3 Ways to Process Infrared


Kamiak Butte – Converted Canon EOS 10D

I’ve found three ways to process infrared photos from my converted dSLR. The above photo was converted to black and white in Lightroom. The original, RAW infrared files are extremely reddish/magenta. There’s a reason it’s called “infra-RED”!  So converting to black & white, and just managing textures and tones, is the easiest, quickest way to process an infrared RAW file.

The filter installed inside the camera is 720nm, meaning it cuts light wavelengths below this range.  This still allows some visible light to show in the photos, so it makes color infrared easier to work with (see below).  I just ordered an 830nm filter, which cuts out all visible light for a purely infrared photo and a more dramatic, other-worldly look.  Future post to come with photos taken at 830nm.


Quinault Footbridge – Channel Swap IR

One trick to getting more natural color infrared images is to do a “channel swap” in Photoshop.  I export a TIFF file to Pixelmator (cheap Photoshop substitute) after basic contrast and sharpening in Lightroom.  Pixelmator uses the built-in Mac OS-X RAW converter.  In my opinion, ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) which Lightroom and Photoshop use, is much better. So I open the RAW file and do basic adjustments in Lightroom first.

Next, in Pixelmator/Photoshop, I use the Channels function to adjust the red channel this way: Red from 100 to zero, Blue from zero to 100.  Then the blue channel: Red from zero to 100, and Blue 100 to zero.  This should cause a very dramatic change to your IR photo, changing the sky from red/orange/magenta (depending on white balance setting) to blue.

Back in Lightroom I use NIK Color Efex Pro and NIK Dfine to get more shadow detail, and then reduce the noise from my old Canon EOS 10D sensor.


Wild Plum – Split Toned IR

Another way I process infrared photos is to convert to black and white, then use Lightroom’s “Split Tone” feature.  This allows me to assign one color to shadows (in this case, blue) and another to highlights (muted yellow in the photo above).  There are saturation controls for each color, and a balance control between them.

I ran into the back yard and shot this photo when I saw the evening sun shining through the leaves of a wild plum tree.  The sunlight is actually shining through the plum enough that you can see the darker area where the pit is.

So to sum it up, the 3 ways I’ve found to give my infrared photos variety are:

  1. Convert to black and white in Lightroom, and possibly use a plugin like NIK Silver Efex Pro.
  2. RAW conversion and basic adjustments in Lightroom, channel swap in Photoshop or a substitute like GIMP or Pixelmator, import back into Lightroom for final touchups.
  3. Convert to black and white in Lightroom and use Lightroom’s Split Tone feature for a cool look.

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