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Enhance digital infrared photos

Using an image editing program to make digital infrared pictures more realistic

| Specialist Photographic Subjects

Now I Have My Infrared Shot, What do I Do With It?

Turning simple digital Infrared shots in to something quite different is now a very straightforward thing with the use of editing packages like Paint Shop Pro. The following technique was done with version 7 but 5 and 6 can do a very similar job. The shot on the left was taken with a Olympus 2020 using an Ilford SFX filter on a overcast day. It has produced the normal effect of lightening the leaves to almost white and the brick building has taken on the red hue of the filter. The picture is interesting but lacks any punch. The photograph on the right has had some work done and is a far more presentable image.

Enhance digital infrared photos   Enhance digital infrared photos

The first task is to give the photo more punch to get over the flatness of the image. All that is needed is to equalise the histogram (shift + E). This is quite a simple function but makes an immediate impact to the way the photograph looks. If this does not give you quite the image you are after you can take control of the level of adjustment by using Histogram Adjustment

(shift + Ctrl + H) you can use the mid tone slider to the right and also the Low, Gamma and High anchors/values below the histogram to gain the effect you are looking for. In any of the adjustment windows you can click on the eye button to preview the effect before you commit to the changes.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Enhance digital infrared photos

However in the main equalising is usually enough to improve the overall photo.

Once you have set the histogram to the level you like it will then be necessary to pull the tonal quality out of the image and the first step is to set the gamma (shift + G) this will give the image a much more balanced look and in many cases this will be all that is needed to fine tune the photograph to a printable picture. Dependant on the photo, I find keeping the link box clicked on.

And a gamma level of 1.20 to 1.40 is more than enough to get the desired result.

Having spent many years working with black and white I have developed a taste for more contrast in the shot so I like to boost the brightness and contrast levels to suit my taste (shift + B).

An increase of around +3 on the brightness and between 9 and 12 on the contrast can work wonders with the end result.

 If you want to get the classic black and white shot though you just need to de-saturate the image in the Hue/Saturation/lightness menu (shift + H).

Enhance digital infrared photos

All you do is set the hue slider to zero along with the saturation slider to the same setting.

The lightness slider can be used to pull any shadow detail out as needed but be aware of the effect it will have on the highlight and mid tones

As you may negate all your hard work. This particular image needed a tweak of +18.

You may find on images that has brighter cloud formations could even need toning down. My rule is if I like it then it is ok. Remember we all ask something different from our photographs so just experiment.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Enhance digital infrared photos

To take this just a little bit further and produce the shot in the opening section is quite simple and just needs a bit of judgement and practise. For this photo the sky needs some work to enhance the over all effect. To do this we need to create two new layers.

First you will need to keep the photograph in colour.

Next select layers on the menu bar then the duplicate function, and make 2 new layers.

Then click on the Toggle Layer Palette on the top tool bar. You will now see the Layers Palette window showing which layers are current and visible. Now highlight the top copy and the hide the bottom two layers by clicking on the glasses icons.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Now click on the Freehand selection tool on the left hand tool bar and then the Toggle Tools Option Window button on the top tool bar.

Select smart edge and set feather to1. Now check the 2 check boxes and you are ready to go. Carefully pick your way around the out line of the sky till you reach your starting point now right click to complete. Next invert the selection

(shift + Ctrl + I) and cut out the background

(Ctrl + X). This will leave you with just the sky on this layer.

Enhance digital infrared photos

The next thing is to deselect the selection (Ctrl + D) and adjust the histogram on that layer (shift + Ctrl + H).

The idea is to use this top layer to add more detail to the sky while the middle layer retains the original detail of the main image. So to achieve this you need to boost the mid tone with the right hand slider around + 27 should do it. At the same time cut the low band area by bringing the low band slider up to almost half way. This will give the sky a better depth of tones.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Now make the middle layer visible by clicking on the glasses icon and you will start to see the effect we are after. At this stage it is to much but we can now start to see it take shape.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Next to give it some interest we colorize the sky to compliment the main Photograph (shift + L).

So choose a hue that is just a bit darker than the original sky.

Enhance digital infrared photos

For the next part of the process we need to go back to the main background layer.

So in the Layer Palette window click on the bottom layer and make it visible with the glasses icon. Now make the top 2 layers invisible.

Now we need to make this layer black and white in the same way as before. This layer will be the base, which controls how the other 2 layers look.

(shift + H) this time set the lightness to around 5 to 12.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Now it is time to start mixing the opacity of the layers to get the final image. This will be again a matter of taste but the settings here are the top layer (sky) has been set to darken and a value of 40.

The middle layer has been set to overlay with a value of 70. This setting allows the contrast of the base layer to give the image depth so I would always set this layer to overlay.


Once you have the result you like then merge the layers into one layer by selecting layers on the menu bar: then Merge and Merge all. The end result is a pleasing image with colour and depth.

Enhance digital infrared photosWith Paint Shop Pro 7, comes a few effects that if used judiciously give this kind of image a finishing touch. For instance in the frames section there are some nice edges that work very well.

This edge is one of my favourites. First select Image on the menu bar then Picture Frames

Select Photo Edge 02 and click on next.

Now select Frame Outside Of The Image and click on finish.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Enhance digital infrared photos

Last but not least we just need to add a border to finish the job.

First merge the layers as before then chose the colour you want your border to be with the Dropper tool. On the left hand tool bar.

Select Image on the menu bar then

Add Borders

Click on Symmetrical and a figure of around 5 or 6 pixels. Click on ok and there you have it.

Enhance digital infrared photos

Enhance digital infrared photos

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Nokin of Nonac Avatar
I tried this using PSE6 and with a bit of tweaking it was great

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