Infrared Digital Photography: An Introduction

Infrared Digital Photography: An Introduction

An Introduction to Infrared Digital Photography by Chris Folsom.

The Old Ways by Chris Folsom

The Old Ways by Chris Folsom

Infrared photography allows us to see the world in a way that our naked eyes (and traditional cameras) can not. The infrared spectrum exists beyond the spectrum of visible light, but it is always present and can have a very dramatic effect on your images when properly captured.

Carousel Horses by Chris Folsom

Carousel Horses by Chris Folsom

The Gear

Modern digital camera sensors are already capable of photographing in the infrared spectrum. Camera manufacturers use a special filter on the sensor to block most (but not all) IR light in order to improve the quality of the visible light being recorded. Despite this, there are several options available for capturing images in infrared:

  • Use a camera that includes a “night vision” mode. These cameras generally include an infrared light to help illuminate objects in the dark and the normal IR filter can be removed from the camera’s sensor with the flip of a switch. Though they are generally limited to monochrome images, the results can still be very pleasing. An example of this type of camera is the Sony DSC-H9 which has been out of production for about a year but had very good monochrome IR capabilities.
  • Purchase an infrared filter for your camera. This is probably the easiest way to try infrared photography as it doesn’t require a particular type of camera or expensive modifications. Despite the IR-blocking filters put in place by camera manufacturers, some infrared light still comes through. Attaching an IR filter (such as the Hoya RM-72 to your camera will block out all visible light so that only the infrared image is visible. The downside of this technique is that it typically requires lengthy exposures (10 seconds or more) and thus a tripod (and some patience) is required.
  • Purchase or modify a camera to natively shoot infrared. There are a number of companies that sell modified cameras (both compacts and DSLR’s) that have had the infrared filter permanently removed. Additionally, many of these companies will perform the modifications to an existing camera that you already own. These modified cameras are capable of photographing infrared images as easily as most cameras capture visible light… no lengthy exposures or special filters required. Cameras modified for infrared photography are no longer capable of taking traditional photos though.

Color vs. Monochrome

As previously mentioned, cameras using a “night vision” mode are typically only capable of monochrome infrared images. Using traditional post-processing techniques, these photos can be converted to a variety of tones and contrasts… much like typical B&W image conversion.

Crystal Pool by Chris Folsom

Crystal Pool by Chris Folsom

Cameras using an IR filter or that have been specially modified to exclusively shoot in infrared are capable of recording different wavelengths within the IR spectrum which is interpreted as colors by the camera sensor. These colors don’t typically have as much variety or saturation as visible light, but the effect can still be very interesting. Here is an example of an IR image right out of the camera, with the normally blue skies shown as a deep red:

Red Dawn by Chris Folsom

Red Dawn by Chris Folsom

Using software like Photoshop, the red and blue channels can be flipped so that the colors are a little closer to what we are traditionally used to seeing while still retaining some of the other-worldly effects.

Power Station by Chris Folsom

Power Station by Chris Folsom

Subject matter

What makes for a good infrared photograph? There are no set rules… one of my favorite aspects of IR is the unexpected quality it brings to images. You are never quite sure how things will look when captured in the infrared spectrum.

Typically though, the biggest differences happen with organic material. Grass, trees, people… they all appear much differently in infrared and can be particularly fun to photograph.

Ghost in the Kitchen by Chris Folsom

Ghost in the Kitchen by Chris Folsom

In a future article, I will get into more detail regarding the IR photography process and discuss some of the post-processing steps involved. Until then, enjoy some of the amazing infrared photographs available on Flickr in groups like Converted Digital Infrared Cameras and Digital Infrared.

-1.jpgChris Folsom is a hobbyist photographer who spends much of his time photographing abandoned buildings. You can view his site at or see more of his photos at Flickr.

His photos have been published in newspapers and on numerous websites.

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Some Older Comments

  • John March 12, 2012 08:41 pm

    The Mansurovs posted an excellent article on infrared photography:

  • Jennifer Lycke February 29, 2012 03:27 am

    Great article, I just tried my first experiment with infrared photography, using a Hoya Infrared filter for my weekly photo challenge

  • Phil February 15, 2011 01:50 am

    Love this article, I am just starting in IR photography so this has been a timely article for me read.

    I am currently only doing IR conversions through PS (so not real IR, I know) and seriously considering a IR conversion of a well used Canon 5DmkI.

    In the meantime I will keep looking and learning. I did come across this site which may be of interest to you and your readers.

