A step-by-step guide on how to create the infrared blue sky effect in Lightroom, using only free tools. No Photoshop channel mixer required.

If you are using Lightroom for your digital infrared photography, you did probably already realize that you cannot create the infrared blue sky effect using only Lightroom tools. The most widely published method is this: you export your image to Photoshop and then use the channel mixer to swap the blue and red channels. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent to the channel mixer in Lightroom.

For those of us not using Photoshop, I recently discovered some other ways to achieve the same effect. So, what are your options?

Photoshop is not the only way to achieve the infrared blue sky effect

Jason Odell (one of the Nikonian Image Doctors) published a blog entry explaining various ways to create the blue sky effect. Of course Photoshop is mentioned, but you will also find guides for Photoshop Elements, Nik Viveza 2 (part of the Nik collection) and Nikon Capture NX2.

Now that the Nik collection is available for free, the easiest way to achieve the infrared blue sky effect is to use Viveza 2, one of the Nik collection modules. Just follow this link to the Nik collection page, download your free copy and start using Viveza 2.

Summarizing Jason’s instructions, here is the workflow:

The workflow

  1. First, import your picture into Lightroom. The result will look similar to this:
    Infrared image after importing in Lightroom
    After Lightroom import
  2. Next, apply a camera profile to get rid of the red color cast. This is described in detail in my article Proper Infrared White Balance in Lightroom. After this step, the picture will look similar to this:
    Picture after applying a camera profile
    After applying a camera profile
    Please note that if you want to achieve the infrared blue sky effect, the sky in your picture should be yellow, orange or brown, like in the example above. Otherwise, the next step will not lead to the desired result.
  3. Finally, apply a 180° hue shift in Viveza 2 and the picture will look like this:
    Infrared blue sky effect after 180° hue shift in Viveza 2
    Infrared blue sky effect after hue shift in Viveza 2
    If you cannot see the Hue slider in Viveza, you will have to click on “Expand Sliders” first:

    Expand button and Hue slider
    Expand button and Hue slider

More ways, but not as easy to apply

The only other ways I am aware of is either using the channel mixer in Gimp or using command line tools like ImageMagick. This blog entry by Chris McClanahan describes both methods. So, just download the ready-to use plugins from that page if you have the required tools installed.

Reader Jacob mentioned in a comment to a different post that you can download Lightroom profiles with a built-in red and blue channel swap. Unfortunately this approach does not consider the infrared white balance limitations of Lightroom, so your options are still limited.

Are you aware of additional ways to achieve the infrared blue-sky effect? If yes, I would appreciate if you leave a comment below, so I can update this article for the benefit of other readers.