How to get the BEST B&W images out of your Infrared camera!


How to get the BEST B&W images out of your Infrared camera!

Final B&W Version!

Final B&W Version!

I am VERY particular in how I process my images, either color or IR it doesn’t make any difference!  This comes from years of visualization,   photography, a career at Eastman Kodak, endless hours of post processing and just plain being old and cranky!  I look for specific compositional elements in each and every image I create then look to create a stepped series of varying  contrast levels to draw the viewer into the image.  This is important in my color work, but CRITICAL in my B&W images.

This post though, is specifically about B&W IR post processing.   But before we actually get to that point I wish to share with you my workflow that I go through up to the point of processing it for B&W.

Assuming that our images have been edited for choice and artistic content and been processed from RAW to 16 bit TIFF…

  1. I evaluate each image to see if it is viable as a processed RAW image.  This means that it has been converted to TIFF, then evaluated as is.  If it looks good (nice bronze skies and monochromatic leaves), I will then post process it according to the the same workflow below that I use for B&W and save it.  Then…
  2. Convert the image to Faux Color IR but running the Faux Process (channels swap and color saturation & hue adjustments) and save.
Step 1  Evaluate the RAW image to see it it stands on its own!

Step 1 Evaluate the RAW image to see it it stands on its own!

Step 2 Process the RAW image into Faux Color.

Step 2 Process the RAW image into Faux Color.

Only when these steps are completed do I start my B&W conversion and processing.  The reason for this is that the best B&W conversions are generated when we have gotten the best possible color adjustments done!  The better the colors the better the B&W!  This is true of both color camera or an IR camera.

As you can see from the B&W image above of the bone yard at Cape Romain here in South Carolina, the image is full of alternating contrast areas that draw the viewers eyes into the image from the bottom left corner up to the center.  This was a choice made in post processing.  

So remember, you will get a much better B&W image if you first post process the color version!  This will give the software (Nik’s Silver EFX Pro) a greater latitude of colors and contrasts to work from rather than just converting the RAW version directly into B&W.

Compositional Elements

In Infrared photography, there are 3 main elements that we need to get an emotionally charged image:

  1. Sky with moody cloud structure.
  2. Water
  3. Green plants.

If you can get all 3 you will get a much more powerful image, but as long as you can get at least 1 you will have more to work with to get a good image. If you find yourself in a location where none of the 3 desired elements can be found then look for repeating patterns! Look at the example below.  This image is of old Rt. 66 through the west taken at the height of a world class snow storm a few years ago in 720nm IR.  There is no water, clouds or plants to work with.  But we have a vanishing perspective due to the repeating telephone poles plus great structure in the snow cover scrub!  There is also just a hint of the sun behind the top of the first telephone pole which adds interest and change of contrast.

Old Rt. 66.  A hint of sun behind the top of the first telephone pole.  720nm IR

Old Rt. 66. A hint of sun behind the top of the first telephone pole. 720nm IR

Now, as easy as all of this sounds, it really does take some planning and simple photoshop skills.  Plus the more you practice it the better and faster you will get!

So lets take a look at our sample B&W converted per post processed B&W image below.  To get to this point, you take your color image and open it in Niks Silver EFX software filter.  You would then choose the recipe that you like the best from the left hand menu watching the effect on the preview image on the screen.  When you find the version you like the best  you would then adjust the contrast, structure and highlights/shadows to get your starting image, then accept it and drop it back into Photoshop!  

This then is the results of what we just did:

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted NO Post Processing!

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted NO Post Processing!

This is a very nice image to be sure!  But, it can be drastically improved with very little work.  By selecting areas of alternating contrasts we can enhance the emotional impact of this image and draw the viewers eyes into the image giving it an almost 3 dimensional feel!  Lets take a look at these areas!

Take a close look at the image.  Look for ways to give alternating areas of light and dark, low contrast and high contrast.  Use these areas to create steps into your image.  For the image above of the Adams Mill un processed this is how I approach it:

Visualizing areas of light/dark, low/high contrasts to step your viewer through the image!

Visualizing areas of light/dark, low/high contrasts to step your viewer through the image!

Looks like a puzzle doesn’t it!  But is is really easy once you decide HOW you want to approach the image.  We are going to use the Nik plugin filter called Viveza to accomplish all of these changes.  Simply start on one edge of the image and work your way across. Nik gives you a very powerful selection and masking tool call selection points.  These points pick out areas of similar color or shading.  

So here is how it all works:

  1. Start Nik Viveza in your editor.
  2. Start from one edge and work across the image.
  3. Using a selection point, place it on the first area to be edited.
  4. Adjust the size if the selection point as necessary.
  5. Adjust the brightness slider to set the light/black point you desire.
  6. Adjust the structure (sharpness) with the structure slider.
  7. Adjust the contrast with the contrast slider.
  8. If you find that your edits affect areas outside of your desired area simply add another (or several) adjustment points with no editing in those affected areas to bring them back to where they were. This is called an anchor point. You will find that you will add anchor points all over your image to bring areas back to their un edited version.  
  9. Simply work your way across the image editing as you go.  Create areas of alternating contrasts and you will generate a powerful B&W image in very little time!  

Here is the finished version of the image above!

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted Post Processed

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted Post Processed

Go back and forth, look at the differences between the 2 images.  In the 2nd image, there is a tonal range of complete black to complete white. The un-edited version has a little contrast but lacks punch and it does NOT have a complete tonal range!

This looks very simple doesn’t it!  Well it is!!  It just requires that you pre visualize what you desire in your finished image then simply make it so.

I hope that you enjoyed this simple tutorial.  If you would like an enhanced version with complete step by step instructions and screen captures please visit my BLOG at:

http://www.markhilliardatelier.wordpress.com

and look at the post on my Color & Infrared Video Post Processing Tutorial on a 2 DVD set.  

Please let me know what you think of all this!!

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5 comments on “How to get the BEST B&W images out of your Infrared camera!

    • Sidney, The real software that is the heart of my process is the NIK filter set for Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements. It used to cost over 700.00 but now can be had from Gooogle for 140.00. I highly recommend it. Tell me about your software setup and I will see if I can shed a little more light on the process.

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