Friday, April 6, 2007

Post Processing your IR Image - Simplified!

I get a lot of requests and questions on the subject of Post Processing the IR Image once it's been captured by the Digital Camera. It's a subject that can be very difficult to provide an answer to without going into a long drawn out detailed explaination. Up to this point, I have generally avoided the subject, but it's obvious that with the "Beginners Section" almost fleshed out, it is time to address this, the other half of IR Photography. No one I know ever leaves their images unchanged straight out of the camera. They all do quite a bit of post processing to get the stunning results that you see.

I do have a couple of links in my Useful Links Section. One has steps for a monochrome conversion, and one with Red/Blue Channel swap steps to get False Color IR images.

Useful Links

One thing's for certain, after the Image is taken with the camera, the creative process really just begins. There are as many workflows and creative styles for IR Post Processing as there are IR Photographers. People really develop their distinctive and artistic styles in the image editors. Just take a look at the Featured Photographer Section to get an idea of what is possible and just how diverse the results can be.

There is no way I can cover all the possible ways to Post Process your IR image in one post article, so I have decided to put together a simplified work-flow that I often use to produce Black and White IR Pictures. There are so many individual ways to do this that I must emphasize that there are alternatives to every step that I present, so use your favorite editor and editor methods.

I've found a free plugin that works with most of the major editors, that makes quick work of the conversion to Black and White. It offers a great degree of control, as well as quite a number of toning options in addition to monochrome.

Virtual Photographer can be found and downloaded at:

Be sure to read the instructions for installing the Plugin to your editor while you are at the site.
I have found that it works with Photoshop CS2 and various versions of Photoshop Elements.

When you have the plugin downloaded and installed, you are ready to open your image in your editor of choice. I will be using Photoshop CS2 here but, these steps are pretty generic and will work in most all editors. If you happen to prefer an editor that Virtual Photographer does not work with, a bit of searching the internet will turn up numerous ways to convert your image file to Black and White, which you can substitute.

Here are the Workflow steps. Nothing presented here is Rocket Science, so if you already know how to do a step, you do not have to click the link. If however you do not know how, I have provided a link with detailed steps. So click or skip, as required.

I have chosen a JPG image to work on, it is the most generic output image and not all cameras are capable of producing a RAW file. So, you RAW shooters may just want to review the steps, as you will be able to make some of these adjustments in your RAW editor.

My image was not very level. I'm sure that this only happens to me, but just in case you like that one image that you happened to tilt the camera on, here's one way to level it back up.

Level the Image

I like to do a quick Contrast Enhancement step on just about all of the images that I post process. The change is not dramatic, actually barely perceptable, but I like what it does, so I include it. Here is the explaination about what is going on from Luminance Landscape.

Luminous Landscape

Contrast Enhancement

This image, and most all of them out-of-camera really could stand a Levels Adjustment. If you need to know how, click on the link.

Adjust Levels

Apply the Virtual Photographer filter to make the Black and White Conversion.

Black & White Conversion

I like to make a final Brightness and Contrast Adjustment at this point. Don't use my settings, but experiment with your images. These numbers worked well for this particular image file.

Brightness and Contrast Adjustment

Finally, you may want to apply a small amount of unSharp Mask to sharpen up the image. Don't go overboard with the sharpening. Preview and Undo until you are happy with the way your own picture looks.

Final Sharpen

So there you have it. It may seem like a lot of steps, but you may choose to skip some of them based on how your image looks to start with, and just what result you are trying to achieve. You should consider this only the very beginning of your own personal artistic style.

-=- Jerry -=-



Bruce said...

Great tutorial, Jerry: straightforward and easy to follow. The time you've invested really shows in the quality of the presentation. This one will help a lot of people at all skill levels.

Greg said...

Hey, great information. I thought I would share the source for my workflow.

Its has wonderful screenshots and great step by step.

Thanks for the great information!

Infrared Photography Buzz said...

Thank You Greg,

I totally agree with you. Joseph Levy's channel swap post process workflow is a classic. It was done from a Sony Nightshot image, but it works very well from IR images taken with other cameras.

There is a link to Joseph's workflow in my "Useful Links" on this site if that makes it easier to find.

-=- Jerry -=-