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4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images

ways to create infrared images

A really interesting form of photography that can transform your images is infrared photography. This form of photography has been around for a long time, and today, you’ll discover how to make your own infrared images. Anyone can do this, and it’s possible to do with minimal or even no extra equipment at all. So read on and find out how you can enhance your photographs today.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
Infrared works very well as a long exposure, especially with moving water.

1. Infrared photography with an infrared filter

The first and most accessible way for photographers with a digital camera to get into infrared photography is to buy a filter. Filters work by filtering out all light except infrared. This will lead to an infrared image rendered onto your camera sensor.

The imperfect solution

Using a filter is the quickest route into this genre of photography, but it’s not without it’s problems. The fact is your camera is built to resist infrared light, a fact that has both positive and negative results for you as a photographer. Let’s take a look at some of the factors you’ll need to consider.

  • Camera sensor – Different cameras will work better or worse when it comes to infrared photography with a filter. This comes down to how strong the filter that blocks infra-red light hitting your camera sensor is. A strong filter will mean you’ll need longer exposures, and the results are not always as strong.
  • Light leaking – With the long exposures needed it’s important to cover area’s of the camera that allow light in, other than of course the lens. If you fail to do this you’ll find light leaks in, effecting the outer area’s of your image. The most obvious area that needs covering on a dSLR camera is the viewfinder.
  • Camera noise – If your camera is not sensitive to infrared light you’re going to have two choices, both will lead to digital noise on your image. Those choices are upping the ISO, to allow a shorter long exposure, or exposing for several minutes in bulb mode.
4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
In this photo the clouds in the sky work very well for infrared. There is also a lot of green leaves photosynthesizing.

The need for long exposure

As mentioned infrared photography with a filter requires long exposure, however this can often really add to your image. You’ll need a tripod, a way for triggering your shutter remotely, and you’ll need to cover your camera to prevent light leaking in. Using long exposure is often the choice of many landscape photographers anyway, so what will you gain? If you’re photographing anywhere with moving water or clouds, then you’ll capture their movement with long exposure. Coastlines and seawater are somewhat different in that it will flatten the water, again often a desirable effect.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
This image shows an infrared photo without white balance adjustment.

Which filter?

There are plenty of options when it comes to filters you can buy. Obviously, as with different manufacturers, the results will vary, and you’ll need to choose a filter that suits your style. However, all of these filters will do the same thing, and that is filter out infrared light. The photos in this article were produced using the Hoya R72 filter.

The white balance

To get to your desired result with an infrared filter, you’re going to need to adjust the white balance. You’ll usually want to do this in post-processing, however, it’s also possible to do it in-camera.

The method needed to do this in-camera is as follows:

  1. Compose your photo and aim at some grass that is well-lit by the sun – it needs to be photosynthesizing.
  2. Use an exposure of 10 or 20 seconds – enough to correctly expose the photo.
  3. During the exposure, which in this case can be handheld, move the camera around so you get a blurred photo.
  4. Your image should now be red, with no sharp portions to your photo.
  5. Now go to your camera’s white balance settings.
  6. Select the custom white balance option.
  7. Select the photo you have just taken, and use this to set the custom white balance. It will now set everything that is red in your image and make it white.
4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
In this scene, I adjusted the camera’s custom white balance.

Post-processing required

If you chose not to use the camera’s custom white balance, then you’ll now need to process your image. You’ll have a RAW image that is mostly red. You can now decide whether to process for a color infrared image, or a black and white one. In both cases, you’ll need to adjust the red and blue channels to achieve this.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
Post-processing is used here from the red image above, and a color infrared was produced.

2. Modify your camera to produce infrared images

Those more serious about infrared photography can look into modifying their camera. It’s important to mention that once modified, your camera will only be useful for infrared photography, so don’t get this done with your main camera.

Those that go down this road often have a second camera body, which they’re prepared to dedicate to infrared photography.

What’s involved?

Remember that most camera manufacturers produce cameras that block out infrared light? You will modify your camera to remove that infrared blocking filter in front of your camera sensor and put an infrared filter in place. That’s the process, and now your camera will be sensitive to infrared light.

What are the advantages?

You can now use this camera more like a regular camera, instead of only being able to take long exposure photos. That means techniques like panning and infrared are possible. You’ll be able to use fast exposures to capture moments. In other words, you will regain full artistic control of your camera, just now it only photographs in infrared.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
Cityscapes can work well with infrared. This one has a sepia tone.

3. Film photography and infrared

Infrared images have been produced for a long time, and certainly predate digital photography. It’s possible to take beautiful infrared images with film, though you’ll need to get film that specifically for this form of photography.

An infrared filter used on a digital camera won’t be needed this time, as the film itself exposes for infrared light. However, you may well consider using filters anyway. The same filters that enhance regular black and white photos can also do the same for infrared. That means the classic yellow, orange, and red filters should be in your camera bag. Should you choose to use an infrared filter this will certainly work, but again it will block most of the light, meaning you’ll be taking a long exposure.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
The technique creates a dreamscape mood for your photos.

4. Producing infrared images in post-processing

The last method to produce infrared images is post processing.

That means you can choose any of your existing photos, and process them to replicate the infrared effect. It’s worth choosing a photo that would work well if it were photographed as an infrared.

Think of a landscape photo with plenty of green foliage, and a blue sky with one or two clouds. Those wishing to learn how to process their images in this way can do so by reading this article.

4 Ways to Create Awesome Infrared Images
Long exposure and reflection on water is a good combination.

Time to create your infrared image dreamscapes!

This article has given you all the information needed to create infrared images, or where to find that information.

Have you tried out this form of photography? If so, which of the above methods did you use, and do you have a preference?

Infrared photography is fun. If you’re waiting to get out on a sunny day, why not try the post-processing route? If you have any infrared images already, why not share them in the comments? We love to see your images!

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.