A step-by-step guide on how to process infrared photos in Lightroom by creating a custom infrared white balance profile for your camera.
This article explains how you can overcome limitations of Adobe Lightroom when trying to set the white balance of infrared pictures. The issue is that imported infrared pictures turn red and you cannot correct this using the white balance tool. The solution is to create a custom profile just for infrared white balance.
When I bought a Nikon D3200 and had it converted to IR, I experienced this exact issue. By the way, this is not a Nikon-specific issue, it applies to any camera when you take infrared pictures. It took me a while to figure out how to properly set the infrared white balance in Lightroom, and I would like to share a working solution with you.
The solution outlined below reportedly applies to both Windows PCs and Macs, although I have tested it on Windows only.
The issue: white balance limitations in Lightroom
You are taking infrared pictures either with a filter in front of the lens or by using a camera specifically modified for infrared. You are already aware that for IR photography you have to set custom white balance in your camera, by using grass or green foliage as the white balance target. The pictures look okay on your camera display – some red tint, but not bad. So far, so good…
Now you import your pictures into Lightroom and immediately after import they turn completely red:
The imported picture exhibits a strong red cast. You might have noticed that for a brief moment after importing the picture in Lightroom, the picture was displayed without the strong red cast. This is because Lightroom first uses the embedded preview and then replaces it with a rendered preview.
The real issue is that it is impossible to lower the white balance setting. You cannot move the slider further to the left. There is no way to set the correct infrared white balance in Lightroom directly:
The minimum color temperature in Lightroom is 2000 K (Degree Kelvin). This is still too high for infrared pictures. Using the eyedropper tool does not help either, all you might get is magenta cast instead of red cast. You probably have already read about using Canon DPP or Nikon Capture NX2 / NX-D to set the white balance properly, but you find this workflow inconvenient.
Even if all you ultimately want are black-and-white images, the quality of the conversion will be higher if you first set the correct white balance.
The solution: a custom camera profile
To achieve proper infrared white balance in Lightroom, you need to generate a custom profile for your camera. This profile is adjusted to the different wavelengths of infrared light compared to visible light.
A reader has asked if they can simply create a Lightroom infrared preset instead of a profile. Unfortunately, this will not work as expected. A preset can only change settings to the same extent as a user. But in this case, we need to modify the Lightroom white balance calibration.
How to generate your custom profile
- For the creation of a custom profile, you need to download Adobe DNG Profile Editor (available for free from Adobe) for your platform. There is also documentation available in PDF format. At least in Windows, you don’t need to install the downloaded software.
- For best results, in Lightroom select a picture taken with your infrared camera (or filter) with a lot of foliage in it – this will help later to determine the correct setting.
- In Lightroom, export the infrared picture by right clicking on it, select “Export >“, then “Export to DNG“, which is an internal Lightroom preset. Select the folder where you want to store your DNG file and keep a mental note of the folder name.
- Run the Adobe DNG Profile Editor you downloaded earlier and open the DNG file you just created by selecting “File“, then “Open DNG Image…“.
- On the right side of the screen, you will see a tabbed interface for the settings. Select the “Color Matrices” tab. Now drag the “Temperature” slider fully to the left, as shown in the picture below:
- If your picture already starts turning blue at this point, move the slider back until foliage shows as neutral as possible. Don’t worry if at this point your picture is still somewhat red. You can fix this later, in Lightroom. From personal experience, your setting will likely be somewhere between -75 and -100. Do not move the sliders in the “Red Primary” section, although it might be tempting!
- Now select the “Options” tab and provide some information about the profile and the author. This is not required, but will help you later as Lightroom uses the name entered here as the profile name:
- The last step is to export the profile – select “File“, then “Export Profile“. Please do not change the target folder, as the DNG Profile Editor will already pre-select the proper destination. Lightroom will automatically pick up the new profile next time it is restarted.
- Close the DNG Profile Editor and restart Lightroom to activate the new profile. Select the picture with the white balance issue and go to the Develop module. Scroll down to the Camera Calibration section and activate the “Profile” drop-down field. Your new profile is already listed here. Activate the new profile for your picture:
- This is the only step you need to repeat for new images imported from your IR camera.
Please note that Lightroom profiles are camera-dependent. The infrared profile will only be available for selection when you work on pictures taken with the same camera model.
The Adobe DNG Profile Editor is a quite powerful tool. To learn more about its capabilities, read the article Adobe DNG Profiles and Profile Editor by the late Michael Reichmann.
Fine-tuning infrared white balance in Lightroom
This is how your image looks like immediately after applying the new profile. While still not perfect, the strong red cast is gone:
If you look at your white balance temperature slider, you can immediately see the difference the new profile makes. It is now possible to move the white balance slider further to the left:
To optimize white balance, use the eyedropper tool on a part of the picture that you want to appear in neutral grey or white, usually clouds or foliage. For this picture, I selected the clouds in the sky to neutralize the color cast in the clouds. But this is of course a matter of personal taste:
Here is the final setting of the white balance slider after the custom white balance. You can see there is a lot of room for further white balance adjustments:
Lightroom can apply the infrared profile automatically every time you import images from this specific camera. You just need to define the default develop settings in Lightroom by selecting “Develop” and “Set Default Settings…“. Note that this makes sense only for a permanently converted infrared camera.
Wrap-up and further reading
I hope that setting proper infrared white balance in Lightroom is now no longer an issue for you. If you have any questions, leave me a comment below or contact me and I will try my best to get an answer.
If you would like to further enhance your infrared pictures, you might be interested in reading about how to create the Infrared Blue Sky Effect in Lightroom. It is a really cool effect and very easy to apply. For more information about infrared photography in general, I have also prepared a Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial.
This article refers to IR pictures taken with a standard IR filter equivalent to a Hoya R72, a Kodak Wratten 89b or a 720nm filter. If you use an IR filter with different transmission characteristics like a 830nm filter (‘Deep BW IR’) or a 665nm filter (‘Enhanced Color IR’), your results will differ slightly, but the concept still applies.