Nathan Frank Bandstand in Pagoda Lake, Forest Park, St. Louis,
Infrared,  Photo Processing

False Color Infrared Photography Processing Tips

Infrared photography makes use of wavelengths of light that fall outside the visible spectrum and makes for some very creative photographs.  Many people process their infrared photographs in black and white resulting in snowy white trees and foliage.

But for me, false color infrared image processing allows for ultimate creativity in developing your images.  I find there isn’t an exact playbook for creating false color images, rather a set of tools to help determine the artistic direction of your photographs.

I shoot with a Canon 6d modified to 590nm and an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III modified to 665nm.  These two conversions allow more color than other conversions higher on the light spectrum like 720nm or 850nm.  Check out this page for a comparison.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss some of the tools that I use to determine the look I want for my false color infrared images and how to process them.

I’m going to assume you know how to create an Adobe DNG Profile for your infrared camera and install it in Adobe Lightroom.  If not, here is a good tutorial from Kolarivision.

Topaz Labs

Infrared False Color Post Processing Tips

Channel Mixer

Swapping the Red and Blue Channels using the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer will give you blue skies and yellow/orange trees.  Depending on your white balance setting, the trees may look more pink.  These can be adjusted using the HSL Adjustment Layer.

Channel Mixer
Channel Mixer

In the Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer:

  • Select Red in the Output Channel drop down.  Change the value of the Red Slider to 0 and the Blue Slider to 100. 
  • Select Blue in the Output Channel drop down.  Change the value of the Blue Slider to 0 and the Red Slider to 100.

HSL Adjustment Layer

Use the HSL Adjustment Layer to determine where you want to go with your false color photograph.  Slide the Hue slider to determine the color tone.  Also, slide the Saturation and Lightness slider to determine the right feel for your image.


Selective Color and Brightness

I like to selectively adjust the color and brightness in the photograph, so that it doesn’t look like a single tone across the image. There are several ways to selectively adjust your image.

Color Range Selection

Under the Selection Menu in Photoshop, there is a Color Range selection feature that allows you to select colors in the photograph and if you have an adjustment layer with a layer mask selected it will automatically apply the selection to your mask.

Once you have the Color Range window open, click on the color in the photograph that you want to select. Use the Range and Fuzziness sliders to fine tune your selection.  

Tip:  try to select a central point in the area you want to modify.  This will give you greater control using the Range Slider.  You can also use the + and – eye dropper tools to add and subtract from the selection.   You can also paint on your layer mask to put the final touches on your mask.

Use this selection tool in combination with the HSL, Color Balance, and Brightness / Contrast adjustment layers to selectively edit your image.

Color Range Selection
Color Range Selection

Luminosity Masks

Luminosity Masks are selections based on the different brightness levels of the image.  You can create them yourself in Photoshop but this can be time consuming.  Check out the Lumenzia masking panel by Greg Benz.  Lumenzia allows you quickly add very precise luminosity masks to your image layers.

I use Lumenzia a lot for editing false color images.  I also use Lumenzia for editing black and white infrared images – this helps to selectively add contract to an image.

Lumenzia Luminosity Mask
Lumenzia Luminosity Mask

Color Efex Pro 4

Color Efex Pro 4 by DxO has a lot of great filters and and also recipes (combinations of preset filters) you can download.  I often scroll through the recipes to help determine a look or feel for my infrared photograph.  Some of my favorite filters in Color Efex Pro 4 for false color images are:

  • Film Efex: Vintage
  • Bleach Bypass
  • Glamour Glow
  • Tonal Contrast
  • Pro Contrast
  • Darken / Lighten Center

Take some time and scroll thru the filters, you’ll soon develop your own favorites.  Also, try launching Color Efex Pro 4 from Photoshop.  You can selectively apply the effects of Color Efex Pro 4 by using a layer mask with Luminosity Masks or Color Range Selection.

I used the above techniques to create this final version of the image.

Johnson Covered Bridge, Infrared
Johnson Covered Bridge, Infrared

Written by Martin Belan

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