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Digital Infrared 
by Jim McGee

Infrared film has seen resurgence in popularity recently. The images it produces have a unique dreamy quality that just can't be duplicated digitally.

Or can they?

Landscapes with a lot of foliage work best as subjects for infrared. The same is true for this digital technique.

Frankly you'll be amazed at how easy this one is. I used Jasc's Paint Shop Pro 7.0 to illustrate this article but the technique should work equally well using Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or any photo editing software that supports mixing color channels.

Getting Started 
First find a photo that contains a lot of foliage that you think might look interesting if shot with infrared film.

Crank up the saturation for the green color channel. To do this open the dialog box for adjusting hue and saturation. Choose Greens from the edit menu and crank the saturation up. Don't worry if it looks like an alien landscape at this point - that's what you want.

Take a close look at the resulting image. Look for areas that are blown out or nearly blown out. Tone down those areas by burning them in or adjusting the gamma level for that area or even for the whole image.

Now open the Channel Mixer dialog. Check the monochrome box. Turn up the green channel to it's max value and turn the red and blue channels down to around minus 50% as a starting point. 

With Preview turned on adjust the red and blue channels downward while watching the effect on the image. Use them to tweak the final effect. You'll be surprised. Small adjustments can have a dramatic effect on the image. So save a couple of versions along the way so that you can look at the results side by side. You can also go back and experiment with adjustments to the green saturation level to see the effect that they have on the final image.

Initially the image was just completely blown out and unusable.

Some slight tweaking produced this image. Unfortunately a lot of detail is lost to the scaling. A print of the image looked better but still wasn't what I was after.

I went back to the original image and used a value of 30 for the saturation adjustment instead of the initial value of 61 and liked the results much better. The print retained more detail with fewer highlights blown out. Remember this process will lighten the green values. So you increase saturation of the green channel to lighten the print and increase the effect and decrease saturation to decrease the infrared effect and darken the image. 

There's no hard and fast rules here. Experiment until you get an image you like. Remember to save intermediate versions so you can step back if you don't like the direction you're going and do small test prints along the way. With this kind of process a test print is much more valuable than staring at a computer screen.

The Final Step 
Print that sucker! You can do this as a straight black and white print or you can tone the print as we explained last month. It's that simple and it's a fun technique to experiment with. The key is to experiment. Small changes to settings can yield big changes in the final image. 

It's also fun to play with different subjects. Try landscapes, statues, old buildings, even grave monuments!

A Variation
You can control the infrared effect by the amount of green present in a part of the image. Want to increase the effect on a portion of the image to get a unique effect? Watch how the different channels in the color mixer are affecting the area you want to tweak. 

Make a copy of the original image and promote that area to it's own level. Now tweak the colors for that level by increasing the red, blue, or green tones. Merge the layers, adjust the saturation, open the channel mixer and look at the results. By playing with the color balance in the original image you can selectively control the infrared effect.

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