk. It all helps but from observing other riders I'm riding with and the way drivers respond to us out there on their road, I wonder if the the most useful thing to do(after turning your lights on of course) isn't to simply keep pedaling when there are cars around. When we're coasting in a line all strung out tucked in, it can be hard for me to judge distance and keep everyone located in space, but if the rider is pedaling the motion seems to really aid in my ability to "see" them spatially. Another thing I've realized is that as I get older it's harder for me to focus on ANYTHING when the riders in front of me have their lights set to blink, especially if they are the type that have a "pulse pulse PULSE pulse" blink with a really bright blink in the sequence. I hope that makes sense.

    Really though, if a person really want's to ensure people will see them after dark, you just have to be prepared to set yourself on fire. I don't think anything short of that will really get the job done unfortunately.

    Spindizzy

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  17. Ireland must really be something, if painting it requires a "pallet"...

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