- The visual system continually adjusts its sensitivity to the statistical properties of the environment through an adaptation process that starts in the retina. Colour perception and processing is commonly thought to occur mainly in high visual areas, and indeed most evidence for chromatic colour contrast adaptation comes from cortical studies. We show that colour contrast adaptation starts in the retina where ganglion cells adjust their responses to the spectral properties of the environment. We demonstrate that the ganglion cells match their responses to red-blue stimulus combinations according to the relative contrast of each of the input channels by rotating their functional response properties in colour space. Using measurements of the chromatic statistics of natural environments, we show that the retina balances inputs from the two (red and blue) stimulated colour channels, as would be expected from theoretical optimal behaviour. Our results suggest that colour is encoded in the retina based on the efficient processing of spectral information that matches spectral combinations in natural scenes on the colour processing level.