I’ve been wanting to do this for several years now. I started experimenting with digital infrared photography back in 2002 with a Canon Powershot G3. This camera had a relatively weak hot mirror filter, which prevents infrared rays from reaching the sensor. So my exposures were usually under a second, but also usually too slow to handhold. My filter was an 830nm filter, and at that range, no visible light enters the lens. So the best options are to convert to black and white, and either do selective coloring (see above), or just focus on textures and tones (see below).
But I finally got my old Canon EOS 10D dSLR converted for dedicated infrared photography. I asked the converter (szabophotography on eBay) to install a 720nm filter over the camera sensor (after he removed the hot mirror filter). This range is closer to the visible spectrum, and allows for some color options. There are different ways to do this and I am still learning. I do most of my post processing in Lightroom 5, so it’s sad that I can’t get decent color infrared results in Lightroom alone. Lightroom has a limited white balance adjustment range, and it cannot fully simulate the camera’s custom white balance.
So far I’ve gotten the best results by setting a custom white balance in the camera (more on this later) and using one of these two methods:
1. Open the RAW file in Canon’s DPP software and export a TIFF file (which ends up being 3 or 4 times the size of a RAW file).
2. Or import straight into Photoshop (I use Pixelmator or GIMP because I’m not made of money) and do a color channel swap. Then export a TIFF file.
At this point, these TIFF files can be imported and edited with Lightroom. I like Lightroom so much because it’s very easy to balance contrast and sharpness with noise, and keep image quality high. It’s all about finding that balance where you push an image as far as you can without it starting to block up, blow out, or break up and get noisy.
This is a photo processed using method #1 above. This was a cloudy day, so there is not a lot of color in the photo. But you can see the custom white balance has made a very magenta/red photo more muted brown and blue.
This is a photo I took yesterday on a sunny beach in the Puget Sound. I simply did a color channel swap in Pixelmator (method #2 above), exported as a TIFF, then edited for shadows and highlights, contrast, sharpness, etc. in Lightroom. The colors are more natural with a color swap than simply using a custom white balance. The foliage looks yellow or orangy while the sky is a blue tone.
Custom white balance in-camera: This is a setting that uses an image on your memory card as a reference to set a custom white balance. For some reason, this yields much better results than just using “Auto WB”. So it’s good to re-set your custom white balance whenever you change scene types, like going from sun to shade, or going from a photo with a lot of trees and grass to a photo like the one above with almost none.
Channel swap: There are a lot of great tutorials on websites and YouTube about how to do this. You just open the color channel mixer in Photoshop, reduce the red in the Red channel from 100% to zero. Boost the blue in the Red channel to 100%. Go to the Blue channel, reduce blue to zero and boost red to 100%. That’s pretty much it. I tried to make some subtle variations, but started getting weird tints.
I’ll put up more infrared photos with the newly converted camera as time goes on and I learn more.