Fine Art B&W IR Post Processing


A Well Done B&W Conversion Is Something Truly Wonderful To Behold!

630nm B&W IR, Rock Run Mill

I LOVE B&W photography!  Add Infrared into the equation and you have a winning combination what will draw your viewer in while holding them captive…. As long as you get the right combination in your B&W conversions!  Seriously, this is not all that hard but you would be surprised how often it is done badly!  A well done B&W conversion is something truly wonderful to behold!  But… There are several steps in the process that one should follow in order to create art on this level.

They Are:

  • A worthy subject!
  • Good cross image contrasts.
  • Good Exposure
  • Photoshop CS5
  • Nik Software’s Define 2.0, Viveza 2.0 & Silver EFX Pro 2
  • Good Faux Color Post Processing
  • Separate adjustment of image contrasts in the fore, mid and background
  • Choosing the right Silver EFX model or creating one of your own.

The purpose of this post is to take you through the process to create these types of B&W Infrared images as I do it.  I am not saying that my way is the best, only that it is the best that I have come up with that works for me!  There are dozens of B&W converters out there and hundreds of ways to accomplish the same within photoshop.

Let us take the top image as a case in point.  This is the Rock Run Mill in the Cumberland/Maryland Gap that I took on my recent “Great Grist Mill Trip” a couple of months ago.  I came back with hundreds of grist mill images that grab me by the throat and smack me around with their emotional impact (what more can you ask of an image?) , but this is one of my favorites!

I stood there in front of the mill for several moments just taking it in. I really looked closely at it all of the while deciding how I wanted to capture it.  Yes I photographed it in color, but my main intent was to focus on Infrared.  I examined it from all angles, looking at the fore, mid and backgrounds, the sky and trees.  I wanted, no desired to create an emotionally charged image that would grab my viewers and hold onto them.  I wanted them to feel what I did standing in front of it!

So, I settled on this view and angle.  The sky was moody, the mill with the brickwork  and large water wheel in front the the tree line made for an amazing composition.  I even used a tripod for this image wanting the best capture possible.  I decided upon the B+W 091 630nm filter (no surprises there) because of the combination of stunning Faux Color and B&W it would provide.  I set my exposure with a spot meter on the top quadrant of the black water wheel and set that at Zone 3 in order to establish detail in the holding buckets.  What!?!  You don’t know what Zone 3 is?  OK, I will cover that in a future post but for now, know that it is a term in controlling perfect exposure.  Everything else fell into place once I decided upon the exposure.

This is the image that I captured in Faux Color after post processing (see post on 590nm for detailed instructions on how I do this):

630nm Faux Color IR, Rock Run Mill

As you can see, the Faux Color image in itself is a stunning emotionally charged capture.  The post processing was a little more complicated due to the driveway and parking lot which was made up of tar and patches of stone.  This caused about 30 more seconds of processing with Nik’s Viveza… Oh well!  I really do like this image all by itself but I KNEW that I could do so much more with it in B&W!  So after saving this image as you see it, I continued on with my B&W post processing.

The order to things in the overall process is:

  1. Raw conversion into a 16 bit Tiff image.
  2. Crop to master image library size in Photoshop.
  3. Run Nik Define to control noise in the sky
  4. Run Nik Viveza to increase saturation, contrast & structure over the ENTIRE image.
  5. Run the Komography Faux Color Photoshop action (you can download it here on the right menu).  Within the Hue and Saturation window at the end of the action select the RED channel and bring up the saturation to start the color adjustment of the trees.  Select the Yellow and do the same.  Select the Cyan and adjust the HUE to bring the sky back to a normal blue!
  6. Run Nik Viveeza again to adjust fore, mid & background contrast.  Adjust individual element colors and structure.  Remove all saturation in the foreground parking lot and selected mill items.  Remove all saturation in the clouds.  Adjust the blue sky hue.  Adjust the color and structure of the building and wheel.
  7. Flatten and save.
  8. Run Nik Silver EFX Pro 2.0.  Adjust the individual elements after you select the B&W model.  For this image I chose the Wet Rocks option then using control points adjusted various image elements within the filter to get the overall look and feel to the image.  I spent about 5 min within this filter. I decided upon the Wet Rocks model because for this image I wanted a crisp or almost HDR effects!  Plus the model also gives rich blacks and highlights.  I could have simply adjusted the image the same way by taking control of the sliders within Silver EFX but have learned that several of the models give the results I like very quickly and easily!
  9. Flatten and save.

Here is the Nik Silver EFX Pro 2 window to show you some of the options that are at your control.  If you want to seriously create stunning B&W work then this is the way to go!

Nik Software's Silver EFX Pro 2.0

All done.  The overall time that I spent on this image was about 7 min!  I could have spent a little more to do little things like cloning out the cars to the right but I decided to leave them there as a subtle contrast of old and new!

What do you think?  Please let me know!

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7 comments on “Fine Art B&W IR Post Processing

  1. Very nice review. Just some thoughts to add. I could see this image in a more old fashion setting such as using NIK Silver Effects Pro “Antique” mode. But this might require a more subdued lighting atmosphere than the high contrast light at the time your shot was taken. One might consider (if logistics allow) to come back on another day with less contrast light to do an alternate shot to gain the emotion of “antique” or “days gone by”. Again, just more fun!

    Also, what about that car in the parking lot? Any thoughts about cloning it out? I know some purests resist that, but it is a small distraction. One might crop it but that might effect the composition. Any thoughts? Might be a good discussion topic.

    Finally, I’m beginng to see the advantage in shooting at reduced IR nm values to gain more definition in detail and contrast in the trees for example. This also has the benefit of better exposure, i.e. using spot metering vs histogram guessing. This coupled with the power of NIK software (or photoshop layers) can provide an uncompromising pallette of adjustment diversity.

    • Thanks John! I actually do use the antique model from time to time, but in this instance I am looking at printing this image today at my gallery on large canvas and was looking for a “in your face” type of display so went with the gritty sharp approach! I do not mind cloning in or out, after all this is ART, but I actually discussed the car in this image further down in the post! I kind of wavered back and forth so I decided to leave it in for now as my wife was sitting there! I have a very good hand held spot meter that I use from time to time for my work and in this case used it to zero in on the upper wheel!

  2. Great workflow tips Mark. I use a combination of Nik filters for my BW IR work. I haven’t tried Dfine or Vivesa though. My filter for IR is R72, so I’m not exactly able to do some of the false color work of the thinner filters, but your suggestion ovf Vivesa will send me back to my computer to give it a try.

    • Thanks Tim, I have a lot of fun with this blog! Even though you are using a 720nm filter you are not totally blocked from Faux work. BUT, you have the ability to have WICKEDLY cool raw images right out of the camera with no post processing other than the normal sharpening, contrast and minor color adjustments!

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