A comparison of hair colour measurement by digital image analysis with reflective spectrophotometry Academic Article uri icon


  • While reflective spectrophotometry is an established method for measuring macroscopic hair colour, it can be cumbersome to use on a large number of individuals and not all reflective spectrophotometry instruments are easily portable. This study investigates the use of digital photographs to measure hair colour and compares its use to reflective spectrophotometry. An understanding of the accuracy of colour determination by these methods is of relevance when undertaking specific investigations, such as those on the genetics of hair colour. Measurements of hair colour may also be of assistance in cases where a photograph is the only evidence of hair colour available (e.g. surveillance). Using the CIE L(*)a(*)b(*) colour space, the hair colour of 134 individuals of European ancestry was measured by both reflective spectrophotometry and by digital image analysis (in V++). A moderate correlation was found along all three colour axes, with Pearson correlation coefficients of 0.625, 0.593 and 0.513 for L(*), a(*) and b(*) respectively (p-values=0.000), with means being significantly overestimated by digital image analysis for all three colour components (by an average of 33.42, 3.38 and 8.00 for L(*), a(*) and b(*) respectively). When using digital image data to group individuals into clusters previously determined by reflective spectrophotometric analysis using a discriminant analysis, individuals were classified into the correct clusters 85.8% of the time when there were two clusters. The percentage of cases correctly classified decreases as the number of clusters increases. It is concluded that, although more convenient, hair colour measurement from digital images has limited use in situations requiring accurate and consistent measurements.


  • Oorschot, Roland
  • Vaughn, Michelle R
  • van Oorschot, Roland AH
  • Baindur-Hudson, Swati

publication date

  • January 2009