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Recreate infrared photography in Photoshop

You don't need a dedicated camera to take an infrared image - you can do it in Photoshop instead. We explain how, in just six simple steps.

Tree leaves look white, just like in an infrared image, without a costly camera conversion. The church and other buildings will remain unaffected

Infrared photography has been around for many years. Although it’s often associated with black and white, there are colour forms, too. It’s best to remember that infrared is an interpretive medium, but it doesn’t necessarily need a special infrared camera to achieve a similar effect - it can be done in Photoshop CS6 and most other versions too.

The best way of getting a similar infrared effect is to take an image with lots of green in it. Leaves and grass turn pure white in infrared, so images that contain green in abundance will be most affected.

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01. Duplicate the Layer

First, it’s important to duplicate the Background layer and work on a copy because the layer is going to be converted to black and white and radically changed using the Channel Mixer. Also, this layer will become merged with another layer copy, so avoid working on the Background layer at all costs.

02. The Monochrome Channel Mixer

Open the Channel Mixer and tick the Monochrome button at the bottom left. In order to create a pseudo IR effect, some radical changes to the colour palette are going to be necessary. Push the red and greens to positive values, around +120 and +50 respectively, then drop blue to -100.

03. Make Shadows/Highlights corrections

Make any corrections to blown highlights or blocked out shadows using this tool. Although the Channel Mixer is a great creative tool, it’s easy to lose detail by pushing the sliders too far. Make sure to check the image histogram to examine the picture’s tones.

04. Add Gaussian Blur

Duplicate the layer once more and add Gaussian Blur. This technique is more depictive of IR film than digital, and it’s a good technique to add a dreamy soft-focus feel. Push the blur to about 10-15 pixels and this will seem to make a mess of things.

05. Change the Opacity

Now drop the Opacity of the layer and the image will snap back into focus. Drag the slider to 0% and then, while staring at the image, increase the Opacity to a point that looks complimentary and not too excessive. Now flatten all the layers and add some final polish.

06. Add Curves adjustments

Either as an Adjustment Layer or as a standard Curves adjustment, push the mid-tones of the image upwards and add some lift to that Gaussian Blur glow. Again, keep an eye on the histogram, but you should find that neither the shadows nor the highlights will move very much.

Words: David Clapp

This article first appeared in Practical Photoshop magazine, the number one magazine for lovers of photography and image-editing.

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