How to Process Infrared Photos with Zoner Photo Studio
I started processing my raw-format shots from my infrared-converted camera in Zoner Photo Studio. My go-to editor is Lightroom, but it does a poor job in creating a proper white balance. Infrared photos have a strong red cast to them, and Lightroom just can’t handle them properly. To do the effects shown in this article, you’ll need an editor that supports swapping color channels directly, or through a plug-in.
A handy tool to have when editing color infrared shots is a red/blue channel swap plug-in. This channel swap is how to get your sky to turn blue, instead of the ‘tobacco’ color of white-balanced color infrared. I found a free plug-in from Flaming Pear that works in Zoner Photo Studio to perform this channel swap.
I got my old Nikon D7000 converted into infrared by Kolari Vision, although there a few companies that will do a conversion like this. I chose a 590nm infrared filter, which allows part of the visible spectrum to get used and therefore enables color infrared shooting. Camera conversions that use long-wave infrared, such as 850nm, are strictly for black and white photography.
You can of course achieve these same effects by purchasing IR filters, instead of getting a camera converted to infrared. If you use filters instead, then get ready to take a tripod along.
Typical infrared shot with a red/blue channel swap
The photo above started out with a very strange sky color. The procedures that follow show you how to convert your infrared shots to get the classic blue sky effect.
Bear in mind that infrared doesn’t contain anything that can be called “color”. Therefore, any color assignments that you might make are just as correct (or incorrect) as any other. People tend to prefer color shots that have a blue(ish) sky, however.
Install the free plug-in to swap red/blue color channels
Before trying any editing in Zoner Photo Studio, I installed a library of plug-ins from Flaming Pear. Here’s a link to get the free plug-in.
The Flaming Pear plug-ins can of course do a lot more than just swap color channels; you should probably try out some of their fun effects that they offer.
Download the compressed plug-ins into the desired folder. For Windows, the file is called “freebies-win-latest.zip”.
Decompress this file.
Open up Zoner Photo Studio
Go to the “Editor” tab
Click the “Effects” tab to add the plug-in folder
Zoner doesn’t like 64-bit, so select the 32-bit freebies folder.
Select the “Settings…” to add plug-ins
Click the “Add…” button to browse to the plug-in folder
Once the plug-ins are ready for use, you can start editing your raw-format infrared photos. You really, really should be shooting in raw format to get quality results.
Color Processing Steps for a Blue Sky
(Do these steps for the first image, to set up the Zoner defaults)
Raw photo: use the eyedropper tool to select a neutral area
You’ll probably see something like the shot above before you set a proper white balance. To successfully use the eyedropper tool to set a white balance, you photo should contain something neutral in it, like a rock or sidewalk. You only need to do this white-balance operation once, since you can save the result in Zoner to be applied to all subsequent shots.
Finished result of using the eyedropper tool
Open the raw photo in Zoner Photo Studio
Go to the “RAW” tab
Select the White Balance Eyedrop tool
Pick a neutral area in the photo, such as a sidewalk or stone
Click Settings | Set Current as Default
Now, opening other photos in the RAW tab will automatically white-balance them, or at least get pretty close. If you want to process non-infrared shots later, then you’ll probably want to set up other defaults at that time.
Adjust the image to suit your taste in the RAW tab.
(Green plants should now look blue, and the sky is tobacco-colored)
Click the “To the Editor” button in the bottom-right corner.
You’ll probably want to turn the sky into a shade of blue, which will then turn the plants into shades of yellow/orange. This step is where the Flaming Pear “Swap Red/Blue” plug-in comes into play. Many people are happy leaving the plants with a blue color; color infrared doesn’t have any set rules.
Click Effects | Plug-in Modules | Flaming Pear | Swap Red/Blue
After the plug-in finishes, your sky should now be blue and plants typically look a shade of yellow.
Neutral white balance, before the red/blue channel swap
Red/Blue channels are now swapped
You can now touch up the photo with the usual editing tools, and then save it in TIFF/JPEG format. If you don’t like the colors, you can also convert the shot into black and white.
Convert your shot into black and white
I really love the plug-in called Silver Efex Pro 2. It’s made by the Nik people, who are presently working for DXO. While editors such as Zoner Photo Studio have built-in features to turn shots into black and white, they’re quite primitive compared to Silver Efex. This plug-in is installed using the same techniques shown above for Flaming Pear.
Shot converted into black and white with Silver Efex Pro 2
Once the plug-in is installed, do the following steps to convert shots into black and white:
Start in the “Editor”
Effects| Plug-in Modules…| Nik Collection| Silver Efex Pro2
Select whichever effect you like the best. You can even fine-tune the effect, if you wish.
I’m a huge fan of black and white, and infrared landscapes can look stunning in black and white. Actually, black and white infrared photos are probably more “correct” than the color photos shown earlier in this article.
There are several photo editors available that can perform the red/blue channel swap for handling color infrared. There are a lot fewer editors that have the necessary range to get a proper white balance for color infrared.
I mostly use Lightroom and plug-ins for my photo editing, but here’s a case where it just falls to its knees. I stopped searching after I discovered that Zoner had all of the capabilities (including plug-in support) that infrared processing needs. I’m not getting any money from the Zoner people, but I thought some of you would be interested in knowing about useful tools for editing of infrared.
I’ll also mention that I save my sharpening and noise removal for the Topaz Denoise AI plug-in. Once it’s configured properly, I have seen no equal to its capabilities.