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Processing Infrared Photos in Camera Raw and Photoshop

Levels layer infrared

3. Processing Infrared Photos in Photoshop

The Photoshop part is simple enough. The main step involves swapping the red and blue channels. This will produce an image where the cooler parts (sky, water etc.) will appear blue and the hotter parts (trees, buildings etc.) will appear white, with a hint of red.

In some cases, the image actually looks better without the channel swap. I processed this image of a field and trees without the channel swap step because it gave a more interesting, artistic feel:

Infrared grass trees

For most images though, the channel swap is preferred. I use Photoshop’s adjustment layers for non-destructive editing:

1. In the “Adjustments” panel, click the icon for the “Channel Mixer” adjustment:
Infrared channel mixer layer

2. Under the “Properties” panel, select the “Red” Output Channel. Then reduce the Red value from 100 to 0 and increase the Blue value from 0 to 100:
Channel mixer swap red blue

3. Now select the “Blue” Output Channel. Then change Red from 0 to 100 and Blue from 100 to 0:
Infrared swap channels blue red

4. The channels are now swapped. Next, add a “Levels” adjustment layer:
Infrared levels adjustment layer

5. For each of the three channels, drag the left and right sliders across the empty space in the histogram:
Levels adjustment infrared
Levels layer infrared
Blue levels infrared

6. You should see the colors really pop out now. Next, add a “Curves” adjustment. Select the middle eye-dropper and try clicking various parts of the photo until you get a desirable color balance.
Curves adjustment layer

7. You can fine-tune the image further using the Hue/Saturation and “Brightness and Contrast” adjustment layers. The sky in this image has a slight gradient that makes it look unbalanced. I added a neutral density layer and a mask to make it even.

Here is my final image:
Infrared trees sky

Here is the processed version of the image we looked at earlier:

Infrared of Neelam Valley near Keran
Infrared of Neelam Valley near Keran

I hope that you found this introduction to the world of infrared photography useful. Shooting and processing infrared photos may look intimidating at first, but it is quite straightforward once you get the hang of it.

Feel free to leave a comment below. Also keep following my Infrared set on Flickr to see more of my work.

5 thoughts on “Processing Infrared Photos in Camera Raw and Photoshop

  1. This is an excellent tutorial. Now I can use the correct white balance and post processing for infrared. I have a converted Nikon D80 with a 590nm filter. I hope you can have some tutorials for this 590nm conversion.

  2. Thank you Ahmed for your precise and very clear explanation of how to
    convert infrared images to colour.

    Your tutorial was by far the best one I have studied,and it has been a success for me,though I still have a little difficulty separating the dominant blue of the sky from the other parts of the image and introducing other colours.Perhaps it is down to inexperience.

    Kind regards

    Douglas

  3. It needs to be noted that on Photoshop CC, the process is a little different. The .dcp file should be manually placed in the [UserName]/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Camera Raw/Settings/Adobe/Profiles/ (macOS). After restarting Photoshop, the profile should be in the 1st tab of Camera Raw, in Profile > Browse Profiles > Profiles and should appear automatically in Camera RAW’s first tab from then on.

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