James Paterson shows you how to give your images the classic look of black-and-white infrared film using simple tools and filters in Photoshop
Achieve the effect of shooting in infrared convincingly using Photoshop
In traditional film photography, infrared film is sensitive to infrared light, rather than the visible spectrum of red through to violet. It’s a colour that human eyes are unable to see, and the images produced with this special film have a glowing, dreamlike quality. Stripped of the usual spectrum of colours, images look monochrome, with things that reflect infrared light appearing much brighter. In particular, scenes that include trees or foliage take on an otherworldly quality, as the greenest leaves reflect infrared light very strongly, and so appear glowing white, while familiar plants can have unfamiliar patterns, usually visible only to infrared-seeing insects.
You may not have a film camera, and converting a digital camera to shoot in infrared is a drastic step, as you’ll lose the ability to shoot conventional photos with it. However, you can achieve a similarly ethereal effect with a few simple Photoshop tweaks, which we explore in the steps opposite.
As with traditional infrared film, the effect works best on images that feature trees or plants, as the greens and yellows are made to glow. Sunny blue skies also work well, as the blues take on an intensely dark appearance, and sunlight makes the colour of the trees and foliage look more saturated, which in turn makes them stand out from their surroundings more once the infrared effect is applied.
With traditional infrared film photography you’d typically see a grainy, glowing quality to the highlights. You can achieve a similar look with Photoshop’s Diffuse Glow filter – we’ll show you how easy it is. And to add to the dreamy quality of the infrared effect, we’ll also use a blur filter to suggest the kind of movement in the clouds you’d get with a long exposure.
Stripped of the usual spectrum of colours, images look monochrome, with things that reflect infrared light appearing much brighter… foliage takes on an otherworldly quality