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An In-Depth Guide to Infrared Photography: Processing

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Read Time: 6 min
This post is part of a series called Infrared Photography.
An In-Depth Guide to Infrared Photography: Setup and Capture

In part two of our infrared tutorial, you’ll learn how to process those red eerie images into spectacular false color Infrared photographs to be proud of. Using Photoshop and Lightroom, you will learn how to gradually eke out more detail from your RAW shots, and color them to taste. Let’s begin.


Processing infrared (IR) photos is as much a creative process as any other genre of photography, but certain formulas can be applied in IR photography to ensure you get some jaw-dropping photographs.

I’m going to show you how to process a false-color IR photograph, giving it a yellow and aqua hue, and I will also show you an alternative. Bear in mind there are many other colors you can process IR photos into that look equally stunning, such a Red/Blue.

Alternative Processing Styles.

1. Converting To DNG

To process your shots, I would first recommend you download DNG Profile Editor from Adobe Labs (free after registering). This program allows you to create a profile for your camera to use in Camera Raw and Lightroom, or any other program that accepts these types of profiles.

It also allows you to go beyond the normal white balance value thresholds, allowing you to cool the image down significantly more, which is especially important to obtain the correct colors. Alternatively, you can also use Nikon View/Capture and Canon DPP, as they will allow for greater white balance adjustments as standard, still not as much as a custom profile however.

To create a profile, first convert one of your RAW files to DNG format. This can be done in Lightroom in the export pop-up menu, or by using the Export to DNG command after right-clicking a photo. This will only need to be done once. You do not need to convert all your photos to DNG format, as once the profile has been created, it can be applied to any other RAW format.

The DNG option.

2. Calibrating The Profile

After DNG Profile Editor has downloaded, run the program and open your newly converted DNG shot by going: File > Open DNG Image

After it opens, click on the "Color Matrices" tab.

The bottom set of the 4 slider sets, called White Balance Calibration, allows you to alter the white balance of the image. Scroll the temperature slider all the way to the left (cooler) side. It should make your bright red shot turn into a brown/orange color.

Sliding the temperature scale to the coolest point.

2. Exporting The Profile

Now, go-to: File > Export [Name of camera] profile, and save the .DCP file to this directory. On Windows 7, make sure you enter your Windows profile name inside [NAME-OF-USER]. Remove the square brackets too.
Windows 7: C:\Users\[NAME-OF-USER]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles

For Mac: /Library/Application Support/Adobe/CameraRaw/CameraProfiles:

Give it as sensible name, such as “[Camera name] 720nm IR Profile."

The file path and file format of the profile.

3. Activating The Profile in Lightroom or Camera Raw

Now open Lightroom or Camera Raw. In this example, I will use Lightroom, but the steps are interchangeable as the interface and controls are almost identical.

Navigate to the Camera Calibration Tab. Under the Profile heading, click the Adobe Standard dropdown and select your new profile. Scrolling back up to the white balance slider under the Basic tab, you will notice you now have a much larger threshold for changing the White Balance.

Activating the profile.

4. Adjusting White Balance

Scroll the temperature slider to around the middle of the bar and scroll the tint to around the same place, adding a little bit more magenta. See the screenshot for some idea of the color to aim for. You can also use the eyedropper to aid correcting the white balance

Correcting the white balance.

5. Other Exposure adjustment

Now adjust the rest of the photo to suit your vision. Be sure to add a lot of contrast and boost the blacks as IR photos can look a little flat straight out of the camera. Using the "Tone Curve" is also a great way to add contrast and tonality to your images.

Saturating colors to around +20 on the slider gives a great punch to the colors, but don’t go too far, otherwise they will clip.

Save back to RAW (original in the export menu), remembering to change file names so you don’t overwrite your original photo.

Adjusting other parameters and exporting back to RAW format.

6. Channel Mixing in Photoshop

Now import the image into Photoshop. Here you need to make adjustments to the Channels, Levels and HSL.

First, to get the aqua sky and yellow foliage, go to the Channel Mixer: Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer.

Now swap the red channel with the blue channel, and the blue with the red. In the Output Channel, select the color red. In the Source Channels, set the red channel to 0%, and the blue channel to 100%.

Then select the blue channel in the Output Channel drop down. In the Source Channels, set the red channel to 100%, and the blue channel to 0% and hit OK.

Channel mixing.

7. Levels & Other Adjustments

Next go to Image > Adjustments > Levels

Select the red channel and reduce the Highlights slider around 30 points to bring out some red in the foliage. Then drop the Mid-Tones slider (slide to the left) and increase the value around 20 points to bring out even more color.

Select the blue channel. Increase the Mid-Tones value (slide to the right) and decrease the value around 30 points. Then increase the Blacks slider by around 10 points. You should end up with an aqua sky and yellow foliage.

If you want to play around with the colors, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.

Play with the hue slider to get some really striking combinations of colors, and adjust the saturation to suit. This is your opportunity to go wild, be creative and make your photograph truly unique.

Adjusting the levels.

8. An Alternative Processing Style in Photoshop

Another processing style to try is to make foliage pure white, and leave the strong aqua and blue tones in the image. This makes the image really stand out and gives the photo a haunted sense. You can do this after doing the steps above, or for speed, just simply start this step straight after you mix the channels as detailed above.

After Channel Swapping, go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Select the reds Channel from the drop-down box. (The default value is Master).

Now, click on the eyedropper icon (circled in the picture) and select a red/magenta/brown area of the photo. Use the Saturation slider to de-saturate some of the tones in the image. Should any color be left in this red/magenta/orange/brown tonal range, select the Eyedropper icon with the + symbol next to it (circled in the picture). This adds to the colors which have already been selected.

Remember to adjust exposure and contrast after this step to suit to make it pop.

Alternative processing style.

Conclusion and Final thoughts

So you know what to look for when buying, how to set up your camera, and how to take and process those flat monotone images into something special that stands out.

The last thing I can suggest is to experiment with settings and subjects, and you’ll find that not only will you progress you skills in IR photography, but you will find yourself shooting in IR a lot more often than you thought. It can become quite addicting because of how fun it is!

Be sure to post some links to your shots in the comments below. Thanks for reading this tutorial. I hope you enjoyed it and learnt a lot.

Final Image

The final image.
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