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Infrared light is not visible to human eyes. The light your eyes see is that within what is referred to as the “visible spectrum” and infrared (IR) lies beyond this band. Thus Infrared (IR) Photography requires special equipment beyond your standard camera, to tap into this “unseen” world.
Over the years, IR photography has not only become more accessible but is also less complicated with more inexpensive options. If you have been exposed to infrared images, you immediately notice how the look stands out. While some find it rather eerie, others are intrigued by the way the ordinary transforms.
In this article, we’ll look at a few things you need to know to get started with infrared photography.
If you are just starting to explore this haunting genre of photography, a filter is an easy addition to your gear list. It is least expensive and a good way to gauge how much further you want to delve into and invest in infrared photography.
Infrared filters allow infrared light to hit your camera’s sensor, while at the same time prevent visible light from doing so.
Most manufacturers offer infrared filters and they can range from screw-on to slide-in filter systems. The Hoya R72 is a popular screw-on infrared filter. Interestingly this filter allows just a little bit of visible light through as well, which makes it a nice introductory filter to the world of infrared.
If you already have or prefer to use slide-in systems, note that the infrared filter should be closest to the camera body, to avoid any unwanted visible light hitting your camera sensor.
Different brand filters render color differently as they may address specific ranges of the infrared spectrum. The plus side is that you can experiment with different filters until you find the one that suits your vision.
If you are committed to doing infrared, a more permanent option is having a dedicated infrared camera body. When a DSLR camera is converted, the infrared blocking filter (that resides in front of your DSLR sensor) is removed. It is a more expensive option, but the benefits include using your camera similar to how you usually do, with normal exposure values.
Note: once a camera has been converted, its sole use is infrared photography – you cannot take “regular” images with it any longer.
With film photography on the rise again, infrared film is readily available and relatively cheap. Developing this film though may nullify that cost-benefit, as you will have to find a lab that has the ability to process infrared.
Shoot both RAW and JPEG files in the beginning. As with any images taken with a DSLR, RAW gives you the most scope when processing. If you are just starting out with infrared photography though, you may be horrified when you look at the back of your camera and see a flat pinkish red image staring back at you.
The JPEG option allows you to see a little more differentiation and determine how to adjust your settings. Believe it or not, with time you will be able to look at those dull pinkish RAW files and be able to tell if they are good or not.
If you are using infrared filters, you will need longer exposures when you block out the visible light. So on a bright sunny day, you can work with exposure times between 30-120 seconds, at f/8. Thus a tripod is a must!
If your camera is infrared converted, your settings will vary depending on the amount of light as with normal exposures. Using the sunny day example, your settings could be 1/125th or faster at f/8.
As previously mentioned, when you shoot RAW images your output is a dull pinkish red image as shown below.
Note: You can also do both of these processes if you wish.
Next, to get those blue skies you need to Channel Swap your colors. While channel swapping is an essential part of infrared photography processing, there are mixed views on which channels to swap to what values. The following are some of the values that are used. Experiment until you find which one works for you:
Changing the Red and Blue Channels only:
Changing all the channels:
or another option:
Final touches include adjusting your hue/saturation and your curves and levels adjustment in Photoshop. It all comes down to your personal taste. Then there is the whole other topic of black and white infrared photography. Read more on that here: How to Enhance your Black and White images with Infrared Photography.
Infrared photography is a small but growing niche of photography, that has evolved with time. It offers creative choices and opens a whole new dimension to explore. You can start off simple with filters and then graduate to converting your camera to be a full-time infrared camera in time.
If you have tried infrared photography please share your tips and images in the comments below. If you haven’t, please let me know if you have any other questions.