a19 August 2013

Tutorial: post-processing infrared photos

Some time ago I shared a short tutorial: Introduction to Infrared photography. By that time I gave you just a few basic tips on how to take infrared photos and how to set white balance to make them look good. Today I would like to give some tips on how to process them as it isn't that straightforward as you might think.

First of all after you open your infrared photo in Lightroom or Photoshop you will notice that it is very reddish even if you set custom white balance in the camera (what I really recommend). It's because both applications (and many others too) have fixed limits for white balance with minimum value being 2000. But in case of infrared photos you need much lower values to make your IR photos look good.

So what you need to do is to create custom DNG profile to allow lower values.

1. Download free Adobe application known as Adobe DNG Profile Editor.
2. Convert your Infrared photo to DNG. To do that in Lightroom right-click on the photo and select Export -> Export To DNG.
3. Open Adobe DNG Profile Editor and open your saved DNG photo in it.
4. Go to the Color Matrices tab.

Infrared photo opened in Adobe DNG Profile Editor before making any changes to the profile. This is how Adobe applications like Lightroom or Photoshop render infrared photos by default.
5. Move the Temperature slider all the way to the left (-100). Your photo should look a bit better now:

6. You're done with editing DNG profile so save your newly created profile by selecting File -> Export Profile. In order to make your newly created profile accessible in Lightroom and Photoshop make sure to export it under following location:
  • If you're on Windows: C:\Users\USER_NAME\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles
  •  If you're on Mac: /Users/USER_NAME/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Camera Raw/Camera Profiles/
Note that for each camera you own you must create separate profiles.
7. Restart Lightroom (or Photoshop), go to Develop module and navigate to the Camera Calibration tab and select your newly created profile in Profile combo box. Your photo should now look much better. If the profile isn't visible in the profile combo box make sure you exported it to the right place as specified in point 6.
8. Now adjust white balance setting (usually by dragging it to the left). It should look like something like this at this stage:
It doesn't resemble typical infrared photo you probably saw over the net. Most commonly the sky has deep blue colour but in the image above you can clearly see that most common colours are still oranges and reds.

We will fix that in the next few steps.

9. At this stage I make some exposure corrections, fix whites etc. What I really recommend doing is dragging Blacks slider a bit to the left to add your photo some contrast because IR photos are often low contrast.
10. Open your image in Photoshop.
11. Create Channel Mixer adjustments layer.
  1. Select Red output channel and set Red to 0% and Blue to 100%.
  2. Select Blue output channel and set Red to 100% and Blue to 0%.
This way we swapped Red & Blue channel and the image should look much more familiar:

12. Final steps are optional. I usually increase saturation of Blues and Cyans and reduce saturation of Reds and Yellows. I also increase contrast using Levels adjustment layer.

Also note that this tutorial showed just one way of post processing infrared photos. You can aim for completely different style (eg. black & white infrared photos are also very popular). As with any other photos your creativity is the limit.

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