Anything Photoshop or Photography

Some Digital Infrared Fun!


I have always wanted to try this technique, so I finally got up the courage to see if I could get something interesting without actually taking an old camera and converting it for infrared picture taking. Maybe sometime I will do this, but right now I am having fun using all my Photoshop tricks to get what I think is a reasonable infrared look. Most infrared images have a small amount of graininess and glow in them. Trees appear white and skies very dark – can produce very surreal effects. There are many techniques that do this, so I will cover just a few that I like.

Technique One – the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer

The image above is of Laupahoehoe Harbor (link to the tsunamis that hit this area in 1946 and 1960) and is actually one of my favorite color images from my trip to the Big Island. Since infrared photography does well with landscapes that have blue skies with white clouds and nice green foregrounds, I thought I would try this image first.

I used a technique that I learned a while back from Photoshop TV (Episode 41) where the Photoshop Guys say it takes the blue color in an image and makes them really dark, and the greens and makes them really light. This is a pretty simple explanation, but I believe it created a very true infrared look. Below are the steps used in Photoshop:

1. Open a landscape image that has sky, clouds, trees, grass – something similar to the above.
2. Add a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer and check Monochrome box, which converts the image to a black and white. Use these numbers to start with:
Red +60
Green +60 (many resources say start with +200)
Blue – Move until you get a nice dark sky – then readjust the greens to a lighter amount
Adjust the Reds – foreground gets more contrast and lightens up
3. Create a composite layer – CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E.
4. For this step you need to make sure your Foreground color is set to white (it took me forever to figure this out – my glow kept coming out orange-duh) and your image is in 8-bit mode (Adjust -> Mode -> 8 bit) for this filter to work.
5. Run the Distort -> Diffuse Glow and use these slider settings:  Graininess (adds noises to image) 2; Glow Amount 2; and Clear Amount (detail visible) 10-12. (In Scott Kelby’s book referenced below, he suggest Graininess set to 3, Clear Amount 15, and move Glow Amount until you just get a glow without blowing out the highlights.)

There is a built-in Black and White Infrared preset in the Channel Mixer that you can try, but it makes the sky too light where it should have a nice dark look. After creating this image, I spent a few minutes looking in other resources for more information. Scott Kelby’s The Photoshop Channels Book has a small chapter on the above. He states “…..in infrared, if they (the Red, Green and Blue sliders) don’t add up to 100%, you’ll have a tint when you’re done.” On my image above, I used Red (+61), Green (+200) and Blue (-163) and Constant (-18). The Constant slider can be lowered to keep the whites from being so blown out, which I noticed in my image. I found I did not like the Diffuse Glow on any of my images so I did not use it (it was making the whites murky-looking if Diffuse Glow Amount is set above 1).

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Technique Two – Using the Black and White Adjustment Layer

This dreamy image was actually taken in Hawaii along the road to Waipi’o Valley even though the Infrared effect makes it look like the U.S. New England coast in winter. I started with the Infrared preset in the Black and White Adjustment Layer drop-down field and just started moving sliders until I got that dark sky (blue slider set to -34) and white trees (green slider set to +241 and don’t forget the yellow +195 and red -40 sliders too). To get the really pretty glow I could not get with the Photoshop filter, I ended up using Glamour Glow in Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 with the Glow Amount set all the way up at +100. Then back in Photoshop, I painted out on a white layer mask using a black brush some of the areas that were overdone. The Glamour Glow filter really added the dreamy feel I wanted for this image.

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Technique Three – Nik Color Efex Pro’s Infrared Film Filter

This filter is why I decided to write a blog on Infrared imaging. The large tropical plants were along the pathway to Akaka Falls on the Big Island in Hawaii. The actual color image does not show off the plant leaf structure as nicely as the infrared effect does. It is interesting to see that the really bright green leaves look very light in this image, but as the tone of green goes darker, the leaves go much darker. This image stacked the Infrared Film filter (Method 2, Lighten Highlight 24, Brightness 30, Contrast 91, and Shadows 67); Detail Extractor filter (Detail Extractor 41, Contrast 69, Saturation -12, and Normal mode with the Overall Opacity slider set to 3% and + Control Points set in the middle bottom and trees on upper right to improve the detail in these areas only); and Glamour Glow filter (Glow 27, Saturation -27, Glow Warmth 0, Shadows 41 and Highlights 44). This image definitely has the soft glow effect and a little graininess that is characteristic of the Infrared look.

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Technique Four: Use a Lightroom Infrared Preset

This one took me by surprise – I did not think it would work that great but as it turns out, it did a pretty nice job without much adjusting. (Click on image to see original color shot on Flickr.) You must have Lightroom to use this preset that can be downloaded from the Adobe Exchange and is called GA B&W infrared 01. The power in this preset lies in the Camera Calibration settings where the Tint is set at -100 (towards the green side) and the Blue Primary Hue is very negative – this all helps give the infrared look. I mainly went into the B&W panel since the preset uses it and adjusted my blues, reds and yellows a little; adjusted the Tone Curve by dragging in the image until I got the look I liked; and then added a small dark vignette to the edges. I “Edited a copy with Lightroom Adjustments in Photoshop” where WOW-Frame 09 layer style was added and that was it. (All the above images used this frame – see my Tidbits Blog Let’s Focus on OnOne’s Focus Point 2 – Nice Little Plug-in!) Very easy.

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Thought I would add this image just to show you that the infrared look can be used on something other than a landscape – this was using the Lightroom preset also. (Click on image to see original color shot on Flickr.) I think what I learned is that the image must have pretty striking blues and greens to get the look. Infrared images can get a very cluttered look if you are not careful – I had a hard time making sure you could really see what the image was showing. There were several images that just did not turn out at all so it does take some practice to get it right. It seems easy to destroy the quality of the image – lots of noise shows up or edges get blurred so that can be hard to control also.

My bottom line is use the Lightroom preset on a Virtual Copy if you think you might want to try infrared on an image. If it looks pretty good after playing with the sliders a bit, take it into Photoshop and try the other methods or plug-ins to see if you can get a better look. Personally, almost everything I tried with the Lightroom preset looked nice with some adjusting. I am not sure I love the infrared effect but if I decided to use it, that is probably the method I will use. Hope this little analysis helped a few of you out – there is so much out there on infrared photography but I believe the methods above are the easiest ways to get good result in Photoshop. Give it a try…..Digital Lady Syd

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