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I want to color a photo that I took from my telescope, which unfortunately only captures black and white images. How can I add color to it, let's say using Photoshop... is it possible to color only white region in RGB or something? I've tried it but it colors the black part too.

  • When you say it only captures black and white images...is that because the sensor is monochrome? Or is it just that things appear black and white when you stack? Some integration tools like DSS will automatically align channels for you, which can make your images look grayscale, when they are really not. If your using a standard DSLR, you images may indeed have color. If you are using a mono CCD, you could always get a filter wheel and use LRGB filters in sequence, and combine the channels in photoshop to produce color images. – jrista Mar 6 '15 at 18:58
  • Yea sensor is monochrome – SciGuy Mar 7 '15 at 4:24
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When it comes to color imaging of the night sky with a monochrome camera, the use of color filters is usually implied. There are two major sets of color filters that are commonly used with monochrome sensors: LRGB and narrow band.

LRGB Imaging

Standard color imaging, or "broadband" imaging, makes use of LRGB or Luminance + RGB filters. Monochrome sensors are unfiltered, and as such are sensitive to both IR and UV (heavily sensitive to IR up to nearly 1000nm wavelengths). For maximum detail, an L or luminance filter is used to capture high resolution, high SNR detail across the full visual spectrum, while blocking out IR and UV. Then broadband channels for red, green, and blue are captured separately, and later combined into a full color image.

This separate acquisition of L from RGB, and the use of an L filter in general, is important, for a couple of reasons. First, getting good SNR in astrophotography is very difficult. An otherwise unfiltered exposure gathers a lot more light than any color filter. Blocking IR is also important, as IR focuses differently than the visible spectrum, and can cause bloating of stars. As such, the L filter is usually where most of your exposure time is done, to gather as much high SNR data as possible, or as much "integration time" as possible. After L is gathered, much shorter integration times for R, G, and B channels can be gathered for later combination with the high SNR L image.

Typical integration times with LRGB may be anywhere from a few hours to as much as ten or twenty hours of L data using three minute to ten minute subs (for your average f/4-f/7 scope). An additional 10 subs each of five to ten minute subs each for RGB channels are gathered. RGB data does not need the same integration time, and they can be noisier. The human eye is less sensitive to spatial resolution in color, so heavy NR can be applied to the RGB channels, while more careful NR and enhancement is done to the L channel to bring out all the detail.

Narrow Band Imaging

An alternative to LRGB imaging is Narrow Band, or NB imaging. LRGB imaging generally requires very dark skies to be effective. Some high end modern filters, such as the Astrodon E-series Gen II, make some attempt to block out primary sources of light pollution (namely low pressure sodium vapor emission bands) in the R and G hannels, but as LRGB is broadband imaging, you can't really do much about light pollution. For best results, you need to find a dark site where overhead emissions are around 20 magnitudes/square arcsecond or darker (20-22.5mag/sq" is usually considered a good dark site, and usually 25-45x darker than your average suburban or city skies.)

To combat light pollution when imaging from a suburban or urban location, narrow band imaging with monochrome sensors is another option. Narrow band imaging uses filters that block out everything except a narrow band around a very specific emission, such as Hydrogen Alpha, or Oxygen III, or Sulfur II. The bandpass is anywhere from 15nm wide to as little as 3nm wide. The narrower the bandpass, the higher your contrast will usually be, as more and more stray light not coming from that specific emission band will be blocked.

The three primary bands are those I mentioned, and another for planetary nebula imaging is also common:

  • Sulfur II (SII): 672.4nm, Deep Red
  • Hydrogen Alpha (Ha): 656.3nm, Red
  • Nitrogen II: 658.4nm, Red
  • Oxygen III (OIII): 500.7, Cyan (Blue-Green)
  • Hydrogen Beta (Hb): 486.1nm, Blue

A sufficiently wide Ha filter (5-6nm bandpass) will usually gather NII as well, however it is possible to get separate NII filters if you really enjoy planetary nebula imaging. Hydrogen Beta is the same emission as Hydrogen Alpha, just dimmer, so if you want to account for it, you can reuse Ha data for Hb.

Narrow band imaging can be used independently or in combination with LRGB. A common practice is to gather Ha as well as L data, combine the two for better contrast and detail into a super luminance channel, and sometimes blend a little Ha into the red channel. Narrow band filters can be used exclusively, and the two (Ha/OII) or three (SII/Ha/OIII) channels can be used to synthesize a variety of blends that bring out different details. Some imagers simply gather Hydrogen Alpha solo, and do grayscale imaging. Narrow band imaging presents a lot of opportunities.

