3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography


An Introduction to Infrared Photography

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.

An Introduction to Infrared Photography

In this article, we’ll look at a few things you need to know to get started with infrared photography.

1) What gear do you need to shoot IR?


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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

Converted Camera

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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography


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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

2) Camera Settings


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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography


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.

White Balance

A topic all of its own, white balance is important in infrared photography. Refer to your camera’s manual on setting custom white balance, as this is your friend when it comes to infrared.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

3) Post-processing Infrared

Auto Tone

As previously mentioned, when you shoot RAW images your output is a dull pinkish red image as shown below.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

Infrared RAW image straight out of the camera.

There are several methods to start your infrared file processing, including applying a DNG profile conversion tool. One of the more common ways is to import it into Photoshop and apply Auto Tone.

Note: You can also do both of these processes if you wish.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

Auto Tone applied to an infrared image.

Channel Swap

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:

  • Red Channel: Red=0, Green=0, Blue=100
  • Blue Channel: Red=100, Green=0, Blue=0

Changing all the channels:

  • Red Channel: Red=0, Green=0, Blue=100
  • Blue Channel: Red=100, Green=0, Blue=0
  • Green Channel: Red=0, Green=100, Blue=0

or another option:

  • Red Channel: Red=0, Green=0, Blue=100
  • Blue Channel: Red=100, Green=100, Blue=-100
  • Green Channel: Red=0, Green=0, Blue=100
3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started with Infrared Photography

After Channel Swapping has been applied.

Final Processing

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.

3 Things You Need to Know to Get Started 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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Nisha Ramroop is an I.T. chick and Project Manager with a passion for photography, currently living in the beautiful Trinidad & Tobago. She’s a published writer and photographer who spends most of her free time traveling and exploring. See more of her work at Nikophotography.

  • Sandy Weaver

    I have had my Sony A6300 converted to full spectrum, ie the IR/UV filter has been removed and replaced with a clear crystal sensor cover. I can now attach IR or UV pass filters for a variety of wavelengths to the front of the lens. Alternatively I can also apply a UV/IR cut filter to take perfect regular visible light photos. For the latter, by far the best is the type supplied by Kolari Vision.

  • jhsvdm

    Had the same done on old canon 550. Mostly process to monochrome images https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e47f5d4ec6edb9c7c9db76387354cec14ffd37652d4f8cb93d0f01fe48693f96.jpg

  • Mark Weber

    Wonderful article. I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you have a source you can recommend to have a camera converted to infrared? Thank you!

  • Anne Jones

    The Pentax K-7 and K-3 (and probably others) can simulate infra-red through in-camera filters. Although it is called simulation it effectively looks EXACTLY the same as infra-red so that is the fastest and easiest option for Pentax shooters.

  • smf

    I have to disagree with one of the first points. Even after your camera has be converted to IR, you can still take normal, full color pictures. Instead of an IR filter, just use a hot mirror. That blocks the IR spectrum. (the hot mirror replaces the IR blocking filter that was removed when the camera was converted to IR)

  • E. O’Bannon

    Where in the K-3 menu would I find that?

  • Donna Sellinger

    I’ve dabbled with it and tried several techniques. I love it, though. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/242e9311102925a9bde08516e6f8a2f6dd14abb7dae630e4b1ab2ada346f8ec0.jpg

  • Anne Jones

    Press IMAGE (right click on back control button). Go to B/W image mode, then press INFO, then go to the first slider control (Filter) and go through the options until you reach INFRA-RED.

  • E. O’Bannon

    Did not realize that option was available there… Thanks!

  • Sandy Weaver

    Nice image! Yes, I prefer to process to monochrome.

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