Photo Illusion: Black and White Turned to Color

I love optical effects in images, especially those that work time and time again. The following video is one of my favorite illusions; it involves a plain black and white image, and a simple trick that turns it into a color photo. The BBC posted this documentary segment showing the exact effect I’m talking about:

The illusion starts off with the black and white image of a hill with the ruins of a castle sitting on top:

black and white image seen as color

This is the original image, as seen in black and white. Our goal in the illusion is to have the reader see it as color.

The whole purpose of the illusion is to see the picture in color, without actually having a color image of the picture. This is done using a false color image, which you basically stare at for a couple of seconds. While you do this, the different light receptors in your eye get adjusted for a specific color palette. Think of it kind of like screen burn-in on an old computer display (the reason why screensavers were invented). If you do this long enough—for just a couple of seconds actually—when the image is switched from the false color one back to the black and white one you’ll see… color!


This “false color” image allows you to see the original in color, once you focus on the dot in the middle.

How Does It Work?

The explanation itself is simple—the false color image uses colors that are opposite of the ones in the true color image, and with your eyes getting adjusted to the false colors, when you remove them and see the black and white photo, you’ll be left with the true color “filled in” by your brain.

Did it work for you? Do you know other illusions that work on a similar principle?

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