Infrared Photography

Infrared Photography

In this tutorial you will learn how to take and process infrared (IR) images.You probably came across some infrared photos already without noticing it and were stunned by their beauty and maybe wondering how their special appearance was achieved. Most photographers choose a blue tone for their infrared images because then they will get a winterly look but sepia tones are found as well. However, the most important characteristic of an IR shot are the white trees and plants because they reflect IR rays almost completely. Enough said now–time for some action!

1. Requirements

If you want to take infrared images you first need an IR filter and a camera that can “see” IR light. Since some newer cameras have a built-in filter that prevents IR rays from coming through, you have to check if your camera can see IR light by pointing a normal remote control to the camera (with no filter attached). If you can see the infrared LED glow then your camera is capable of taking IR shots.

There’s a variety of IR filters available. A good standard filter is the Hoya R72 infrared filter. The “72″ indicates that it will block light of wavelengths of 720 nm and less. You can also buy a colored IR filter for better contrast in different situations but if you edit your pictures in Photoshop then you can apply a color filter with the program as well, so a colored filter is not really necessary.

2. Taking the shot

You can hardly see anything when you look through an IR filter. Since it blocks a huge amount of light the best shots are taken in bright sunlight with the sun in your back for maximum IR reflection. But even if it’s bright, you will have to use a tripod because the exposure will be much longer than normal.

If there’s enough light you can simply attach the filter to your lens and start shooting without any problems. The camera will use the best setting for focus, shutter speed and aperture automatically. However, if the lighting conditions are not good enough problems with the autofocus may occur. In such cases, you have to focus manually while keeping the filter attached to the lens. If you remove the filter to focus manually the photo will be slightly blurred because IR rays do not have the same focal point than visible light rays.

3. Processing the image in Photoshop

Your infrared image has a red/magenta hue. Additionally, it may be very noisy depending on your exposure settings and camera quality. However, the noise can be fixed easily with Photoshop and also the hue is no problem. Here’s my original image:

Orginial IR photo

The first step is to open the channel mixer (image > adjustments > channel mixer). Choose “Red” as the output channel and move the source channel slider of red to 0% and the slider of blue to 100%. Then choose “Blue” from the output channel menu and slide red to 100% and blue to 0%. You should get something like this:

After applying the channel mixer
Now it’s time to adjust the levels. Click on image > adjustments > levels (or press [Ctrl+L] and click on the “auto” button. Here’s the result of this action:
Levels 1
Additionally, you can adjust the levels manually. Choose the red channel in the drop-down menu and move the black slider a bit to the right (where the red slider is):
red channel

Then choose the green channel and move the sliders as indicated below:

Green channel

Now it’s time to change the hue. Click on image > adjustments > hue/saturation (or press [Ctrl+U]) and check the “colorize” box on the right. Move the sliders of hue and saturation until you get a result that you like. Mine looks like this:

Hue change
For reducing the noise I recommend Photoshop plugins specially designed for this job rather than the Photoshop noise reduction feature (despecle). With plugins like Noise Ninja or Neat Image you will get much better results. For the final step I also applied a bleaching filter before reducing the noise so that I get even more contrast so at the end my picture looks like this:
final result

Hope you had some fun with this tutorial. If you want to practice the techniques with my original picture, you will find the link to download it on the right.

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