Should You Be Using False Color? Here Are 7 Situations in Which You Probably Should

Waveforms, scopes, and other exposure tools are great, but sometimes the only thing that can do the job is false color.

For many of you, the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is, "Of course, you fool. Use false color in every situation!" And I'm over here like, "Yeah, I get it, but..." Histograms, zebra overlays, and waveforms are definitely helpful exposure tools, and waveforms especially have done a great job at showing filmmakers where they have exposure. If you prefer any of these to monitor your luminance, fab! But because false color is powerful enough to show you the specific exposure of different areas in your frame, you might want to, yes, use it all the time, but you might really want to use it in these shooting situations in particular, each of which are explained in the video below by Aputure's Boima Anderson.

So, here's the deal. Some people use waveforms, some use zebras. Some use histograms, some use false color. Hell, some people don't even use scopes. (Just ask Shane Hurlbut how he exposed Act of Valor.) We all know people get testy when you talk smack about their exposure tool or choice. (Probably because they, never mind. I'm not in the mood for puns.)

But using something to measure your exposure is incredibly important, mainly because you may not be able to trust your monitor to tell you what your image actually looks like. False color is uniquely helpful because it shows you the IRE value of every part of your image, allowing you to see exactly where under/overexposure if occurring.

That kind of information becomes really helpful when you're shooting scenes in which the light intensity varies greatly. You'll be able to 1.) see exactly where your shot is blown out or underexposed, 2.) determine how dark your blacks are, and 3.) be more precise with your lighting, which is a must when lighting something like a green screen. And yes, all of these things would benefit pretty much every shooting situation, but they especially benefit the ones mentioned in the video.

What do you think about using false color to expose shots? Let us know down in the comments.     

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When shooting multi-cam, pulling up false color on a quad-split (like a 7Q), definitely helps to match up exposure on all cameras much faster than trying to match going off the waveform; especially when you're dealing with different focal lengths.

August 22, 2017 at 1:44AM

Anthony Chen

False color plugins can be handy in post when color grading to step back and get an idea of the exposure variations. There is an openfx false color plugin here:

August 22, 2017 at 6:27AM

Gregory Greenhaw

Been curious about this recently. I just got a monitor that supports False Color and I'm trying to understand if you should judge false color based on the log image or the LUT image.

For example, in the video above, he mentions 70 IRE for caucasian skin tones, but that seems like it would need to be pinned to a specific log or LUT setting, right? would't 70 IRE in log be different than 70 IRE on a log->rec709 LUT?

August 22, 2017 at 11:15AM


Since using a Mini Ursa Pro I only expose with false colour now - with a preset button set for it. First thing I do when setting up a shot is expose for natural skin tones as he suggested in number 7. If somethings else in the shot is either under or overexposed as a result - ill work to either lighten or darken it. Has simplified the process so much compared to histograms. If your tools have the ability to use false colour you'd be crazy not to use it.

August 22, 2017 at 7:06PM

Videographer @ Rocket Boy Films

I think, we always use that false color, but, subtle.

August 28, 2017 at 1:34AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

I shoot mostly documentary and I constantly use double zebras (100+ and 70) and a histogram. Whenever the camera doesn't have double zebras or the zebras are too annoying (like huge black bars) I only use the 100+ zebras but I might switch to 70 for an interview (or 60 or 50, depending on skin color, but I mostly get the 70% crowd here in Europe).
For studio stuff and green screen, I use a waveform. Maybe I am old school, but I can see what I need on a waveform monitor, while with false color I'd have to learn a new color scheme - so I never did that.

I know someone who shoots industrial film and stuff like that and he literally doesn't use any additional display/monitor settings 90% of the time. So, no peaking, no zebras, no histogram, nothing. His monitor or vf is absolutely clean. I don't know how he does it, but his results are really good, so I guess he has an eye for it ;)

August 28, 2017 at 2:43AM, Edited August 28, 2:46AM


In what situations would I use false colour? Now that I've just learned about it I'd say all of the above.
I've just bought a monitor which has it, so will be using false colour on every job I do from now on with my FS700 to help me nail exposure.

January 21, 2019 at 5:07PM

Alan Hill
Camera Operator