Five Gallons of 18% Grey

June 1, 2017

There are many exciting things that a video guy gets to do on a regular basis. Load and unload gear, work crazy long days, edit late into the night, and oh yeah… paint studios 18% grey.

Yep. That’s right. Paint the studio.

I painted my first studio a wonderful shade of grey 33 years ago. Of course, on occasion I’ve also painted studios white, chromakey green, chromakey blue, black, and even mauve. But by in large I’ve spent most of my career painting curved, studio walls… 18% grey.

Here are a few facts to help you understand the benefits of 18% grey.

First, 18% grey, sometimes called Middle Grey, has a perceived luminosity halfway between white and black. Next, 18% grey is devoid of any color; no green, no blue or red, etc. That means a freshly painted grey wall, floor, or cyclorama is a neutral canvas that can be lit to any brightness, from white to black, and with gels or LED fixtures, lit to virtually any hue.

Now there is a bit of controversy surrounding 18% grey. For example, why is it not called 50% grey? After all, as we learned, it is halfway between white and black. And perhaps more alarmingly, some charts show 18% grey as slightly lighter or darker than others. Case in point, the wonderful Xrite Color Checker is quite different from Kodak’s Professional Photoguide, an old industry standard. 

Maybe it’s due to the paint fumes I’ve inhaled over the years, but for the most part I’ve been able to set aside these controversies, simply knowing that if I paint the studio a color that’s roughly equivalent to 18% grey, I’ll have almost unlimited latitude the next time I light a set.

Not convinced about the value of 18% grey?

Well stop by MCOMM, you can help paint our studio as we discuss the topic in complete detail.

Plan on a 5 gallon conversation.

As always, thanks for reading. Until next time.

Ray Monell