A step-by-step guide on how to create the infrared blue sky effect in Lightroom, using only the Development module. No external tools required.
Until very recently, it was not possible to create the Infrared Blue Sky effect (changing the typically yellowish sky to blue) in Lightroom, you had to use external tools (most notably the Photoshop Channel Mixer) for that. Finally, this is now possible – and actually very easy to do – in Lightroom.
1.Workflow for Lightroom Classic 9.3 and later
Lightroom 9.3 made this effect a lot easier to achieve for us infrared photographers. The new workflow is as follows:
1a.Import your picture and apply an infrared profile
Import your infrared picture into Lightroom and apply a matching infrared profile. This is described in detail in my article How to Set Proper Infrared White Balance in Lightroom. After these steps, your picture will look something like this:
Next, set the White Balance on the foliage using the White Balance Eye Dropping tool so that the yellowish tint disappears from the foliage and they show up in white and grey tones. In my example, I used it on the bright foreground bush slightly left to the center of the image:
The next step is optional, but will make your life easier. Go to the HSL/Color panel and click on Saturation. Click the small dot in the top left corner of the panel:
Now click on a yellowish spot in your picture, hold the mouse button and drag the mouse upwards to increase the saturation of the yellow(ish) tones. In my example, I used a dark yellow area in the sky. The result should look like this:
If you cannot bring out the yellow(ish) tones in your picture like in the example above, there is another section in this post dealing with exactly this issue. It was written with Nik Viveza in mind, but works exactly the same way for the new Lightroom version.
1b.Create a mask and change the hue
Using the tool of your choice, paint in a mask where you would like to change the hue in the picture. I have used the adjustment brush, and here is how the mask for my picture looks like:
Notice that on purpose I have left out the grass in the foreground. This will leave some yellow tones in the picture, to contrast with the (soon) blue sky.
Optionally, you can now refine the mask using the range mask tool, in case you would like to have more control over the mask. Working through a couple of example infrared pictures, I have not found this to be necessary.
Finally, move the new Hue slider to the left towards -180 (if you prefer a reddish blue) or to the right towards +180 (if you prefer a greenish blue). Note that -180 and +180 should give you the same result.
Your picture should now look like this:
Looks nice, don’t you think? Here is an optional final step to refine your picture: add some contrast (try out the Dehaze slider, you will be surprised!) and saturation to make your picture stand out. Here is how my final example looks like:
That’s it! Super easy with the new Lightroom version, isn’t it?
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2.Workflow for Lightroom Classic 9.2 and earlier
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?
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.
Summarizing Jason’s instructions for Nik Viveza, here is the workflow:
2a.Import your picture and apply an infrared profile
First, import your picture into Lightroom. The result will look similar to this:
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:
2b.Use Viveza to apply the hue shift
Finally, apply a 180° hue shift in Viveza 2 and the picture will look like this:
3.What if the sky does not want to turn blue?
A reader left a comment to this post where she mentioned that the above approach does not work for her. She just couldn’t get the sky turn blue, no matter what she tried. Shes used a Micro Four Thirds camera with a permanent 720nm conversion, actually perfect for IR photography. We exchanged a couple of emails and with her permission (Thank you Bonnie!) I would like to explain the findings and the solution.
Here is the picture straight from the camera, after import to Lightroom:
She also tried to apply a white balance profile, similar to what I describe in How to Set Proper Infrared White Balance in Lightroom:
Now there is less visible red tint, but the picture is rather “brownish”. I did not have any luck with this profile, so I discarded it and went back to the original version. As a first step, I did a white balance on the foliage:
3a.Increase yellowish tones
While the picture was a lot more neutral, the histogram showed lack of yellowish tones. A first 180° hue conversion did not work at all. The yellowish tones are required for a nice blue sky conversion. As a next step, I did increase the hue and saturation of the yellow, orange and red tones:
Consequently, this resulted in a lot more yellowish picture – a much better basis for the next step:
Finally, I could apply the 180° hue shift in Nik Viveza and get some decent results:
3b.Fine-tune the results
The blue is dark and not very saturated, but it is a good basis for the final step. Back in Lightroom, I did tweak some basic adjustments to add some “pop” to the image – contrast and saturation adjustments:
Finally a pleasing result – a really nice lighthouse with a great blue sky and white foliage:
In conclusion – even if the original image is not promising, there are still some tweaks we can add to create a beautiful infrared image with a blue sky.
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.
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There are 29 comments on “How to Create the Infrared Blue Sky Effect in Lightroom”:
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In the meanwhile Rob Shea (and others) have also discussed using Affinity Photo and RawTherapee for channel mixing (blue skies).
The first suite costs around euro 55,- and the second one is free for use. Both seem pretty capable for supporting IR post processing.
I myself have Lightroom 6 (standalone) which doesn’t offer this kind of functionality without going through photoshop just once.
Thank you for sharing this, Peter!
Rob Shea has a couple of recent very comprehensive videos on youtube describing very carefully the possibilities of color ir in lightroom only that have just become possible:
Thank you for sharing these links Karsten!
Hi, anyone have any advice on how to move an image from Lightroom CC into Viveza 2? Thanks.
Paul, I do not own Lightroom CC, so I cannot help you with this question. Perhaps another reader can provide some guidance?
