Infrared photography (part II)

Staff Blog

Infrared photography (part II)

Dec 8, 2016

Practical part


Now let's talk about shooting techniques. Given that in IR-photography you often have to shoot with a long exposure, the technique will be largely similar to the use of high-density ND-filters.

At the beginning you have to set the camera. First switch it to the Manual mode, turn off image stabilization, recording file type set to RAW and fix ISO sensitivity at the minimum value. Also, some people recommend to switch off the noise reduction option. In some cases, these settings may affect negatively the final image, so be sure to check it before shooting.

Given that IR-shots often have problems with sharpness, set the aperture to the maximum (but don't forget about diffraction limit for your camera).

Now select the composition and firmly fix the camera on a tripod. Next autofocus on the desired object and then set the focus to Manual mode (preferably via the camera menu).

If you turn off the autofocus on the lens (by the switch or shifting the focus ring, depending on the lens model), you may accidentally shift the focus position. Then carefully screw the IR-filter on the lens.

It is recommended to use the remote control. If not, then set the 2-second time delay. This will prevent the camera shaking.

If you shoot with a DSLR camera, you should use Live View mode, because the optical viewfinder will not show anything. In addition, Live View is often able to show the final picture with the option of exposure compensation. However, on the other hand you should be careful with the values of the EV-scale, because the exposure meter may work incorrectly in the IR-range. So before you start shooting, take a few test shots with different exposure steps. To manage exposure, use the shutter speed setting.

Unfortunately, there is no calculation chart for the exposure of the ND filters. The fact is that the density of IR-filters from different manufacturers may differ significantly. Camera modification is also important, because the volume of the residual IR-light will depend on the intensity of the IR-cut pre-filter.


After shooting you will get (at first glance) a terrible RAW-image in red tones. Now let's consider techniques which will allow you to make a good photo.

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Original RAW-image after shooting with the IR-filter

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IR-image after deep processing (colored version)

This is probably the most difficult part in IR-photography and there will be a lot of technical details. But first let’s consider the most simple methods of RAW-processing that will give results immediately using only the camera or the photo editor in just 1 click. For those who want to get really high-quality images, check “Manual RAW-processing in Photoshop/Lightroom” chapter of this review.

It is important to note that all of the following techniques have been taken from various resources.

Black-and-white RAW-processing in the camera

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, IR- photography is essentially a genre of black and white photography. Therefore, the easiest way of processing will be saving your RAW-file in black-and-white colors.

Many cameras, especially entry level ones, have art-filters pre-sets similar to Instagram etc. Therefore, the "red" RAW-file can be processed directly inside the camera, applying the black-and-white art-filter. The result, of course, will be different from those that we get using other techniques, but it will still look unusual.

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Original RAW-image after shooting with the IR-filter


IR-image after processing in the camera

Black-and-white RAW-processing in photo editors

Editors for computers have greater functionality, so it is possible to achieve better results with RAW-processing than using the camera software. You can adjust the exposure, contrast and manage the light and dark tones.

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IR-image after processing in the camera


IR-image after processing in the photo editor

Perhaps someone will say that simply converting the image from the colored to black and white is not quite right. Partly they will be right, because with the usual image a lot will depend on how to convert each of the colors. However, in our case we have the image with only the red color, therefore fine-tuning each of the colors is not necessary.

Automated RAW-processing in Photoshop

Now let's see how to make partially colored IR-shots. It is more difficult to do, because it needs to change the color channels. Fortunately there is a quick and relatively simple option. On the Kolari Vision website there is a ready set of scripts for Photoshop. All you need is to open your "red" RAW-image and apply 1 of 5 scenario.

That's all :)

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Original RAW-image after shooting with the IR-filter

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IR-image after applying the Photoshop script

Manual RAW-processing in Photoshop/Lightroom

Well, after shooting we have a RAW-file in red colors. For further processing we need "Adobe DNG Profile Editor".

There are versions for Windows and Mac and "Adobe Photoshop" or "Adobe Lightroom" editors.

