How I created 'The Old Lady'

Published on: 9th Aug 2016

I promised to walk you through the creation of my infrared photo that I call "The Old Lady". Yes, it is a landscape photo, but for me, the rocks in the foreground resembles an old lady who bends over this lily pond doing her washing (sometimes my imagination runs away with me...).

Above is the end result of my post processing. In many cases (like with this specific photo) I did not know what the end result is going to be when I started. The post processing is a journey on itself.

The photo was taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 infrared converted camera (which I am currently selling - see this post) at Shenzhen Bay during a sunrise visit.

Below is the initial photo. I used a custom white balance created in camera from a lush patch green kikuyu grass in direct sunlight with a 720nm infrared filter attached to the 35mm lens. Although the original is striking on its own, When I opened it on my PC, I thought that the contrast between the bluish foliage (it is actually not lilies!) and the orange water was not good enough, and, although this specific photo does not contain the typical infrared amber sky, I decided to try the "normal" channel swapping technique to turn the amber colour water back to blue and maybe the foliage will become a lighter colour of yellow (yellow is the opposite of blue on the colour wheel).

A quick Channel Swapping overview

For those of you not familiar with the colour swapping technique, here is a quick summary: In photoshop, the channel mixer gives you the three RGB channels, and initially, The initial red and blue channels of an RGB photo [639]the red channel will have a value of 100% (which means that it contributes 100% to the red colour of the initial photo, the green will have an initial value of 100% and so also the blue channel. At the same time the red channel will have a value of 0% for the green and blue values, which means that in the red channel, only red contributes the the way red is represented. The green channel will have a value of 0% for the red and blue and the blue channel will have a value of 0% for the green and red values.

The actual purpose of the channel mixer is to fine tune the colour of your photo. If the photo is too red, you could "mix" the three values of the red channel to get the correct red colour, or "mix" the green channel values to change the green colour of your photo, and so on.

In colour infrared photography, you will always have a sky that is an amber or reddish colour. Although this is great for monochrome photos (as the red is easily changed to a very dark grey - if not totally black) it is creating a very unnatural looking colour landscape, and the channel swapping technique will help you to get your sky back to a blue colour - by swapping the red and blue around.

This is what you need to do: Go to the channel mixer, and select the red channel. As described This is what the photo would have looked with the typical channels swapped [640]above, the initial mix will be 100% red, 0% green and 0% blue. Change it to 0% red, 0% green and 100% blue. You have now basically change all the red values to blue. Then select the blue channel and do the opposite: Change the red value to 100% and the blue value to 0%. This will change all the initial blue values to red, and you therefore now have successfully swapped the red and blue channels. Your sky will be a blue colour, and depending on the infrared filter and the amount of direct sunlight, your green foliage will be any thing between a bright yellow and pure white. I've included a screen print [640]of what it would have looked like if I used the standard channel swapping technique.

The Old Lady - The process

As mentioned, when I start to work on a photo, I do not necessarily know what the end results is going to be - it develops in front of me - and "The Old Lady" is a typical example of this surprise that was waiting for me...

What happened is this: I started the channel swapping and as it naturally would be, I start with swapping the red This is after changing the red channel and halfway through changing the blue channel. [641]channel as it is always the initial selected channel. Then I moved to the blue channel, and first change the red value to 100% as it is the one at the top (no higher artistic thought process went into this!). At this point the blue channel's values would be 100% Red, 0% Green and 100% blue. The logical step in the channel swapping technique will now be to change the blue value to 0% to complete the channel swapping process, but I really loved the colours in this intermediate step[641], and I decided to explore it further.

My next step was to fine tune the colours by slightly changing the channels' values until I was happy with it. I ended up with the following values: Red Channel; Red=+3, Green=0, Blue=+102. Green Channel = unchanged. Blue channel; Red=+97, Green=-55, Blue=+118.

But the colours were still too vibrant for my liking so I added a Black & White adjustment layer on top of it and change its opacity to 45% (This is a great way to desaturate a photo targeting certain colours). This is all the steps I used to create the photo 'The Old Lady' [642]I then darken the blues on this black & white adjustment layer by changing its values to cyan=-14 and blue=+2.

I then added a levels adjustment layer and only change the midpoint from 1.00 to 1.14 which lighten the image a little bit without changing the contrast (I will very seldom uses a normal levels layer to adjust the full image's contrast).

To change the contrast of the photo I then merges all the changes into a new layer and change this new layer's blending mode to soft light. The contrast was still too high for my liking and I reduced it by changing its opacity to 90%.

Finally I did some dodging and burning on a layer filled with 50% grey and with a blending mode of soft light.

I hope you were able to follow my thought process and workflow. If it was not clear then maybe you must contact me for a one-on-one training session in my post processing techniques...

(If you have read up to here and did not click on a photo yet, do so to see them in larger format and also to browse through the rest of this gallery)