An Introduction to Infrared Photography

Infrared photography is very distinguishable, and you can almost immediately recognize an infrared (IR) photo when you see it. The colors and light give off a surreal, otherworldly appeal that can quickly hook a viewer’s interest.

What makes this photography style so unique is that infrared-equipped cameras can capture near infrared or “invisible light”, a range in the light spectrum that is undetectable to the naked eye.

When reflected infrared light is captured in your photo, the scene’s familiar colors and nuances of light drastically transform.

IR Equipment

If you are using a SLR camera, you can buy 35mm black and white or color IR film rolls online or perhaps in local shops that still sell film. These are not too costly, just make sure your lab can process IR film. If you are using a DSLR, you can purchase a circular IR filter which can be attached to the front of the lens. IR filters are more pricey, and depend on the size, brand, and IR wavelength range they allow to be captured by the sensor.

Infrared Photography
Photo by Digitalpimp

Lenses also affect the quality of the IR capture. In this case, more expensive lenses do not necessarily mean they will work better in taking IR images. Some lenses, regardless of price, offer better IR performance compared to others. To have a better grasp of what lenses are good or bad for IR photography, you can visit dedicated online sites that compare and share such information.

IR filters work by keeping visible light from passing through the lens and hletting only IR light reach the sensor. IR filters can be rather tricky to use. For one, they are very dark so you will have to adjust your focus prior to attaching the filter. Also, since there is not much light getting through the filter, you will need to use settings for low-light scenarios, such as a very slow shutter speed. In IR photos shoots, it is not unusual to use shutter speeds as slow as 40-60 seconds even on a sunny day. With long exposure times, a tripod is essential to avoid camera shake. Motion blur can also be an issue and you might want to choose your subjects and location carefully if you want to limit blur.

Infrared Photography
Photo by Greg Westfall

Yet another option is to have your DSLR converted to take just IR photos. Although this will be costly and your camera will now be not much use for anything else, the rewards can be worth it, especially if you are an IR enthusiast. What happens here is that the IR blocking filter in front of the sensor is removed and replaced with a filter that lets in only infrared light. Without any dark external filter dimming your lens’ view, you can use your exposure settings as normal, including faster shutter speeds. Also, you can focus normally and you do not have to worry about any great risk of unwanted motion blur since you now have more flexibility with exposure settings.

Infrared Photography
Photo by Paul Bica

The IR Effect

Near infrared light changes the hues and qualities of color and light in a photograph. For example, what you would normally see as blue skies and yellow flowers can appear different in an IR image. A blue sky will appear very dark, foliage such as leaves and grass become white, black objects may also appear white or gray. Below is a comparison: the first shot uses visible light, the second shot below it is in ultraviolet light (UV), and the third is in infrared light:

Infrared Photography
Photo by Dave Kennard

Photos straight out of the camera using IR will probably be not much to look at. They will be tinted depending on the filter used (for instance, the popular Hoya R72 will produce a heavy magenta tint) and will have to be post-processed using an image editing program to achieve that dramatic, surreal result.

Infrared Photography
Photo by Paul Bica

About Kristine Hojilla

Kristine is an avid amateur photographer from the tropical Philippine islands. She always tries to capture the extraordinary in mundane objects and scenes. Feel free to visit her profile here to see more of her works

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