Viveza can be installed as a plugin for Lightroom and for Photoshop (and perhaps one or two other image editing programs. Under Develop mode in Lightroom I click on Photo, Edit in, then choose Viveza. The converted copy will be returned to Lightroom after changes are finished.
Thank you for the confirmation
Thanks for sharing this, as it is so hard to find helpful “how to’s” on this subject- this works great for those of use who don’t have or use Photoshop. I used this on my just converted Sony A 6000 with 920 NM IR filter. I created a lightroom preset from your slider examples so when I come back from Viveza its even quicker to get the image in the ballpark. You have great skill for making things simple and understandable
Thank you Barry, your comment is very much appreciated. I am glad you found the article helpful. Cheers!
All links to Viveza 2 are going to Error dead ends. I did find it in [EDIT: name removed]. Has someone pulled the plug on this softwear?
The Nik collection was sold to DxO, and they announced plans to develop it further. It is no longer freeware, but you can download a 30 day trial at https://nikcollection.dxo.com/.
Here are two more sources for channel mixer capabilities for red/blue swap. Not free unfortunately. For about $12 you can add Elements Plus to the basic Elements program. Corel Paintshop Pro also works.
Thank you Thomas! It is always good to know about additional alternatives.
Thx the very Good Tipps. Everything Sounds good but im quite new in infrared fotography. Unfortunately it is impossible for me Zi achieve a blaue Sky. I have a nikon d750 and an hoya filter. So far so Good. Image Looks Good very red though. By Now i tried 5 different approaches which do not work in the end. Downloaded Everything viveza and Co but still. I have ps and lr but no Chance. My Next try will be the 180° hue in viveza but i cant figure out what it is … thankful for any Help ?
Hello Ann, thanks for leaving a comment. It is actually normal that Infrared pictures will show a very strong red cast after you import them into Lightroom. This is caused by a known white balance limitation in Lightroom. For how to work around this problem, please read my article How to Set Proper Infrared White Balance in Lightroom. This should get you started and after that, you should also be able to produce the Infrared Blue Sky effect as described above.
This is very helpful. I don’t have Photoshop (yet) so achieving a blue sky was impossible until now, even with the redblueswap profile from capturemonkey.com which didn’t work at all. Though as helpful as this is to get a blue IR sky, it does tend to put a very light blue cast over even the rest of the picture, which I’m having trouble getting rid of unless I painstakingly make selections and adjust the colors to them. Is there a way to fix this? If not, I’ll deal. Until I get Photoshop, this is a nice workaround for now
Hello Matt, thank you for the comment! I have to say that I have not experienced the light blue cast you mentioned, or perhaps not to an extent where it would be noticeable to me. From what you describe, white balance does not seem to work, which I would have suggested to try out first. But I will gladly have a look at the issue, if you want. I have sent you an email to the address you left here – just send me the some JPEGs from before and after the conversion, I would like to see where the issue is.
Hello Robert, I’m Alberto from Italy.
I’m new to IR photography (I use 665nm filter on a Sony A7, Lightroom for PP) and I found your suggestions very useful. Currently I set a DNG profile in order to adjust white balance in Lightroom, and I’m really happy with results in BN images.
I’m not so satisfied in false colors images, as I have to use Viveza2 and it seems to me that in the passage Lightroom-Viveza2-Lightroom a lot of noise and grain come up.
I’m now trying to set up a DNG profile that combines white balance adjustment with red-blue swap, in order to avoid the Viveza2 step. At the moment I did not obtain remarkable results and so I’m asking you If you tried this also. Thank you. Alberto
Hi Alberto – thank you for sharing your findings here. I am glad the DNG profile works out for you. With regards to the red-blue swap I have two comments:
I you have any updates on the topics above, please let us know here!
OK, I’ll try with the color space you suggest. But, what about dpi? Viveza2 sets 240 by default and I suspect they are too few.
Don’t worry about the dpi value. It is just a number stored in the file – used when you print it directly (not from within Lightroom) or insert it in other applications like Word, that’s all. It has no meaning for the transfer.
No matter what I do I cannot get the sky to turn blue. I did all the steps. I used the DNG editor to slide the white balance temperature to -100. My foliage was nice and white but I also tried it at -78. saved both of these and in LR I applied my new camera profile. At this point my sky is not yellow or orange but I don’t see that tint in your example either. Anyway, after I apply a 180° hue shift in Viveza 2 there is still no blue sky. Any ideas what I could be doing wrong?
Hi Bonnie – a very good question, thank you for asking. I will try my best to get this resolved. For that, I have sent you an email to the address you left here. Please have a look and we will take it from there.
Thank you! I have replied to your email.
Hi Robert, I’ve been using the traditional method of using Photoshop’s Channel Mixer for infrared photography but never got the results I’ve wanted. Your steps made it so much more simpler and easier. Definitely my default workflow to achieve that infrared image from now onwards. Thanks so much.
Hello Derek, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate the feedback and it is good to hear that the article was useful. Let me know if you are missing something!
While searching for some “post-processing” sites for infrared imagery, I came across this one. I am glad I did, as it gave me a whole new way of looking at Viveza 2 and what I can do with it for my infrared imagery. It has now become one of my “go to” tools for processing my IR images. Thank you.
I can hardly wait to see what some of the other Nik tools might do for my IR imagery, as I already use Silver Efex Pro to do B&W conversions.
Ron – thank you for the comment. I am currently researching other tools that can potentially be useful for infrared photography and I plan to publish the findings in the near future.