Because of the narrow bandpass, narrow band filters allow imaging from heavily light polluted sites. The narrow bandpass also requires much longer exposures. Where LRGB can often be done in as little as five minutes a sub, maybe even less with a sufficiently fast scope, narrow band images generally require 20 minutes at least, and often 30, 45, 90 minutes or more depending on the channel and the surface brightness of the object being imaged. This tends to require more precise equipment. Exposing for 20 minutes can be a challenge, exposing for longer usually requires a fair amount of skill.

Choosing Filters

There are a relatively wide variety of filters on the market, of different price classes and camera compatibilities. There are two primary kinds of monochrome cameras: Purpose-built Mono CCD cameras, and modded "debayered" DSLR cameras. Mono CCD cameras have more filters available, and usually use 1.25" threaded filters or 2" threaded filters. CCD cameras come in a wide variety of sensor sizes, and some larger sensors may use 31mm, 52mm, or 65mm mounted or unmounted filters. DSLRs are often more complex. Some companies such as Astrodon offer "clip-ins" which are filter holders that can be dropped into a standard Canon APS-C DSLR, and used with either standard EF lenses (EF-S lenses can NOT be used), or with a T-adapter. You can also find T-thread filters that can be screwed onto the end of a T-adapter or into a T-ring.

There are a few key brands. Orion and Celestron offer a number of basic filters, however they are usually quite cheap and fairly low end. There are a number of other manufacturers in this class as well. These would be very entry level filters most of the time, with the exception of a couple Orion LP filters. Astronomik supplies a number of filters in screw-in and clip-in form for LRGB and NB imaging, both with DSLRs and CCDs. They are step up, as good as some of the higher grade filters I'll mention next in many cases, however some of their filters aren't of the best quality. The next step up would be Custom Scientific and Baader, both of which manufacture good quality LRGB and NB filters. CS and Baader filters are often wider bandpass (for NB filters), and usually not par-focal (so switching from one filter to the next requires refocusing), however they are cost effective. The top of the line filters would be Astrodon, the E-series Gen II LRGB filters and their 3nm narrow band filters. Astrodon filters are basically the best money can buy, they filter out some LP for the LRGB filters, they are par-focal for all filters, they offer the narrowest bandpass for NB filters (so highest contrast)...and they come with a matching price tag.

Using Filters with mono CCD

To use filters with a CCD, you usually require a filter wheel of some kind. There are a number of filter wheels out there. Some are generic, some are designed to work with specific brand or brands of CCD cameras. You can find filter wheels in 5-position, 7-position, 8-position, and 9/10-position (such as the case with the FLI Centerline filter wheels, which are fairly unique in the way they work.)

If you are just doing LRGB work or just NB work, a 5-position filter wheel will do. If you want to do LRGB and a couple narrow band filters, a 7-position will do. For a full constituent of LRGB and NB, you need an 8-position filter wheel. The extra position is either "clear", or blocked off for taking darks (for CCD cameras that do not have a shutter.)

You can find most of the necessary equipment for imaging with filters and a mono CCD camera at sites like OptCorp.

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If you want to do it the old fashioned way, you take a series of photos of the same thing with each one filtered for a different color. Say one shot filtered for red, one for green, and one for blue. Then you add the color to each gray scale image in post and then combine the three monochromatic images.

  • Yeah But how? I didn't get you whenver I colorise the photo the full photo becomes red even the black part I only want to colorise the black part – SciGuy Mar 7 '15 at 4:25
  • You have to have the shots that are filtered for each color prior to striking the sensor. That makes the gray values for the same point in the image different for each of the filtered shots (unless the light being imaged is pure white). You then translate the gray monochromatic values of the blue filtered frame to blue, and so on. The dark parts of the image should not get any brighter. If a pixel has a value of "0" when monochromatic, it should still have a value of "0" when translated to blue (or red or green). – Michael C Mar 8 '15 at 9:06
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Try create a new layer and change the blending mode to multiply, then paint the colours you want on that layer. Notice it won't colour the black areas.

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There are directions using color-separation at Turning Grayscale to Color in Photoshop and for a manual process using overlays at Colorizing a Grayscale Image. Hopefully, one of those techniques will help.

Photoshop for Astronomy: An Introductory Tutorial discusses a number of tools.

You might also want to take multiple photos at differing exposures and assign each to one color.

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