Infrared White Balance Workflow In RAW – The Making Of “Kemah Lighthouse”

Infrared White Balance Workflow In RAW – The Making Of “Kemah Lighthouse”

Perhaps the first aspect you will notice when shooting an infrared converted DSLR and viewing the RAW image is that the white balance is a disaster. But do not fear!  There are several steps in infrared photography that you “must” go through to get your final image. This tutorial begins in RAW because working in that format for as long as possible, in my opinion, gives me the opportunity to maximize the amount of data contained in the RAW file. My infrared DSLR was converted to 720nm, so it still captures a small amount of the visible color spectrum. I chose this conversion so that I would have more options when converting the image into black and white.

Technical mumbo jumbo on this image:
•  Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II 720nm infrared
•  Lens: Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II
•  ISO 200 — Aperture: f/6.3 — 1/800th second
•  Software flow –> Lightroom 5 to Photoshop 5.1 to NIK Color EFEX Pro to NIK Silver EFEX Pro 2 to Photoshop 5.1 to Lightroom 5

Setting your camera’s Custom White Balance:
This is an important step to take before you shoot your intended photograph. Although the camera (and common language) calls it “white balance”, what you really are doing is telling the infrared sensor what to record as neutral. I have found that green is the best color to use for infrared, specifically when foliage is in the scene. To set my custom white balance, I take a photograph of a large green sheet of poster paper. It needs to fill the entire frame and should be placed in the light of your subject…not the light where you are standing. Then I set that image in-camera as the custom white balance. This is a very easy step in most DSLRs. Now it’s time to shoot.


RAW Infrared Image SOOC

Image 1:  Here is the RAW image straight-out-of-the-camera in Lightroom. No processing at all. Obviously it is extremely hot. But this is okay. Remember that you are viewing a RAW file, not a JPG or TIFF. White balance sliders in Lightroom and Photoshop will not be able to cool off the image. Sliding the temperature all the way to the left (to blue) will not cool off the image enough, if at all. But don’t worry, this is completely normal. All that is required is a new Camera Profile under the Camera Calibration pane in the Develop module of Lightroom.


RAW Infrared Image After Camera Calibration

Image 2: Here is the RAW image after Custom Camera Calibration in Lightroom. The Camera Profile was created with DNG Profile Editor by Adobe Labs, a free and executable program (download). This does not mean that you must work with a DNG file all the time, it simply means that you need one DNG file to import into DNG Profile Editor. Once open within the program, simply move the temperature slider in “White Balance” all the way to the left. Now save this new profile and it will appear in Lightroom and Photoshop. Make more profiles, it doesn’t matter. You can now apply them to any image in your Lightroom catalog. In other words, you only need to use DNG Profile Editor once! With that done, you can see two things with this image. One, it is sufficiently cooled off. Two, the tonality is very neutral which indicates that the Custom White Balancing I performed in-camera (described above) worked well.


Infrared Image After Blue/Red Channel Color Swap

Image 3: The next step is to bring the image out of Lightroom and into Photoshop. This is the Red/Blue channel swap step in the process. When opened in Photoshop, go the Channel Mixed in Adjustments. Select the “Red” channel and set Red to 0%, Green to 0% and Blue to 100%. Now select the “Blue” channel and set Red to 100%, Green to 0% and Blue to 0%. That’s it.  You are done and this is the resulting image. Now there is great color separation throughout the image. The sky is cyan and the foliage has a hint of magenta. It is clear now that there will be more options when converting to black and white, either manually moving the color sliders, or using black and white software like Silver EFEX Pro 2, as I do.


Infrared Image After Color EFEX Pro Processing

Image 4: The next step that I usually take is to use the Color EFEX Pro plug-in from within Photoshop. In this example I applied Pro Contrast and Detail Extractor. I have found that Pro Contrast is extremely effective in infrared, particularly the “Correct Color Cast” slider. I set each Pro Contrast slider to approximately 50%, and 10% on Detail Extractor. Of course, this is all personal preference. I wanted more definition and color separation in the image. Compared to Image 3, you can see that I certainly achieved those goals. Look at the definition in the sky!


Final Processed Infrared ImageImage 5: Here is the final, fully-processed, image. I used Silver EFEX Pro 2 for the black and white conversions. Then I used those variants within Photoshop to do some gradient masking and a significant amount of dodging & burning. Obviously this is all personal preference for the vision you have for the image. This is mine. I wanted drama coupled with a dark mood, all processed in a way to compliment the lighthouse and accentuate what the purpose of a lighthouse is…to show you the way in the darkness.


I hope you enjoyed seeing this infrared image progress from a red hot concern to a finished piece! Send me any questions that you may have.

Mabry Campbell

Make infrared images like this one
with a conversion from LifePixel!


3 thoughts on “Infrared White Balance Workflow In RAW – The Making Of “Kemah Lighthouse”

  1. Thanks for the interesting post. One quick question: do you work with the raw file all the way through until silver efex or do you convert it at a previous step to jpg or other format?


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