My Infrared Processing


First, I am NOT a writer. My use of the English language leaves a lot to be desired. Not apologizing for that.  Just say’in.

Over the years and due to some medical conditions my memory has become a little mushy and I tend to forget words, names, etc. So my writing is somewhat inconsistent. But I never forget an image, a scene, place, a road, a trip or visual cues.  And I don’t forget what I did to capture something I want (uh, usually). So please bear with me.

I shot my first ‘real’ photograph in 1965 during military leave after basic training using my father’s Leica (I think it was an M3 but am not sure.)  It was a great shot (several) of a blizzard in NYC.  All are lost however, having disappeared over countless moves during my service career. We didn’t have an internet back then (well, we did but that’s a whole different story).

I tried to continue a photography hobby while in the service but was not able to get beyond typical consumer cameras until around 1968-69 when I was able to catch a cargo flight to the airbase in Guam and buy the new Canon A1 (at a huge military discount). I loved that camera to death. Literally. I dropped it off the Nu’uana Pali along the Pali Highway on Oahu in Hawaii.  Bummer. Lesson learned.  Like, NEVER don’t wear a strap! Had beautiful 50mm FD glass, too.

Maybe that camera is the reason I love the Sony A7rii so much – it feels like my old Canon A1 in my hands.

Another thing to note: I always shoot manual mode, have ISO set to 100 (except in rare circumstances) and shoot auto-focus whenever possible (I’m nearing 72 and my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.)

I use several programs to process my photographs:

Capture One Pro**
ON1 Photo 10**
DxO Optics Pro**
Google Picasa
Google Nik Photo Collection (as stand-alone and plug-in)
Xara Designer Pro X10

*Worst RAW processor
**Best RAW processors

To avoid confusion all of the procedures I detail below use only Lightroom, Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, Nik Define2 for selective noise reduction and Nik Output Sharpener 3.  Although I will always import all photos into the Lightroom catalog it is only as a base for eventual editing (as needed). It’s far too slow for my taste.

Because I use more than one program from multiple manufacturers I don’t import directly to Lightroom from the SD card: first I import SD card images into Google Picasa which does a good job of ordering imported content by directory and also displays both the RAW and JPG files side-by-side. So no matter what program I decide to use I know exactly where it is.  

If you don’t want RAW and JPG showing up in Lightroom set the Edit>Preferences>Import Options>Treat JPEG files next to RAW files as separate photos to UNCHECKED (by default it is checked).  

Once all content is pulled off the SD card I use Picasa to cull unwanted images (Picasa displays the JPG versions as black and white).

FYI – I always set my Sony A7R cameras for JPG output that will closely approximate the scene I am actually shooting for infrared, black and white and color.  I realize there are a lot of Sony haters out there that bitch about Sony’s saturated color but you can adjust it down to be reasonably accurate.  And in some cases up. 

Finally, I shoot Infrared Black and White – the infrared filter is rated at 720nm. 720 is considered the ‘basic’ filter. The Near IR spectrum (there are two spectrums, near and far) we work with goes from about 680nm up to 900nm. 

Oh. Set image exports to 16-bit, ProPhoto color if possible. Your results will be MUCH better. It is common to get banding on IR images.

But before we start let's briefly discuss an important aspect of infrared photography - "hotspots".

Lens Hotspots

Hotspots are a common problem in infrared photography and manifest themselves as a 'brighter' and 'discolored' region around the center focal point of the image. Most lenses exhibit this anomaly. A believe it occurs mostly on better lenses that have coated optics, especially newer and more sophisticated designs. From what I have read it has something to do with light bouncing between various (or adjacent)optical coatings with the lens. Since lenses are designed for the visible light spectrum I assume that the excellent coatings manufacturers apply (such as the superb Zeiss T* coatings) do not prevent such reflections. Absolutely no fault of the lens designer but the nature of the beast. 

Also recall that all/most digital camera sensors are designed with an IR 'blocking' filter built-in when you have a lens converted to IR that blocking filter is removed and an IR pass-through filter is installed. Naturally, none of that is taken in to consideration when a lens is designed. My lovely Zeiss Batis T* 18mm and 25mm wide lenses exhibit significant hot spotting.

