Infrared Processing.

I've been posting some infrared images on my Facebook Page recently.  One of my fans asked me to detail my processing workflow for Infrared imaging.  So here we go!  First I'd like to say that I shoot my infrared with a Nikon P7100 point and shoot camera with RAW capability.  I had it converted by LifePixel with the 590nm or "Supercolor" filter that they offer. This filter allows for some color to  reach the image sensor allowing for quite a bit of flexibility in post processing.  I can process an image with vibrant imaginative colors or desaturate and add contrast to create an intriguing black and white. There is quite a bit of work involved and I need to put the disclaimer that EVERY camera is different when converted to Infrared.  What my RAW files look like will not be the same as somebody else's camera and the processing which you are about to see may not yield the exact same results for everybody trying this. I had to experiment quite a bit in the beginning to find a system that worked for me.

I first open my image in Lightroom or Camera RAW. You can create a DNG profile that will allow Camera RAW and Lightroom to process the IR RAW file. The normal white balance adjustments in LR and ACR do not have the latitude to adjust an IR image to anything but red/magenta. Instructions on how to do this can be found here.

This is what my RAW file looks like when brought into Camera RAW without the DNG custom profile.

Even with the white balance pulled all the way to 2000, I still can't get workable colors.

If I bring it into Lightroom with the custom profile I can export a TIFF file that looks like this.  This is what the image looked like on my LCD and is also what a JPEG image will look like straight out of my converted camera.  Other cameras will look slightly different.


From this point I do one of two things.  I can either use an action that I downloaded from my friend Mark Hilliard's Infrared Atelier's site which performs a channel swap and adds contrast, or I can perform a straight channel swap on my own.  Go to the Channel Mixer layer and select "Red" as the output channel.  Drag the blue all the way to 100 and Red to zero.  Do the opposite for the "Blue" output channel, drag Red to 100 and blue to zero.

This is what results:  Again...everybody's will look different.  Some people will get blue skies and yellow foliage...they can differ that much.


I will use the Hue/Saturation sliders and select cyan, blue, red, and yellow independently and adjust each of them to taste.  I try for a relatively normal blue in the sky, sometimes changing the foliage to yellow, sometimes pink or lavender...depends on my mood.  Other times I'll desaturate the foliage and brighten it to turn it into a black and white with some blue in the sky.  The trick here is...well...there is no trick.  It's whatever floats your boat!

Next I'll make saturation, brightness, and contrast adjustments with a combination of hue/saturation layers and masks, levels, and NIK's Viveza.   My clouds tend to turn blue with the surrounding sky as do the foreground rocks and bridge.  I don't like them blue so I'll use these tools to desaturate the clouds, rocks and bridge to bring them to monotone.  This is a personal preference.


  I created one control point in NIK's Viveza, desaturated it and added contrast and simply copied and pasted that control point about a dozen more times to get all the clouds and rock.  Some of the foliage and sky was desaturated too so I added control points to those areas to negate the effect of the first set of points.  Viveza is a very powerful program and takes a little getting used to, but I have found it invaluable for performing adjustments to infrared images.

For this image...and most to be honest, I brought it into NIK's Color Efex Pro 4 to add more contrast, bring out rock detail, and soften the sky.  This program is possibly the most valuable program I own next to Photoshop CC.  I have a hard time envisioning my workflow without it.

I brought it into Color Efex Pro and applied the Tonal Contrast filter.  But I put negative control points in the sky because I did not want to add contrast and essentially sharpness to the sky.  Too many artifacts result if I don't treat the sky with extra care. I then applied the "Detail Enhancer" filter and applied it to the foreground rocks as well.  Here is the "mask" showing the effect applied mostly to the foreground

Next I used one of my favorite filters...Glamour Glow!  It's not just for portraits!  It can do wonders on a beautiful sky.  I again added control points to keep the effect on the sky and not apply the "glow" to most of the foreground.  There's really no point in adding contrast and structure to the foreground with the detail enhancer only to soften it with Glamour Glow.  Gotta remember the control points!!  Glamour Glow is also a wonderful filter to use on infrared images converted to black and white...the foliage just "Pops" with this filter.


Here is what my image looked like when brought back into Photoshop after running through Color Efex Pro and Viveza.  My clouds are white again and my rocks are no longer blue.


And here is an example of the same shot converted to black and white with NIK's Silver Efex Pro.


Are you sitting there wondering if it's worth all the trouble?   Good!   It is in fact a lot of trouble depending on what filter you get for your camera.  If you love black and white infrared, you can get a straight black and white conversion and not have to mess with all of this in the computer.  If you find that you stick to subtle colors instead of bold ones, go for something other than the 590 "Supercolor" filter and choose something like the 720nm filter. There are options. My reasoning for choosing the 590nm was flexibility. I wanted to have my cake and eat it to...the ability to go black and white or color. And yes, it is a much more involved process to adjust these images...but I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it was worth it! Infrared can be a lot of fun and it's certainly a "different" way to photograph.  I'm sure I'll be upgrading my IR point and shoot some time in the future.  Those mirrorless systems are starting to look good for IR....hmmm...something to think about!

Happy Shooting and Processing Everybody!   Thanks for visiting!

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