While this Photoshop tutorial on how to create an infrared in Photoshop demonstrates specific settings that I used on my photo of the autumn forest, I highly recommend that you do not skim through it, only paying attention to the settings that I used.
As I explain throughout this Photoshop tutorial, creating an infrared in Photoshop is half science and half artistic expression. I will guide you through the process but some of the key settings might change dramatically from one image to the next. With that said, let’s get started.
How to Create an Infrared in Photoshop
For this Photoshop tutorial, I’m going to be editing a photo that I took last fall at one of our national forests here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Every photo that you take is not going to look good in infrared.
As a general rule of thumb, photos that contain a fair amount of green and yellow are going to have the most dramatic results. Take this into consideration when choosing an image that you intend to apply an infrared effect to.
The first step in creating an infrared in Photoshop is going to be duplicating our layer. You can do this from the Photoshop menu by choosing Layer > Duplicate Layer or by pressing ⌘+J on your keyboard (Ctrl+J on Windows).
Now let’s create an inverted adjustment layer. I have highlighted its icon below in the Adjustments Panel. If you do not see this panel on your screen, go to Window > Adjustments in the Photoshop menu.
You will need to change the blending mode of your new inverted adjustment layer to “Color”. If you have never worked with blending modes before, make sure that the inverted adjustment layer is highlighted and then choose Color from the dropdown box that displays Normal by default.
Below you will see what my image looks like now. I would like to stop and point out that while this does not represent an infrared image, it is still a very interesting look for the photo. In the end, you might prefer this look over the actual infrared image.
That’s why I’m teaching you how to create infrared in Photoshop using adjustment layers. Adjustment layers allow you to quickly go back and fine-tune previous steps or completely undo them, even if they no longer reside in the Photoshop history.
Our next step is to create a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. This is where our infrared effect really starts to become noticeable. Essentially, you are going to be swapping the values of the Red & Blue Channels.
Switch the Output Channel to Red and set the values as seen below: Red = 0 Green = 0 Blue = 100
Switch the Output Channel to Blue and set the values as seen below: Red = 100 Green = 0 Blue = 0
The Green Channel should not need any adjustments made to it by default. Feel free to check and verify that the values are: Red = 0 Green = 100 Blue = 0
Again, there is no rule that says you must keep going with this process. Personally, I would stop here for this image because I like the way it looks at this stage. The image below reminds me more of what Kodak EIR film would start to produce and I think that works best for this image.
If this were another image, I might continue in Photoshop through this infrared process. Always remember, Photography is science but it’s also art. That means it’s filled with rules that are meant to be broken.
Even though I prefer this look, let’s continue to our final step in this specific infrared Photoshop tutorial.
Our final step in this infrared in Photoshop process is to add a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer, which is highlighted for you below.
Earlier we were making precise numerical adjustments with the Channel Mixer. Now we are going to be working using our eyes and personal expression.
Switch to the Reds and begin to lower the Saturation. How far you lower this adjustment will depend on your image. Your goal is to give all of the Reds a grayish tone. How much of a grayish tone is really up to you.
We want to adjust the original red hues to be more of a grayish yellow. Again, this is all done through sight and personal expression. You can see below, I have moved my Hue slider towards the center of the blue area and selected a setting of +40. Will you move your slider towards the blues? Most likely. Will your image look best at +40? Maybe, Maybe Not. Use your artistic judgement for the specific photo that you are editing.
Now, look at the bottom area that I have highlighted in the screenshot below. I wanted to point out exactly how I have adjusted my hues. Notice how the range of colors selected within the white markers is larger than it was in the screenshot above. You can click and drag those white markers to adjust the range of colors being affected by your adjustment.
If you go back to the last step of my forest image, you will notice that I have a great deal more than just red going on in the leaves. A heavy portion of the leaves, where I personally want to see a brighter infrared effect, is spread across magenta to orange hues. I want all of these colors to start leaning towards yellow. So, I widened the range of hues that the actual adjustment of +40 would be altering.
Infrared in Photoshop Tutorial – Final Image
Here is my final image. As I mentioned throughout this Photoshop tutorial, you don’t have to take your image all the way to the end of this process when doing an infrared in Photoshop. Infrared photography is based on science but it does not capture how we see the real world through our eyes. As an artist, it is up to you to decide what is best for your image.
Maybe your photo wants to be more blue, or red, or yellow. Apply what you have learned from this Infrared in Photoshop tutorial to some of your images but you decide at which point you need to stop for each image.