Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

In this tutorial, I will be showing an easy and effective way to simulate an infrared look from just an ordinary photo, no expensive infrared cameras required. Infrared photography creates a bright white effect on green foliage, adds glow to objects and can alter colours drastically. There are many ways to recreate this look so feel free to add your own spin on this basic technique.

Step 1: Materials and Camera Settings

Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

Materials

  • Camera (I used this point and shoot camera, but of course if you have a DSLR available that would be even better)
  • Photoshop (I used CS6 but I believe CS5 will work as well)
  • Tripod (optional)

    Camera Settings

    Just to briefly explain how I took my pictures, I had my camera on program mode. As I was shooting outside on a bright winter day, I had my white balance set appropriately. The exposure I adjusted shot to shot depending on which direction I was facing, but for the most part it was set a bit below zero, one or two units to the left. This technique works best on scenes with a lot of colour and texture, which is why greenery works very well, and lots of sky and water.

    Step 2: Open Image

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Select the image you want to convert to infrared and open in photoshop.
  • Duplicate the original layer either by right clicking on it and selecting 'Duplicate Layer' or by pressing 'Ctrl/Cmd' and 'J'. You always want to keep the original layer so you can fall back on it and compare it to the editing you do.

    Step 3: Adding Contrast with Curves

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. In the dialog box we can add contrast to the image by moving the line on the graph up near the white end (right) and down towards the black end (left), creating an 'S' curve. Adjust this to your liking.

    Step 4: Curves Con't

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

  • Select the Curves Layer and the Duplicate Background Layer, right click and select Merge Layers. This will combine them into one layer now called Curves.

  • Your new layer should be more vivid and have more contrast.

    Step 5: Convert to Black and White

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White or go to the New Adjustment Layer Symbol at the bottom of the Layers palette and select the same thing. This will convert the photo to black and white instantly.

    Don't close the dialog box just yet!

    Step 6: Convert to Infrared

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • In the Black and White Dialog box, select the preset Infrared.

    Step 7: Adjusting the Colour Channels

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • In the same dialog box, you can adjust the different colour channels. This will brighten or darken parts of the photo. You don't have to have the exact same numbers, just adjust until you're happy with the look of the photo you've chosen.

    Tip: If you ever need to open the dialog box again to readjust, simply right click on the adjustment layer and select Edit Adjustment.

    Step 8: Lower the Opacity

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to the Opacity meter in the Layer Palette and decrease the opacity. I lowered mine to 70% but you can change it until you're happy with it. Doing this allows the colour of the layer beneath it to peek through.

    Step 9: What We've Just Done

    This is a comparison of the changes we've just made.

    Top Left: Converting to Black and White

    Top Right: Changing Preset to Infrared

    Bottom Left: Adjusting the colour channels

    Bottom Right: Lowering Opacity

    Step 10: Altering the Hue/Saturation

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Alter the Hue and Saturation until you're happy with your image. For this I looked up 'infrared photography' for inspiration and I liked the pink foliage look so I adjusted mine to be soft pink.

    Step 11: Comparison

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

    This is before and after altering the hue and saturation.

    Step 12: Flatten Image

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

    You can do this one of two ways:

  • Go to Layer > Flatten Image. This will condense all of your layers into a single locked layer.
  • Select/highlight all of your layers (there should be four), right click and select Merge Layers. This will condense your layers into a single unlocked layer.

    If you don't want to lose your process layers, simply duplicate your layers into a new psd document and flatten them in the new document. This is what I did.

    Step 13: Duplicate the Flattened Image

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • In your new document or after merging your layers into one, duplicate the new single image. This will be our finishing touches layer.

    Step 14: Transform

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Press Ctrl/Cmd T to free transform or go to Edit > Free Transform. This will select the whole picture. Make sure you either press the link button between Height and Width or hold shift while you drag to keep the aspect ratio the same and not stretch the picture.

    Step 15: Transform Con't

  • Transform the layer just a little bit larger than the original, and then center the transform box over the canvas.
  • Click enter or the checkmark at the top to confirm the transformation.

    Step 16: Screen

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to the Blending Mode drop down menu beside the opacity meter in the layer palette and select Screen

    Your picture should now look like this.

    Step 17: Add Noise

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.
  • In the dialog box ensure that Gaussian and Monochromatic are checked.
  • Add as much noise as you'd like to the photo. We will be reducing the opacity of this layer, so you may want to add more than you think you need.

    Step 18: Reduce Opacity

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
  • Make sure the proper layer is selected then reduce opacity to the percentage you like best. For this picture I didn't want too much, so I went to 30% but feel free to leave it more opaque.

    Step 19: Adjusting Levels (Optional)

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop
    I wanted to make my photo just a little darker after I had finished those last effects so I adjusted the levels. If you want to adjust the tones of your photo again:
  • Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Move the black, grey and white sliders until you're happy with your image.

    Step 20: Final Comparison

    Turning Photographs into Infrared with Photoshop

    This is my final photograph. The effects on yours may be much more drastic than mine as I didn't want mine to be over the top. Other suggestions for effects that I did not include are:

  • Adding a Gaussian Blur (found under Filter > Blur)

  • Adding Grain (found under Filter > Texture)

    Happy Editing!

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