Understanding White Balance and IR Photography

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

There is never just one way to accomplish any effect in photography, especially when shooting infrared. This blog, like my old one, was never a “my way or the highway” blog, so presented for your approval is how I handle white balance when shooting infrared…

One approach to shooting infrared is to make a custom white balance for your IR converted camera by shooting a picture of a healthy (green) lawn and use it as a reference image. Every camera sets custom white balance differently so please refer to your camera’s users guide. That’s one way to do it but purists and IR gurus may disagree with my approach because I’m breaking one their cast iron principles. My goal with my personal photography, including infrared, is to have fun. So here’s a few tips for shooing with an infrared converted camera and they should work just as well if you’re shooting using IR filters.

Shoot in Monochrome mode. No white balance required, everything is right there on your LCD and your image file appears in glorious black & white. If the thought of shooting JPEG is anathema to you, shoot in RAW+JPEG with the camera set in monochrome mode serving only to produce a  preview of what the RAW file will look like later after processing.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 10.01.01 AMTypically RAW images exhibit a magenta cast as seen in the photograph at left. I open the file in Adobe Camera Raw, ignore the White Balance pop-up menu, navigate to the HSL/Grayscale tab and click the Convert to Grayscale button. You can then tweak using any of the settings under the Basic tab.

Alternatively, open the magenta RAW file in Silver Efex Pro. The preview thumbnails show the image automatically converted to monochrome but you can use the presets or  move the saturation slider to zero to obliterate any remaining magenta cast. To give the below image a warm Platinum tone, I used PhotoKit 2. PhotoKit does more than just add toning effects and I consider it’s burning and digging tools to be indispensable to all my photography.

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


Used copies of my book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography, are available from Amazon for $1.29 as I write this, making this book  areal bargain. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available used from Amazon for less than three bucks Copies of both make a nice gift for an infrared shooting friend or yourself and cost less than your next coffee at Starbucks.