Your infrared pictures are all red? Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set proper white balance for your infrared pictures in Lightroom.

This article explains how you can overcome the limitations of Adobe Lightroom when you work with 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 for infrared white balance.

After I bought a Nikon D3200 and had it converted to IR, I experienced this exact issue. 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 set the white balance for infrared pictures in Lightroom, and I would like to share a working solution with you.

The solution outlined below reportedly works on both Windows PCs and Macs, although I have tested it on Windows only. Please note that this solution is for Lightroom Classic only, not for the newer cloud-based Lightroom.

Infrared white balance limitations in Lightroom

You are taking infrared pictures either with a filter in front of the lens or by using a camera modified for infrared. You know that for IR photography you have to set the 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 cast, but not bad. So far, so good…

Now you import your pictures into Lightroom and immediately after import they turn completely red:

Image after import into Lightroom
Picture after import into Lightroom

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 did show up without the strong red cast. For RAW files, 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:

Lightroom white balance slider at the limit
Lightroom white balance slider at the lower limit

The lowest possible 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 may have already read about using Canon DPP or Nikon Capture NX2 / NX-D to set the correct white balance, but you find this workflow inconvenient.

Even if all you want are black-and-white images, the quality of the conversion will be higher if you first set the correct white balance.

The solution is a custom camera profile

To achieve proper infrared white balance in Lightroom, you need to generate a custom profile for your camera. This profile will match the lower wavelengths of infrared light.

A reader asked if they can 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 adjust the Lightroom white balance calibration.

Preparation steps

For the creation of a custom profile, you need to download Adobe DNG Profile Editor, which is available for free. The version on Adobe’s website is from September 2012 but will work fine for what we are trying to achieve. At least in Windows, you don’t need to install the downloaded software.

For best results, select a RAW 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 unedited infrared picture by right clicking on it, select Export >, then Export to DNG. Select the folder where you want to store your DNG file and keep a mental note of the folder name.

Now run the Adobe DNG Profile Editor you downloaded earlier and open the DNG file you just created by selecting File, then Open DNG Image…

Create the custom camera profile

Depending on your infrared filter type, I would recommend creating one of two specific camera profiles. One profile is for color infrared photography (usually used with filters below 800 nm), the other one is for black and white infrared photography (usually used with filters above 800 nm). For myself, I have actually created both profiles and use them according to my desired output style.

Color infrared profile

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 to the far left:

DNG Profile Editor Saturation settings for color infrared filters
Color infrared profile settings

If your picture already starts turning blue or purple, 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!

Black and white infrared profile

If you own or use a camera with a Deep B&W filter (typically 800 nm or higher), you will find that the color infrared profile will not work well. The starting picture is usually more purple than red, and using the Temperature slider will result in a yellowish tone.

If you plan to convert the pictures to black and white anyway, here is what you can do to create a profile for nearly neutral black-and-white pictures. This profile is also useful, if you use a color infrared filter, but would like to produce a black and white version of the image.

  • On the right side of the screen, you will see a tabbed interface for the settings. Select the Color Matrices tab.
  • Set the Red Primary and Green Primary Saturation sliders to -100, do not touch the Temperature slider
  • Adjust the Blue Primary Saturation slider until your picture is as neutral as possible, use -50 as a starting point:
DNG Profile Editor Saturation settings for black and white infrared filters
Black and white infrared profile settings

Bonus tip: increase the contrast

It is very likely that you will find at this point that your picture lacks contrast. To increase the contrast as part of your custom camera profile, you can apply a slight S-curve in the Tone Curve tab before you save the profile:

Use the tone curves of the dng profile editor for increased contrast
Use the tone curve to increase the default contrast of your black-and-white pictures

In the picture above, I have used the following settings:

  • Left point: In: 64, Out: 48
  • Center point: In: 128, Out: 128
  • Right point: In: 192, Out: 208.

You can use these values as a starting point for your own experiments. 

Save the profile to the proper location

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:

DNG profile editor options
DNG profile editor options

The last step is to export the profile. Select File, then Export Profile. Make sure that the profile is saved to the correct folder for your operating system:

  • Windows 7/8/10:
    C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles
  • Mac:
    /Users/{username}/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Camera Raw/Camera Profiles/

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.

Apply the new profile in Lightroom

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. This means that if you have multiple infrared cameras or use infrared filters on multiple cameras, you will have to create a specific profile for each camera.

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. Depending on your Lightroom version, apply the new profile according to the following instructions:

Lightroom Classic version 7.3 and newer

In the Basic section of the Develop module, click on the current profile name (likely it will say Adobe Standard), then select Browse… from the pop-up menu:

Choose Profile Browser in Lightroom Classic

Now the Profile Browser opens. Scroll down to the Profiles entry and click on it to expand the section. Click on your profile to apply it to the current picture:

Select camera profile in Lightroom Classic

Lightroom (Classic) up to version 7.2

Scroll down to the Camera Calibration section and activate the Profile drop-down field. Select the new profile to activate it for your picture:

Lightroom camera calibration profile selection
Lightroom camera calibration profile selection

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:

Picture with the new camera profile applied
The picture with the new camera profile applied

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:

White balance slider can now move further to the left
White balance slider can now move 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:

Final image with proper infrared white balance in Lightroom
Final picture with proper infrared white balance in Lightroom

Here is the position of the white balance slider after using the eyedropper tool. You can see there is a lot of room for further white balance adjustments:

White balance slider position

Lightroom can automatically apply your custom profile every time you import images from your 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 a comment below and I will answer with my best knowledge.

If you would like to further enhance your infrared pictures, read about how to create the Infrared Blue Sky Effect in Lightroom. It is a cool effect and very easy to apply. Are you new to infrared photography? My Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial will guide you to your personal and custom infrared solution.