Lightroom provides a simple and effective way to process black and white infrared images and achieve nice results, particularly with the use of black and white profiles such as Jim Welninski’s Black and White Artistry profiles. This has been my primary processing method for my black and white infrared images for the last couple of years, and I’ve only gone on to Photoshop when absolutely necessary, mainly because I haven’t found a Photoshop workflow that I’m comfortable with.
That has changed now with my discovery of the B&W Artisan Pro X panel by Joel Tjintjelaar along with the excellent webinar tutorials Joel has made available on his YouTube channel. I dove into the use of the panel when I was unable to achieve my vision for my moonrise photo using either Lightroom or Photoshop. Even though there was a lot to learn with the panel and the workflow, I felt like I was able to use it effectively to create the image I had in my mind from that photo. With that success, I was ready to try using the panel on another photo in my library that I’ve never been completely satisfied with.
I captured this photo of Alta Peak in Sequoia National Park in May 2019. An afternoon thunderstorm was retreating east over the Sierras at sunset, creating the opportunity for some incredible infrared images with the sunlight filtered through the clearing clouds. This image was the last infrared photo that I captured that evening just before the direct sunlight disappeared. In my mind, I envisioned the top of the peak and the clouds just catching the sunlight out of the darkness. But my Lightroom edit from 2019 was a far cry from this vision.
I attempted this edit in Photoshop using the panel, but failed miserably on my first attempt. I ended up creating a very stark image with nearly pure white highlights and no details in the dark foreground or the sky. I decided to re-watch both the Beginner and Advanced webinar tutorials for the B&W Artisan Pro X panel from 2020 knowing that I would probably pick up a lot of nuance the second time now that I had some experience using the panel on a couple of images. Even with the video playback set at 1.25x speed and skipping over the non-relevant parts, this was still a big time investment, but it was absolutely worth it. When I opened this image the second time in Photoshop, I felt like I knew exactly which tools to use to achieve the results I wanted. I’ll freely admit that I did have to back up a few times and start over on parts of the edit, but I think this is just part of the editing process-sometimes one approach doesn’t work so you try something else.
An important step that Joel teaches is to make a diagram showing the areas of light, dark, and midtone and contrasts. I made myself do this for my last two images, and I’ve found that it is actually very useful, particularly for working out the steps to process the image to achieve the final vision.
In between my attempts at editing this image with the B&W Artisan Pro X panel, I also made another attempt to realize a more dramatic edit in Lightroom and pushed the image much farther than I would normally. This edit also required substantial use of manual masking in addition to using luminosity range masks for the radial filters. The results are not bad and not too different from my final version of this image. The Lightroom edit is maybe not quite so dramatic nor as subtle. But the main problem was that after I finished the edit and came back to it, I realized that a significant halo had developed all the way around the bright clouds. I had not noticed this halo while editing, but once I saw it, I could not un-see it. And despite checking all of the sliders, I was unable to completely remove it from the image. Despite this problem, I was impressed with how far I could push the shadows in Lightroom.
I’m not providing a detailed description of my edit in this post, but I do want to share a few notes. Before taking the image into Photoshop, I applied an infrared camera profile in Lightroom (using the standard DCP Profile Editor approach starting from the Sony Camera Deep profile). I also made a slight adjustment to the Highlights and Shadows sliders to balance the contrast in the raw image along with applying standard sharpening, minor noise reduction, and lens corrections.
I opened the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop just in case I needed to go back to the raw image and make changes. This imported raw color version was also used to generate luminosity masks throughout the editing process. The image was inverted to black and white using the Neutral Conversion preset in the panel. I also spent some time initially creating a hard selection of the sky, but no other saved selections were needed for this image.
I processed the image as three separate areas: first the sky, then the forest in the foreground, and finally the mountain in combination with the foreground. Other than the separation of the sky and mountain/foreground, most of the adjustments were made using either rectangular Marquee selections with the Restore feature of the panel, or using freeform selections with the Lasso tool, often in combination with luminosity masks. Once I had developed a solid understanding of how to work with these selections and luminosity masks, I was able to effectively use to various adjustment features of the panel to make subtle edits in the image. I was surprised to find that after the final step, this image did not need any noise or grain to be added to smooth the transitions in the sky. However, after publishing the image on my website, I did notice that the sky suffered when displayed in some formats, such as on this blog. I made a few final adjustments to the sky and added noise to the dark areas using BlendIf, and now the published image looks better.
I would say the most important steps that I have learned from working with the panel and learning Joel’s workflow are: remove contrast when darkening; darken first, then use luminosity masks to restore highlights, and build up adjustments gradually by applying minute, subtle changes to achieve a desired effect.
You can see more of my images from Sequoia National Park here.