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How to Use False Color to Nail Skin Tone Exposure

Noam Kroll

False color is one of the most effective exposure tools for digital cinematography out there. This quick tip explains how to understand your false color readout to achieve perfect exposure.

Most digital cinematographers are well versed in common in-camera exposure tools such as zebras or histograms, but few are familiar with false color. Unlike the more common exposure tools, false color is a feature usually reserved for higher-end broadcast monitors or EVFs. As such, younger filmmakers usually have less experience with it. They don’t use it to their advantage on set the way they should.

Using false color on your monitor will display an image from your camera that looks something like this:

False Color Skin Tones

The concept of false color is quite simple: different luminance values are represented by distinct colors to give you a clear understanding of the exposure levels of every part of your image. For instance, 0 IRE (your black level) may appear pink, whereas 100 IRE (your white level) will appear as red. This means anything that shows as pink is clipped to black, and anything red is clipped to white.

While it might appear daunting at first, once you understand how to read false color and what the different colors actually mean, you’ll be able to expose your image much faster and more effectively than with many other exposure tools.

False Color ChartColor chart via Manhattan Lcd

The key to exposing quickly and accurately using false color is to focus on skin tones first. Typically, skin tones should fall in the 70 IRE range, which will appear as light grey. Once you set your exposure so that your talent’s skin tone appears grey, you know the image is well exposed — at least as far as the talent is concerned. From there, you can simply scan the frame for any areas that are over or underexposed and make lighting or framing adjustments accordingly.

False Color Readouts in Window Light

This video from Aputure shows how to read false color on one of their monitors. It’s a great watch if you’ve never used false color before.

How do you use false color on set? Share in the comments below.