Step 1: Making the camera profile

Now we have to make the camera profile (this is a one-time process). First you need to convert any RAW-file from your camera to a DNG-file. If you do it in Photoshop, after you open the RAW-file, you will see a dialog box for the "Camera Raw" plug-in, which you need to click the "Save As" button to save file in DNG. If you are using Lightroom the procedure is even easier - just open the RAW-file, open the "Export" menu and choose the DNG file format.

Then you need to run "DNG Profile Editor" and open this DNG-file. In the opened window choose "Color Matches" tab and move the temperature slider to the far left (most cold) position.

Next go to menu "File > Export [camera name] IR profile" and save the profile in any temporary directory (you can use any profile name, but it should be clear for you). The similar procedure should be done for all cameras you plan to use for IR-shooting. And finally the profiles should be placed in the certain folder so "Lightroom" and "Photoshop" can see them.

It should be noted that Adobe often changes the location of the profile folders for new versions of its applications. So we’ll give the path location for the most recent versions. If they do not work with your current version, we recommend to follow the Adobe support forum. We are sure there you’ll find the actual path for your version.

Profiles should be placed into this folder:

MAC: MacintoshHD/Users/[yourusername]/Library/ApplicationSupport/Adobe/C ameraRaw/CameraProfiles/
Windows: X:/Users/[yourusername]/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/CameraRaw/CameraProfiles/

Some users who are using current versions still complain that the paths above do not work.

In this case Adobe recommend to use these paths (Adobe applications can use few profile folders at once):

MAC: Macintosh HD/Applications/Adobe Photoshop Lightroom X/Right-click Show Package Contents/Resources/Camera Profiles/
Windows: X:/ProgramFiles/Adobe/AdobePhotoshopLightroomX/Resources/CameraProfiles/

After restarting the applications the camera profiles should be visible.

Step 2: Initial processing in "Lightroom" or "Camera Raw"

Now you can proceed directly to processing. As an example I will use "Lightroom", but the same procedures you can do in "Camera Raw" add-on, which launches when opening a RAW-file in "Photoshop".

Please note, the procedures in the "Step 1" is a one-time procedure, therefore the processing for all IR-shots should always be started from "Step 2".

So, when you open your RAW-file, first you should go to "Camera Calibration" section and apply the IR-profile of your camera we made in "Step 1". Then go to "Basic" section and adjust white balance so that foliage becomes white. We recommend you to use eyedropper tool on the leaves with fine-tuning using the Temp. and Tint sliders.


IR-image after initial processing

Now the picture looks much better. Also, if necessary you can make crop and adjust exposure, contrast etc.

Step 3: Final processing

If initial processing was in "Camera Raw", then just click the "Open Image" button and your image will open in "Photoshop". If processing was in "Lightroom", then just select "Edit in Adobe Photoshop" option in pop-up menu.

Now, when you are in "Photoshop", you need to mix color channels (red color should be replaced by blue and vice versa - blue by red). Go to menu "Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer". Here choose "Red" for "Output Channel" and in the "Source Channel" section set "0%" for "Red" and "100%" for "Blue". Then do the same for blue color - choose "Blue" for "Output Channel" and in the "Source Channel" section set "100%" for "Red" and "0%" for "Blue".


IR-image after color mixing

Now your image is quite close to the final result and everything will depend on personal preference. For example, you can go to "Image > Adjustments > Levels" and slightly adjust the red and blue channels.


IR-image after adjusting levels

And eventually go to "Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation" and adjusting tint, saturation and brightness of blue color (sometimes of cyan) and decide what to do with red color. Usually, people prefer to remove the red, making the foliage completely white. However, sometimes yellow could be good looking and you can change the hue.

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IR-image after deep processing (colored version)

That’s all and the only thing you need is to save the file in the desired format.


IR-photography is another genre which unfairly has lack of attention. This quite difficult technique requires a lot of time and serious investment in the equipment and accessories. And also it forces the photographer to think completely different. But creativity does not have easy ways.

Not everyone may find this technique interesting, but surely there will be those, to whom this article will help to make their first steps in this genre.

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