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Red, Sepia, or Blue Infrared Sky
How to Get Color Right in Infrared Photography

infrared images Yosemite

Sepia Forever
Yosemite Valley in IR

infrared images

Blue IR Sky
San Diego Mission
from Channel Swapping

© Jim Chen 2007

I like the contrasty and tone of BW IR photo; I like sepia IR photo that aged better than Cognac; I like the surreal blue IR sky that is out of this world. If I do not set the camera well, I will only get red.

How to get the color right in IR?

White Balance.

The white balance in IR photography is even more important than in color photography. If not set correctly, we will get a reddish color, and that is very messy to clean. I always suggest to use the custom white balance (called preset by Nikon) and shoot with one of the apeture priority, shutter priority, manual and program mode (the icon mode will default to auto white balance and cause reddish color).

Setting white balance is pretty easy. Shoot a patch of grass under bright sunlight (10:00AM-2:00PM is the best) and use that as white balance reference. For Nikon, we can aslo measure the color without taking photos. I found that for Nikon, set the exposure compensation at -1 or -2 when set the white balance will get better images.(Please do not forget to set the exposure back when take actual photos).

If shoot raw, I found that the raw converter come with the camera is pretty good. Lightroom and Adobe will not handle the white balance well.


I like to bracket. Although the converted camera has a IR sensitivity similar to stock camera, the IR in the scene varies dramatically. For example, the foliages is about medium in color, but very bright in IR. One easy way is to shoot the same composition for couple of frames with different exposure, and delete the one that I do not like on spot, or when get home. I normally use the camera suggest exposure, shoot 2 more, + 0.7, and -0.7 as start. If I see much foliages, I will decrease a little, if I see more rocks, I will increase a little. Different exposure will also give different mood. Some people like pitch black sky, then we will use less exposure. Some people like sepia of blue sky, we will exposure more.

Channel Swapping.

infrared images
to get a blue sky,
please exposure a little more
like the right photo
the image looks unsharp, because it was not sharpened

To get a blue IR sky, we need to exposure until the sky a little brown (We can use that for "sepia" also). Then in Photoshop (or similar software), choose channel mixer,

infrared images
open channel mixer in Photoshop

infrared images
choose red channel, set red around 0, blue around 100
choose blue channel, set red around 100, blue around 0

Please choose the red channel and set the red around 0, and blue around 100. Try to make the whole image not very red or blue tinted. The numbers are not exact, you can choose any you like! Please try to make any neutral objects look neutral and pay attention to the foliages. Then choose the blue channel, set the red around 100, and blue around 0. Please pay attention to the sky.

infrared images
As usual, the curve will make it more punchy!

Please then adjust the curve to your taste!

infrared images
As usual, resize it to your purpose and sharpen it!

Please then adjust the size of the images and then sharpen it use unsharp mask in photoshop accordingly. Some IR images are very soft, and need a lot od sharpening. While some of them, are very contrasty, need no sharpening at all.

Yay, that is it!

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