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Using LR or ACR for IR images


Colorado Springs, US
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walkerr Administrator Awarded for his con tributed articles published at the Resources Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in multiple areas Master Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art and science of photography   Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Nikonian since 05th May 2002
Thu 09-Apr-15 11:59 PM | edited Sat 11-May-13 03:17 PM by walkerr

I've received several e-mails regarding using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Lightroom for infrared and it recently came up in another post. There's a conventional wisdom that you need to use NX2 (whether View NX2 or Capture NX2) because of white balance issues, but there's an easy way to make ACR/LR work very well with IR images: created a new custom color profile. Technically, it's called a DNG color profile, but it works with either NEFs or DNGs, so don't get hung up on the name. I've used this same approach with four different IR conversion types: 590nm (Life Pixel Super Color), 665nm (Life Pixel Enhanced Color), 720nm (Life Pixel Standard) and 830nm (Life Pixel Deep B&W). I've used it with both Nikons and Panasonics, and it works with all of them and all conversion types.

First, the problem this profile is solving: the normal color profiles with ACR/LR don't have a color temperature range lower than 2000K, and that's often not enough to white balance an infrared image. Creating a new color profile shifts the color temperature range so that the scale includes lower temperatures. Once you've done that, you can easily and quickly white balance an image.

Why might you want to use ACR/LR instead of NX2? The most obvious reason is that if they're your normal tools, you save having to learn or buy another tool. Second, these tools in the their current incarnation have some very nice controls for fine-tuning highlights and shadows, which can be very helpful in any image, including IR ones. Finally, they're fast. Once you get things configured, you'll find yourself converting IR images very rapidly.

First things first. You need to figure out what you're typically going to want to have white balanced in a shot and what kind of light you'll typically be shooting in. The latter is easy for me, as it's usually daylight. The former depends on the filter you're using, along with your preferences. It's common with the Standard or Deep B&W to white balance off of grass or foliage. With the Super Color filter, a grey card or clouds are common. Here's how I set up the D800 is recently converted to 590nm (Super Color):

First, I made a test shot in normal daylight conditions that included a grey card. Here's the shot that you initially see in ACR/LR with the preset you get from Life Pixel:

Click on image to view larger version

Yikes! That's not good. Trying to white balance shifts the colors a bit, but it's still a problem. Here's where you create the new color profile. First, go to this webpage and download the DNG Profile Editor, along with its documentation:


In its user manual, there are a series of tutorials. You want to read and follow Tutorial 4, which describes how to create an IR profile. Starting with the Adobe Standard profile is a good way to go. My usual goal is to have an IR daylight shot, like the above, having a revised white balance reading of 5000K with a zero tint setting. I can do that with most of the infrared filter choices with the exception of the 590nm Super Color, which I can get to about 3800K and zero tint. That's good enough. In the case of the Super Color conversion, I shifted the color temperature to -100 and the Tint to -70. I arrived at this numbers by iteratively moving the sliders, exporting a new IR profile, opening the image up into ACR, selecting the new color profile and white balancing it. The whole process, including converting the NEF to a DNG (the tools requires it in that format) and creating the final profile took five minutes. That's it. Now, I get the following image in ACR or LR:

Click on image to view larger version

Much better.

Now what I do is to set up a new camera default in ACR or LR (doing it in one program sets it for both). I start with an unedited daylight image (like the above), white balance the grey card (or grass in the case of a Standard or Deep B&W filter), bump up contrast to +25 and vibrance to +30 (these parameters are for the current versions of ACR and LR that have the 2012 process engine). Then make these settings the default for that camera using the menu options in either program. What will now happen is that when you download new images to your computer that are made with that camera, they'll automatically get the IR color profile, a daylight IR white balance, and those altered contrast and vibrance settings. As is often the case, you'll want to adjust exposure depending on the image, as well as other parameters. The contrast and vibrance settings aren't sacrosanct, but I've found them to be good starting points.

Here are comparison photos from a non-artistic shot I made yesterday to illustrate this process. In both cases, I converted the images and then flipped the channels in Photoshop using the LAB method, which I generally like better than the RGB one. For both, I have actions that do this for me, and both methods are well documented here on Nikonians and the internet. Life Pixel's website also describes them.

First, the NX2 shot:

Click on image to view larger version

Then the ACR/LR shot:

Click on image to view larger version

In both cases, I white balanced off a darker section of the clouds. Don't get hung up on small nuances of color or contrast - I could fine tune either image to make it look like the other. I'd say they're pretty close. I had to boost the brightness of the image quite a bit in NX2, whereas the ACR/LR was pretty much right on. Which is better will depend on the specific image.

Hope this helps.
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Rick Walker

My photos:

GeoVista Photography

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