Some Thoughts on Processing or Not Processing Infrared Image Files

by | Aug 17, 2020

Some Thoughts for Today by Joe Farace

Once upon a time, a Shutterbug reader asked me, “Why do you shoot infrared, when regular photography is already so hard.” My feeling was then and still is now that IR photography is as difficult as you want to make it. That’s why, I was surprised to find that there was a SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) movement within the world of infrared photography.

Straight Out of the Camera, an IR-converted camera will typically produce RAW and JPEG files that look almost identical to what you see in the left-hand half of the above image, exhibiting a heavy magenta cast. If you take the time to create a custom white balance for your converted camera, you will probably (depending on the filter used or camera conversion) end up with JPEG images that look like the right-hand half of the above image, with a blue color cast that intensifies or lessens depending on the image’s actual IR content. It’s this latter aesthetic that the SOOC infrared people seemed to have embraced with open arms, perhaps because they see this version as the purest form of infrared capture. (You’ll find some recent thoughts of mine on the issue of color balance for infrared photography here.)

As someone who has been shooting infrared imagery since film days, my preference was to use a monochromatic approach when processing IR image files and many of the infrared photography posts you see here exhibit that aesthetic. But I will confess that while working with my friend Barry Staver and having many passionate discussions with him about infrared photography has me creating images such as this one, and other more colorful images that I’ve bee posting in Instagram. If you’re not following me there, I invite you to join me there (@joefarace) which also includes some looks at some non-photographic aspects of my life.

Here’s what I typically do: Most, but not all of the time, I forget about custom white balance and set the camera’s Photo Style menu to Monochrome but then choose the RAW+JPEG capture option. This methods gives me a black and white preview on the LCD screen and/or EVF, while retaining the magenta-hued RAW file for monochrome conversion later using Silver Efex Pro or Exposure Software’s Exposure.

How I Made this shot: One not totally monochrome method I use with my Panasonic Lumix G6 that has LifePixel’s Enhanced IR conversion lets you mix blue hues with black and white. Once again, you end up with a magenta-hued RAW file but by using the processing techniques shown here you can produce an image that is black and white and blue all over like the above image shot in McCabe Meadows using a Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (at 12mm) with an exposure of 1/400 sec at f/13 and ISO 400.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that your approach to processing infrared images is just that—yours alone. The discipline of shooting infrared photographs is an inclusive one that welcomes all kind of ways to process or not process images.

Life Pixel does a great job with IR conversions and they have done most of conversions for my Canon DSLRs and all of my Panasonic Lumix G-series cameras.

New copies of my book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography are currently available from Amazon for $16, with used books starting $11.51 as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and new copies are available from Amazon for $31.40 with used copies starting at a little more than two bucks, which is a heckuva deal.