Infrared False Color photography (IRFC)
Infrared False Color photography is part of the Technical Photography documentation and allows to detect inpaints and to tentatively identify pigments. It has been used in the past as a photographic film which was first developed for totally different applications than art but soon it was used for paintings and since then IRFC has been familiar to art conservators. They used it mainly for preliminary assessment of art works, such as to distinguish azurite from ultramarine in old masters paintings. It is obvious that this method doesn’t have the accuracy that analytical methods can provide but since it is fast and easy to implement with filters and modified digital cameras, it is one of the most common imaging techniques implemented in art conservation laboratory.
Infrared False Color photography is part of the Technical Photography documentation and allows to detect inpaints and to tentatively identify pigments.
Applications in Art examination
IRFC is helpful to detect retouches and for the tentative identification of pigments. While IRFC does not provide conclusive results, it is recognized as a valid tool to select areas of inter-
est for further analytical studies. Visit Pigments Checker to examine what false colors we can expect from different pigments.
Visit Pigments Checker to examine what are the actual false color that we can expect from historical and modern conservation pigments.
Tentative identification of pigments
The identification of pigments based on IRFC is just tentative because a number of factors can affect their actual false colors.
Mapping retouches on paintings
IRFC is very effective to quickly differentiate materials (paints and inks). It is fast, at least compared for example to a more accurate but much more time-consuming multispectral imaging mapping.
IRFC and different paint binders
The IRFC is not much influenced by the different painting techniques since IR images are not significantly changed by the different binders. In the case of wall paintings, for example, the increased brightness of the mineral support could be responsible for the difference in the resulting IRFC. The brighter infrared images can shift the IRFC images toward more intense red components. As an example, chrome green was identified through pXRF on mural painting shown in this slide and its false color is compatible with that attribution.
To create the IRFC image the VIS green (G) and red (R) channels become respectively the IRFC blue (B) and green (G) channels. The IRFC red (R) channel is represented by the IR image. Pigments of the same color feature a different IRFC color if they behave differently in the infrared. Malachite absorbs infrared, red, and blue light. Consequently, only its green component participates in the IRFC image, providing a final blue IRFC color for malachite. On the other hand, viridian additionally reflects the infrared and consequently, its IRFC is the additive result of the red and blue channels, making it appear purple.
False color images with special filters
False color images have been acquired with specific filters, such as the XNite BP1 (the images are indicated with the acronym BP1) but this approach is not recommended. This filter transmits visible light in the range 350-660 nm and infrared after 800 nm and it can be used as an alternative to the IRFC method but with significant limitations. Digital color cameras feature CCD or CMOS imaging detectors whose photosensors cannot distinguish the wavelength of the incoming light and are covered with a CFA (color filter array) to select only red, green or blue
light. The CFA is transparent to the infrared transmitted by the XNite BP1 and the photosensors can detect it. The photo that is obtained with XNite BP1 would have the infrared light contributing more to the red channel since the far red has been cut out by the filter itself and therefore the infrared light is the only one that can contribute to the red channel. This filter provides
images that are analogous to the IRFC because the infrared and visible lights are blended together and thus the BP1 is capable of distinguishing between paints which feature different infrared reflectance. Compared to typical IRFC, BP1 is less effective since the infrared is also detected by the blue and green photosensors reducing the capacity to render pigments with different false colors. The advantage of BP1 over IRFC is that no editing is needed. Therefore, this method is much faster and it is particularly useful for the study of large artworks, such as
mural paintings, since their documentation with IRFC.
|Publications on Infrared False Color Photography (IRFC)|
|A. Cosentino "Infrared Technical Photography for Art Examination” e-Preservation Science, 13, 1-6, 2016.|
|A. Cosentino “Identification of pigments by multispectral imaging a flowchart method” Heritage Science, 2:8, 2014.|
|A. Cosentino "Effects of Different Binders on Technical Photography and Infrared Reflectography of 54 Historical Pigments” International Journal of Conservation Science, 6 (3), 287-298, 2015.|
Training Programs 2018
Interested in our methods for Art examination? Attend our Training programs! We offer training programs in Italy or delivered abroad to your institution.
CLICK HERE to learn more how to participate.