What is False Color?

What is False Color?

Using false color is one of the more interesting ways to gauge the exposure of a picture; think of it as having a special Instagram filter that changes original colours (or true colors) that the camera shows after being applied. We’re not going into the details here, but the Mars Art Gallery explains the differences between types of false color along with true color.



False color becomes apparent as a result of a change in brightness of colors in a picture. In full spectrum color transformed to its spectrum, the resulting wavelengths correspond to five colors: blue, purple, red, green-white and yellow. If, for example, we take a black to white video signal, when transformed into false color, each of the five resulting colors will have its own interval to appear, or IRE, which is the measurement of video signals. This is extremely important to understand since having areas of your picture appear in blue under false color means that those areas will be underexposed, and important details may be left out from the picture. Similarly, any details which appear in yellow while in false color would appear overexposed on the final printout.


It is useful when assessing tonal levels within an image, in order to reach to a perfectly balanced picture, allowing you to adjust the lighting in the environment where the photo-shoot takes place. In order to better understand how this works, there are apps available that can create faithful representations of false color right on your phone.

Some cameras have incorporated functions that allow to easily switch to false color mode, since it’s better to correct any potential faulty exposures before going to post-processing. Moreover, when buying a camera, verify if all files are processed in-camera, as this will impair your ability to reduce any extensive effects of false color application. More experienced and daring Photoshop users will however be able, in the end, to recalibrate the resulting picture. However, a safer solution to make sure that you always have  is to have the function built-into your monitor. Monitors like the Aputure VS-3 have this function programmed in, so you’ll have the option to use this function anywhere.

To use it, all you have to do is turn it on and see the attached color spectrum. By using this spectrum as a key for exposure levels, you can look at your image and see the exact areas that are under or overexposed based on where the following colors are on your picture.



Filmmaker Tom Antos has a great tutorial on how to use it here on an Atomos Shogun. The VS-3 also has the exact same function though:



Bearing in mind some simple rules as the ones above spares you the risk of having to repeat innumerous times your photo-shoot until you get it right. False color images do not only create stunning and surreal scenery, but should also be used as a much needed tool when perfectly arranging a studio set in view of a photo session. Understanding which type of color means that your photo may be over or underexposed is key to getting the maximum out of your work, be it by having a satisfied customer or by creating a memorable experience for your loved one – and speaking of, check out Scott Kelly’s year in space, it might inspire you to put your photo editing game face on and create some memorable color memorabilia for your loved ones.


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