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Create splendid infrared images with a simple mix

Added on Tuesday 27th of February 2007 01:08 am EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Infrared photography is a great way to capture light that the human eye can’t see. But to capture this mysterious light source you need the right camera equipment … or do you? We’ll show you how to bypass the need for expensive camera filters and simulate infrared photography in the digital darkroom instead.


To show you how to create stunning infrared photographs using Photoshop, we’ll:

     Provide a brief explanation of traditional infrared photography and what results to expect.

     Explain how infrared light differs from normal light and what that means for your images.

     Show you how to use the Channel Mixer to achieve dramatic results for your infrared imagery.

     Detail the appropriate filters necessary to fine-tune your infrared images.



Infrared photography is great for bringing out the mystery and intrigue in a given subject. In Figure A, you can see an image of a park shot in infrared. In regular black and white, this picture wouldn’t be very remarkable, but in infrared, it has a spooky, surreal quality that catches your attention. However, you don’t necessarily need to purchase expensive infrared lenses for your camera in order to achieve this effect. With an understanding of infrared photography and a little channel mixing in Photoshop, you can easily simulate the look of an infrared photo.



Infrared photography

Before digital cameras, you had to use special film that required special processing if you wanted to try traditional infrared photography. In addition, you couldn’t mix infrared shots with normal shots. With digital photography, all you need for infrared is your trusty camera and an infrared filter for your lens.


Tip: For more on shooting infrared photographs with digital cameras, see our companion article “Shoot digital infrared images in 6 easy steps” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.



Most conventional and digital cameras take pictures of visible light. However, when you add an infrared filter, you enable a camera to use the light beyond the visible spectrum—the longer-wavelength light that our eyes don’t normally see. The results are different from what we normally see, as illustrated by the white tree leaves —something very common in infrared shots—shown in Figure A.


Oh, say can you see?

To be specific, the human eye can detect light from 400 nanometers to about 700 nanometers, which corresponds to violet to red in the color spectrum, as illustrated in Figure B. Infrared light has a longer wavelength than the spectrum of light humans can see. Any wavelength out of that spectrum (higher or lower) isn’t visible to the human eye.




The infrared band is broken into two sections called near and far infrared. For infrared photography, we’re primarily concerned with near infrared, which is comprised of the wavelengths that are closest to that of red light. Far infrared is comprised of the longer, cooler wavelengths that can only be detected with specialized equipment for thermal imaging.



The infrared look

When choosing an image for this technique, consider the following ways traditional infrared photography captures light:

        Objects that absorb infrared—such as skies and water—will appear darker than normal.

        Objects that reflect infrared—such as most foliage and hot objects—will appear near white.

        Skin becomes lighter and reflects a soft-focus filter or even a chalky look. Eyes will often appear as dark spots, and bright red lips will become pale.


Gather an image

Now that you have a better understanding of infrared photography and the look it produces, we’ll show you how to take an ordinary image and simulate the look of infrared photography. To get started you’ll need to choose an image.

An image taken outdoors with some foliage is a great choice. If you want to follow along with our image, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file


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