A step-by-step guide on how to work with infrared pictures in Lightroom. Learn how to create a custom profile for proper infrared white balance.
This article explains how you can overcome 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.
When 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 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 modified for infrared. You know 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 did show up 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:
The lowest 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: 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 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.
How to generate your custom profile
- 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 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.
- 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 to the far 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. Select it to activate the new profile for your picture:
This is the only step you need to repeat for new images imported from your IR camera.
As of Lightroom Classic CC version 7.3 (released in April 2018), you should be able to find your Infrared profile(s) in the Legacy section of the Profile Browser:
Custom profiles for 800 nm (and higher) filters
If you own or use a camera with a “Deep B&W” filter (typically 820 nm, 850 nm or higher), you will find that the instructions in the previous section 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:
- Follow steps 1 to 4 of the instructions in the previous section.
- Instead of adjusting the Temperature slider, adjust the Saturation sliders by:
- 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 shows as neutral as possible, use -50 as a starting point:
- Bonus tip (optional): 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:
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. Use these values as a starting point for your own experiments.
- Complete the profile creation by following steps 7 to 9 of the instructions in the previous section.
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 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.