Fun with infrared light and modern architecture

Over the past few years, I’ve dabbled here and there with infrared (IR) photography, but didn’t take it very seriously until I recently took an online course in the subject from Derrick Story (a.k.a. The Nimble Photographer). If you’re at all interested in IR photography, I can highly recommend the seminar — you’ll learn a lot from the instruction, and quite a bit as well from your fellow students.

In particular, one of my fellow students recommended taking IR photos in office parks with mature vegetation. You can, he said, get some nice results with the architecture, windows, and greenery.

So as my first example of this subject matter, here’s the Pacific Western Bank building in the Denver Tech Center (Denver, Colorado):

PWB iPhone

The above is a quick reference photo I took with my iPhone — it’s poorly framed but still a good comparison for the images below.

Next up is my original infrared image, taken with an Olympus Pen E-PM2 camera (converted to full-spectrum sensing), and wearing a sporty 14-42mm EZ lens and 665 nm filter:


14mm, ISO 250, f/11, 1/80 sec

It’s nice, but not necessarily a photo that jumps out at you. But do a bit of color tinkering in your editor of choice, and it cleans up very nicely.

PWB IR, color swapped

Getting from there to here is simpler than you might think — you need a photo editor that lets you swap color channels around (I used a custom hand-rolled “enhanced profile” in Lightroom, but anything with a “color mixer” tool would do the same). Then swap the red and blue channels (i.e., red color information is displayed as blue, and vice versa), and split the green channel (50% goes to blue, 50% to green) — more on this geekery below.

The building’s now-dark windows provide a sharp contrast with their frames, and the architect’s choice to reduce the number of metal wall panels with increasing height gives the building an abstract sort of appearance — as though it’s real at ground level, but is an outline drawing at the top. I also like the muted colors of the building and how they contrast with the orange tones of the surrounding vegetation.


For the sake of completeness, I also did the above black & white conversion of the color-swapped image. It has its merits, but I still prefer the color version.

So let’s talk about the geeky bits.

I use a Lightroom-Classic-centric photography workflow, and for my money, the best Infrared workflow in Lightroom or Lightroom Classic comes courtesy of Rob Shea (I now prefer this to the approach I used earlier this year). I used his instructions to build two White Balance Profiles for my E-PM2 (Temp -50 and Temp -100), as well as a number of Channel Mixer LUTs (Look Up Tables). The one of interest here swaps the red and blue channels, and splits the green channel 50/50 to red and blue. Combine the “Temp -100” profile and this LUT into an “Enhanced Profile,” and you’re 90% of the way there. About all I needed to do after applying that profile in Lightroom was tweak a few sliders to taste.

Lightroom Enhanced Profiles

Lightroom Enhanced Profiles allow you to do the messy setup stuff once, and reuse them in the future. But that’s not the only way for you to go. As I mentioned above, you can do essentially the same job in any photo editing software that provides a “channel mixer” function — say, Photoshop (overkill for many folks), or ON1 Effects (cheaper, more photo-centric).


The color IR image, along with others from the same workshop, is now also online here.