What Color is That UFO Really?

What Color is That UFO Really?

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From my backyard deck I can see a row of street lights that looks like a strange flying craft or UFO at night. I took a photo of this for another article and noticed the color was all wrong. The lights were a bright yellow with a couple of white lights from nearby houses, but in the shot they turned out white with a red halo. This made me wonder, how many UFO photos show the object as the wrong color?

Now my mission was clear, photograph the lights in the proper color with my phone. I have a Samsung Galaxy S5 which offers an impressive amount of control over the camera’s setting. I thought a little change in white balance was all it would take. Many, many photos later I had thoroughly proved myself wrong. Check out a few of the results:

Changes in white balance didn’t give me the right results. Increasing ISO produced the closest matches to actual color but there were still issues with these images. I thought this was strange because in many of the photos the yellow lights appeared white. I suspected thresholding was the cause. Next I decided to bring out my Canon Elph (SD 1000) to see what it would do with the lights. These are the results:

I think the problem lies in the pixel size; the CCD receptor size for each pixel. With compact cameras, and especially my 16MP smartphone camera, these tiny CCDs have trouble registering the correct amount of light and producing scene-accurate color. And while in principal that shouldn’t be surprising, I was surprised by how difficult it was to take a picture that produced colors even close to the actual color of the lights.  The lesson here; pictures may not show the actual color of an object, especially with UFO night shots. They can be very wrong!

Check out what some small changes in thee white balance can produce:

UFO photo of street lights after small white balance adjustment.

UFO photo of street lights after small white balance adjustment.

On a final note look at how perfectly round all of the lights are in my photos. This isn’t accurate either. From my angle many of the street lights had their rays partially obscured by the hood of the lamp making the actual light appear in oblong shapes. This is due to the compact cameras ability to correctly focus on the object. This out of focus area appears as a perfect circle. 

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