Tutorial: simulating infrared photography in Photoshop

Fake infrared photo
This photo was created using technique described in this tutorial. It was full of greens captured on a sunny day. This kind of scenes works best with this technique.

It’s my 3rd tutorial about infrared photography. If you haven’t read previous ones yet, you can read them here:

  • Introduction to infrared photography – will introduce you to the world of infrared photograhy. In this part I talk about equipment needed to get started with IR photography and I also give some tips on taking infrared photos,
  • Post-processing infrared photos – in this part I focus on the post-processing of IR photos to get them this very typical look with blue skies and white foliage.

Both above tutorials assume that you either have an IR-modified camera (meaning that it takes photos in IR wavelengths instead of visible spectrum) or that you use infrared filter that you put in front of your lens. I do the latter – using Hoya R72 screw-in filter.

However, what if you don’t have any of these? Well, Photoshop can come to the rescue (as always) – you can simulate this effect and as you will see it’s very easy.

Please note that simulated effect won’t be identical as capturing real infrared photos but it will be pretty close. Also there are many ways of doing this in Photoshop and below I will just show you one of them.

    Step 1. Open your photo in Photoshop

    Start by opening your image in Photoshop. Please note that images that work best with this technique are the ones that have some sky and some foliage in the frame. Feel free to experiment with other types of images as you can still get some interesting results.
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.

    Step 2. Duplicate background layer and invert colours

    Now, duplicate your background layer by using Layer -> Duplicate Layer menu item or by using CTRL + J keyboard shortcut (CMD + J if you’re on Mac).
    After that, make sure your newly created layer is selected and invert its colours by using Image -> Adjustments -> Invert menu item or by using handy CTRL + I keyboard shortcut (CMD + I if you’re on Mac).
    Inverted colours
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.

    After that change blending mode of this layer to Colour:

    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.

    Step 3. Swap Red & Blue channels

    At the moment the image doesn’t resemble typical infrared photo at all. The sky is orange and it’s supposed to be blue; foliage is blue but it should be grey or white.
    So now it’s time to make our image look like an IR photo – with blue sky and grey/white foliage.
    We will start with creating Channel Mixer adjustment layer. Using this layer we will swap Reds and Blues. This way orange in the sky will become cyan/blue and blue trees will become light red.
    To do that select Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Channel Mixer.
    With your newly created Channel Mixer layer, make sure Red is selected in the Output Channel and set it as below:
    Now select Blue in the Output Channel and set it as below:

    As you might noticed what we basically just did is swapping red & blue channels.

    At this stage the image should look like the one below. The sky already has correct colour. The foliage, however, is now red. Fortunately this is quite easy to fix by decreasing saturation of reds to make them almost grey. And we will do this in the very next step.

    Photo with swapped red and blue channels
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.

    Step 4. Fix saturation of colours

    As you can see in the image above, there are pretty lot of reds and some yellows and greens which normally aren’t visible in typical infrared photos. So the solution is to decrease saturation of them using Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Also we will increase their lightness to make them look a bit brighter (leaves and grass reflects infrared so they normally are close to white). Please note that this step is highly dependant on the image. Sometimes you will need to make just tiny adjustments but sometimes you will have to drag saturation all the way down to 0.
    To do that use Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Hue/Saturation. For the image above I used following settings:
    • Reds:
      • Saturation: -86
      • Lightness: +26
    • Yellows:
      • Saturation: -25
      • Lightness: +71
    • Greens:
      • Saturation: -83
      • Lightness: +57
    • Magentas:
      • Saturation: -33

    And after that I got below image:

    Fake infrared photo
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.
    And that’s all. At this point you can make further adjustments, like increasing contrast, brightening the trees or converting the image to black & white. But I will leave it to you.

    A few more samples

    Below you will find a few more samples of images processed using described technique.

    Fake infrared photo
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.
    Fake infrared photo
    Click on the photo to view it in large size on black background.

    2017-01-17T19:42:46+00:00 January 13th, 2014|Posted in: infrared, IR, landscape, tutorial|