Looking to create a beautiful infrared effect in Photoshop, but not sure where to start? You have come to the right place.
In this article, I explain everything you need to know about infrared effects in Photoshop, including a simple step-by-step plan anyone can use to go from an image like this:
For an image like this:
I’m also including several examples of infrared photography, so you know exactly what to expect!
Let’s dive right in, starting with:
What is a Photoshop infrared effect?
Infrared photography is all about capturing infrared light with a camera – but doing real live infrared photography is cumbersome, not to mention expensive. You need a special camera, special filters, or special film, and the process can be finicky.
However, infrared photography creates a very specific effect watch, which you can reproduce in Photoshop. No, you will not produce real infrared photos, but you will create a realistic infrared effect:
As you can see in the image above, the infrared effect looks both very red and very surreal. Why is it? Simply put, anything that reflects a lot of infrared light will appear red in an infrared image, and photosynthetic organic matter – such as vegetation – reflects a ground infrared light. So trees, plants and grass turn red, which is why IR photography is so popular among landscape photographers; it’s a way to capture unique shots of more standard subjects.
How to Create an Infrared Effect in Photoshop: A Step-by-Step Approach
In this section, I show you how to mimic the distinct surreal effect of in-camera IR photography. Note that you will be need Photoshop (or an equivalent program, like Affinity Photo) to produce the infrared effect. You can’t create a similar look in Lightroom, Luminar, or many other RAW editors (at least as far as I know!).
Step 1: Choose your image and open it in Photoshop
First, you need to select an image for infrared processing.
Not all images are suitable for an infrared Photoshop conversion. As I mentioned above, photosynthetic organic matter – trees, bushes, grass – works great for infrared conversions, but other landscape subjects, including mountain landscapes and seascapes, tend to to produce poor results.
Of course, you don’t always need ultra-powerful IR conversion. More subtle infrared images can also look good, so if you like the idea of a more subdued effect, just choose an image with less greenery. Sometimes less can be more!
(By the way, if you convert an image and you don’t like the result, or don’t see much change, that’s okay; you can always find another image and try again!)
Next, open your file in Adobe Photoshop. If Photoshop is already open, you can press File>Openthen find your image.
Step 2: Duplicate your image layer
Once your image is open in Photoshop, you’ll see it as a layer in the Layers palette. Make sure the image layer is selected, then tap Layer > Duplicate Layer or use the shortcut Ctrl/Cmd+J.
Double-click the new layer name and type Infrared:
Step 3: Invert the new layer
Next, you will need to invert the colors of your “Infrared” layer (while the original image – the bottom layer – remains untouched).
Select the Reverse adjustment layer, which should be in the Adjustments panel:
The layer will instantly reverse, creating an image like a color negative:
Step 4: Use blending modes to adjust image tones
Next, select the Invert adjustment layer in the Layers palette, then change the blending mode to Color:
This will prevent the Invert adjustment layer from affecting the image tones but will allow Color adjustments to shine. Your image should now have a nice orange and blue tone:
Step 4: Adjust colors with the Channel Mixer
Now is the time to really dive in and play with the colors in your image! Create a Channel Mixer adjustment layer by selecting the Channel Mixer icon in the Adjustments panel. You will see a Channel Mixer panel appear:
Set the output channel to Red (see above) and move the Red slider to 0. Move the Blue slider to +100.
Then set the output channel to Blue. Increase the red slider to +100 and move the blue slider to 0:
Change the output channel to green. Here you probably won’t need to make any changes; just check that the green slider is set to +100:
The image will now look much more natural (although still quite surreal!). Oranges will appear more blue, while purples will appear more red:
Step 5: Adjust Hue and Saturation
This step will vary depending on the photo you have selected, but the overall goal is the same: isolate pink/red colors and convert them to white/yellow colors.
Create a Hue/Saturation layer, then select the Reds:
Decrease the Saturation slider until the result is almost gray.
Next, adjust the Hue slider, watching the image carefully until you get a hint of yellow. At this point you can move on to the next step, but feel free to play around with the other channels until you get a result you like. My example image now looks more faded and subtle:
Step 6: Add some final touches
You’ve already created an infrared effect in Photoshop, but if you want to refine your image further, then go wild! You might consider adding a vignette, shifting the colors further with another Hue/Saturation layer or even a color balance layer, or adding a photo filter for a cinematic effect.
You can also use a Curves adjustment to increase image contrast; I did this to get this result:
Then save the image in JPEG format, and you’re done!
Photoshop Infrared Conversion Examples
Now that you know how to create an infrared effect in Photoshop, I’d like to share some examples from my own conversion efforts.
This next image started out with barely any blue tones, so the final version looked rather monochromatic and subtly yellow:
Inorganic materials aren’t often as affected by IR processing, so only the grass and plants in this next image took on a surreal hue:
How to Create an Infrared Effect in Photoshop: Final Words
Well, now you have it:
Simple step-by-step instructions for a great Photoshop infrared effect!
Once you go through the process a few times, it will get pretty quick and you can have fun testing it out on all your photos!
So open up Photoshop, find a nice photo or two, then do some of that infrared Photoshop magic!
Now your turn :
What type of images are you planning to convert in Photoshop? Share your thoughts – and your photos! – in the comments below.