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Oxford School of Photography
insights into photography
Digital infrared photography: how to capture the world you’re eye can’t se
September 26, 2014Posted by on
Looking for something different to spark your enthusiasm and photography. Infra Red might be the answer. We used to run a film based version of an Infra Red course back in the days of wet process, now it is possible to achieve similar results with a digital camera but without the mess. This article from Digital Camera World will get you started
Bright overhead sunlight isn’t usually very flattering for shooting landscapes but its actually ideal for infrared photography.
Now this may not be something you have considered before but shooting infrared images is hugely rewarding and gives outdoor scenes an otherworldly haunting appearance.
The effect works especially well on green foliage and blue skies, which makes summer the perfect time to try shooting some ghostly infrared images in the midday sun!
SEE MORE: Why rich colour is the secret to making bold black and white!
Infrared light is outside the visible spectrum of the human eye but digital cameras can capture it either after a modification or by using an infrared filter.
The first option involves having the camera’s internal infrared blocker removed and replaced with an infrared filter so that the camera will only record infrared light.
This conversion costs from around £250 and is irreversible but you may want to consider having an older model or a compact converted.
The alternative approach is to fit an infrared filter to your lens which blocks out all the visible light and only allows infrared light through. Specialist filters such as Hoya’s screw on R72 cost between £30 and £70 depending on the filter size.
These filters produce great results but they are very dark (like a strong neutral density filter) so you need to adapt the way you shoot, as you can’t see through the viewfinder once the filter is attached.
SEE MORE: Black and white landscape photography – how to make moody, minimalist effects
Best conditions for infrared photography
Infrared photography is best suited to bright overhead sunshine. In this light, blue skies are rendered as rich dark tones and leaves and grass appear ghostly white after processing, giving images an eerie appearance.
For this reason landscapes are a popular choice but infrared can also be very effective for other subjects including people.
Bright sun isn’t essential though so don’t worry if the clouds roll in as you can still capture great images in overcast light.
SEE MORE: 10 common landscape photography mistakes every photographer makes
If you go down the route of having your camera converted for infrared photography then you can pretty much shoot as normal although be aware that some lenses give better results than others, even expensive professional lenses.
Check online to see how your lens performs and also try using different lenses to see which gives the best results.
If you’re using an IR filter then things like exposure, focusing and composition are more difficult but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of practice.
Because the IR filter is so dense exposure times will become much longer so a stable tripod is essential.
It’s also not possible to take a meter reading with the filter fitted, so you’ll need to adopt a trial and error approach initially.
But once you’ve worked out how much the exposure is affected by the filter you can take a meter reading as you would normally and then re-calculate the exposure time to account for the filter.
You’ll also need to compose and focus on the scene before the filter is fitted. Infrared light is focused differently to visible light so what may be sharp when viewed in visible light may be slightly out of focus when captured in infrared.
To compensate for this it’s best to set a small aperture to bring all parts of the scene into sharp focus. If your lens has infrared markers then you can also use this to adjust the focus.
Straight out of the camera your images will have a strong red colour cast so you’ll need to process the RAW image in Photoshop or other software.
Start by converting to monochrome and then make adjustments to the contrast and colour sliders to produce really striking black and white images.
Successful infrared photography takes a bit of practice but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with some astonishing results.