You can see the hot spots clearly in images #1 and #2. By image #3 it is barely perceptible. It is almost impossible to eliminate the anomaly entirely but very careful application of targeted reduced exposure, contrast, temperature, tinthighlightsshadows and clarity usually masks it pretty well - if not completely.

There are some high-quality lenses I have used that do not exhibit this problem such as the Canon 17mm/TS-E Architectural lens, the Canon 14mm Super-Wide Angle and the Canon 11-24mm rectilinear Wide Angle Super Zoom. I own the 17 and 14 and they are large, pricey and quite heavy - not a convenient lens to carry about.

Lenses Tested

[coming soon]


The first image is the RAW import. No processing.  WYSIWYG. SOOC. Whatever.

Not all cameras will look like this – it depends on what custom settings are applied in camera. I’ve learned that it just doesn’t matter what it looks like at this point FULL SIZE

The second image has had basic infrared color correction applied in Lightroom and includes some tweaking of Brightness (Exposure), Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, a tiny bit of Clarity and Vibrance (yes, it makes a difference) and, of course, Lens Correction. FULL SIZE

Image 3 has been exported to Photoshop as a PSD file. Tonal correction and dust spot removal has been applied. This is only the first dose of spot removal as many more will show up once it is converted to Black and White.  While in Photoshop any additional changes are made such as removing unwanted artifacts, trash, small birds (which usually are perceived as dust spots in the sky), etc. At this stage I also correct and remove electrical wires if needed and if feasible. I usually find that leaving electrical wires in place is preferable to removing them in Photoshop because, as good as Photoshop is, artifacts are almost always left behind (especially on areas of intersecting lines and over window angles), plus using the spot removal tool reduces resolution in the area. During this stage I will also remove things that distract from or do not help the image in anyway. This is not journalism; it is art (but I still like to stay true to my scene).

Once back into Lightroom I performed final cropping. FULL SIZE

Image 4 has been imported into Silver Effects Pro 2 for black and white conversion. At this stage I will also apply film filters, toning, etc., as desired. I do not have a fixed formula for this - it's entirely per image.  I also like the Control Point feature as it has an effect on the specific tonal/color ranges within a given circle/area, unlike the global range of Lightrooms Radial Filter. FULL SIZE

Image 5 is the final image with black and white toning applied in Silver Effects Pro 2.  I usually start with a preset such as High Structure (harsh), Fine Art Process or Wet Rocks and work from there.  I don’t have custom presets as every image is unique and custom presets tend to reduce the amount of thought you apply to the processing of each image.  I deal with many infrared images so there are not a whole lot of base colors to work I need to be more careful.  I also tweak Soft Contrast, Structure and Grain quite a bit.  My favorite film type is Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X as it was a film I once used.  Except then it was ASA, not ISO.  As for Toning my favorites are Selenium and Ambrotype, judiciously applied. FULL SIZE

Image number 6 is a new PSD file that has additional spot removal applied. The spots increase once you convert to black-and-white. The content-aware brush in Photoshop is far superior to the Lightroom tool which I find rather useless.  Using this tool, I zoom to 100% or even 200% then carefully scan across the image using a circular motion with the mouse allowing my peripheral vision to pick up any spots. Changes at screen resolution are hard to notice. FULL SIZE

Image 7 has been run through Nik Output Sharpener.  This is a great tool but just be careful –a little goes a long way and you can easily overdo it.  And how much you sharpen depends on what your output will be.  My is both print (full resolution for Super B) and 2000px JPG’s at 100% for web portfolio display.  Changes at screen resolution are hard to notice. FULL SIZE

Image 8 Is the final product ready for printing. I also save this as a Print File directly in Lightroom. FULL SIZE

Image 9 is the same final but with a mild custom Orton filter applied in Lightroom. Once this is done then I decide which of the two final images I will eventually use. I don’t often do this.

Finally there is the matter of time. Athough we all devote plenty of time to adjusting our photographs to make them the best they can be it will take even longer for infrared. 

Hope all of this helps someone!