Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Post-Processing an Infrared Image - Step by Step

In this post, I will demonstrate how I approach my post-processing for IR photos. This photo was taken in Alpena Michigan at the Evergreen Cemetery. I used a Nikon D90 with a LifePixel Standard IR (720nm) conversion and a Nikkor 20mm AFD lens.  

The images on this page are pretty small. You can view larger versions by clicking on the image.  

Out of camera image.  NEF opened in Photoshop
This first image is straight out of the camera and converted to a JPG for this article. This is what the NEF image looks like when it is opened with Photoshop. All of these images started with the LifePixel preset white balance. 
Out of camera image. NEF opened in Capture NX2

The second image shows the same NEF opened with Nikon Capture NX2. The image looks different because CNX2 can read and apply the camera picture controls. My post on camera settings will give you my normal setup. This photo has more sharpness and contrast than the Photoshop image. This is the same image I see on the back of the camera.

White Balance set in Capture NX2

I set the white balance using CNX2 and saved the image as a TIFF. I normally do a channel swap at this point but I knew I did not want a blue sky for this image. 

Adobe Camera Raw Adjustments

I selected the TIFF in Adobe Bridge and opened it in Adobe Camera Raw. In ACR, I adjusted the recovery (5) to tone down the highlights, increased the blacks to 9, darkened the image by decreasing the brightness to -3. Contrast was 14, clarity 37, vibrance to 15 and saturation to 16. I opened the image as a copy in Photoshop.

Viveza 2 for structure and contrast.

Contrast and clarity adjustments can produce noise so I used the NIK Define 2 plug-in to clean it up a bit. (I used the default settings.)  I wanted the image to have more structure in the foreground and the sky so I used the NIK Viveza 2 plug in. Structure setting was 60%, contrast was 30%, and the shadow adjustment setting was -48%. Structure adjustments also add noise so I used the NIK Define 2 program again to reduce the noise artifacts.  

Color Efex Pro 2 Low Key Filter to add moodiness.
I wanted this image to be dark and moody so I used the NIK Color Efex Pro 2 plug-in and the low key filter. I adjusted the glow to zero, Standard Low Key to 22, Dynamic Low Key to 56%, and Saturation to 40%.

Final image after color adjustments and final tweaks.

Now it is time to adjust the color. I opened a levels adjustment layer and used the black point picker and chose a point on the foreground fence. I used the white point picker and chose the brightest point in the image. I moved the mid-tone slider a little to the right to darken the image further. I applied a hue and saturation layer to further tweak the color. 

Final tweaks included adjusting the brightness and contrast, a little dodging, and I cropped a little off the right side of the image. I signed the image using the copyright brush (see my post on that) and applied the final sharpening using Smart Sharpening (15%) in Photoshop.
My normal workflow for IR photos is as follows:

1.  White Balance in CNX2
2.  Channel swap (not on this image)
3.  Adjust contrast and structure
4.  Adjust lighting and mood
5.  Adjust color
6.  Final tweaks and sharpening,

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