  • Anna Patrick December 28, 2010 12:01 am

    This is a great post for getting starting with the infrared photography. You can see here a collection of amazing inspirational infrared photos

  • panasonic October 26, 2010 05:46 pm

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  • Merryn July 16, 2010 09:40 pm

    Malc, Love your photos! I just got myself a IRF today and not getting photos like you thats for sure.
    Do you have any hints and tips to help me take better pics? and are you pics all photoshoped?

  • Malc February 17, 2010 08:26 am


    Glad you liked - still surprised the post managed to make it onto the comments page, I thought I'd made a right arse of it.

    Yep, just a simple channel swap (Blue/Red) in post with tweaking here and there to get the desired result. SOOC the images are pretty much mono pink.

    You'll get a half decent print from the IS-Pro (which is just an S5 with the IR blocking stuff cleaned away) the only issue is that they are on the way to being discontinued so there will likely be no long term repair or upgrade potential.

    Shame really.

  • SusanG February 17, 2010 08:18 am

    @Malc Those are very cool! I am that close to getting either the IS Pro or S5. I love Fuji's sensor tech. Just concerned about the 6/6 MP in terms of printing. Still pretty clever how they honeycomb the receptors.

    Did you manipulate the images for colour Post Pro?

  • Malc February 17, 2010 06:51 am

    Damn my skills in setting up links - images wont work either for some reason.

    Oh well, if interested I have some cool IR shots in my Flickr stream in the LIGHT PLAY set using both the Fuji IS-1 and IS-Pro.

  • Malc February 17, 2010 06:49 am

    Oh my good god, what is going on? I'll give it one last try to get in on the comments here, if it doesn't work I leaving the interwebs for good (lol)

    All on my Flickr in the Light Play set if interested.

    [eimg link='' title='Follow the Blue Patio Path' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='The Blue HaIRed Boy' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='RoadtIRppin' Landscape' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Bridging the Gap (False Colour IR)' url='']

  • Malc February 17, 2010 06:45 am

    Jeez, I've made a real mess of that last post - stupid laptop (blame the tools!)

    apologies for the multiposts - got my link coding sorted now I think

  • Malc February 17, 2010 06:39 am

    I don't know why I am unable to this with images so here is a reply without images!

    I have use of a couple of IR cameras from work and have dabbled a bit in this area...

    Cameras used are the Fuji IS-1 and IS-Pro (the pro was used for all but the second image listed above)

    It's all fun experimentation!


  • Malc February 17, 2010 06:36 am

    Infrared e

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey February 17, 2010 06:15 am

    I did my final photo project in college 20+ years ago in infrared.

    Oh how I feel old.

  • SusanG February 16, 2010 10:26 am

    I'm looking forward to your next post! IR is something that fascinates me (and if you sneak in some film tips it would be very cool tho I know this is Digital Photog School!)

    Fuji makes a camera that shoots both visible and IR. the IS-1 Technically a bridge camera as the lens is not interchangeable, it's probably a very powerful piece of kit if one goes by their other bridge products.

    The fujifilm IS Pro is a full fledged DSLR with the same capability to shoot UVIR. I think the IR is still monochrome but it would be interesting to hear from anyone that has shot with either of these and/or the Sony!

  • Robin Ryan February 16, 2010 06:11 am

    If your budget is limited, sells a B&W conversion pack for photoshop that has an IR-filter. Here's some of what I've done with it: (vancouver) (vancouver) (vancouver) (korea)

    IR is fascinating. One day I'd love to shoot it in film.

  • Fernando February 16, 2010 02:08 am

    Great post.. Thanks.
    I have always wanted to play around with IR photography, but I just don't have the capabilities to do it in camera (I would have to go out and buy a filter, which sure are not too expensive in the grand scheme of things, I just have to many other things on my list of wants that out weigh it at the moment!)
    I have however tried the photoshop option of converting a shot into a pseudo IR shot. I just don't really like the photoshop version of IR. It does not seem to give me what I would expect from a real IR. I guess its good enough for a quick conversion, and can turn out OK if you really play with it, but some day I'll get me a filter and do it right!
    Enjoy the world of seeing what you really cannot see directly!

  • ricardo galvao February 16, 2010 12:49 am

    I'm quite sure what I expect to see an IR BW film.
    Water: does not emit IR, so it will be tottaly black on positive, So does the Sky...
    chlorophyla based greens tottaly white with some glow cause the IR radiation comes from inside...
    that's why older analog cameras has a dim red "r" in focus ring..

    Ricardo Galvão