Developing preferences for different thermal palettes allows confident decision-making when it counts
Both formal public service training and longstanding hunting practices assume there’s a right and wrong way to do things. Defined procedures help remove uncertainty and increase the chance of success, such as how to legally apprehend a suspect or safely handle a firearm.
However, thermal imaging for public services and hunting is dynamic. Users interpret thermal images differently and often must draw from personal experience to resolve specific situations. Understanding the strengths of different camera settings is vital for quick, confident detection. When it comes to choosing the right thermal imaging palette—personal preference is king.
Understanding thermal palettes
Thermal imaging cameras, riflescopes, and handheld optics all operate on the same basic premise. An onboard thermal sensor detects different amounts of heat energy, then generates an image. While thermal images may sometimes look like standard photographs, their vivid colors or contrasting grayscale details represent a very specific, very large data set. Understanding what these colors and shades represent—and learning how to best-leverage them in the field—allows public service professionals, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts to quickly detect suspects, targets, and objects of interest.
Like any digital image, thermal images are made up of pixels. The number of pixels in a thermal image is determined by the camera’s resolution. Higher-resolution sensors generate images with a higher pixel-count and generally produce clearer results. In thermal imaging, each individual pixel represents a specific temperature data point. These data points are assigned a unique color or shade based on their value, meaning that as the thermal sensor detects changes in heat energy, it will exress this change by adjusting the color or shade of a pixel. These preset gradients—or thermal palettes—determine pixel appearance and help identify different heat sources throughout a scene.
Most law enforcement, search and rescue, and hunting applications focus on qualitative thermal imaging, which looks at the relative presence or absence of heat in a scene —rather than focusing on numeric temperature values. Reliable, qualitative thermal imaging hinges on recognizing contrast between targets, objects of interest, and their environment. Detecting body heat is the priority and establishing thermal palette preferences allows users to confidently pinpoint heat sources. Familiarity with an optic and its imaging capability will be the differentiator when it comes to quickly apprehending a suspect, finding discarded evidence, locating hidden persons, or recovering downed game.
Thermal imagers are most effective in the hands of users who can quickly interpret a scene, and hands-on experience with each available palette is the best way to make confident, split-second decisions when it truly matters.
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