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Up for Discussion – Infrared Photography

Last week for the Monochrome Madness Challenge I did an image and I added a infrared filter in post to it to give the impression of it being infrared. It was fairly obvious it wasn’t, but it was fun playing around with it. Infrared is something you do see from time to time, but not many of us have dedicated equipment for it.  I thought it might be good to get some information on how you can go about doing it, so I have asked fellow blogger, Infraredrobert to guest post and to tell you how he does his.

Infrared Photography by Robert

By revealing what is normally invisible to the human eye, infrared photography captures light in the near-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum by recording infrared reflections on either specially sensitized film or digital camera sensors.

It’s all Just Radiation: The Science Behind the Art

Before we get to the art of infrared (IR) photography, I need to speak briefly about the science behind it. As photographers, we are doing nothing more than capturing visible light radiation that is reflected off our subjects. Visible light is just a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that our unaided eyes can detect. The human eye can see light waves with frequencies between 390 to 700 nanometers (1 nm = 1 billionth of a meter). Infrared light lies just beyond what the human eye can detect, with frequencies between 750nm and 1mm. In the digital infrared photography discussed here, we will be imaging in the near-IR portion of the spectrum at wavelengths between 700nm to 1400nm.

The important thing to note here is that digital infrared photography captures reflected light radiation – not emitted radiation. Therefore, you cannot “see” in total darkness using near-infrared imaging.

Camera and Equipment

Digital camera sensors (CCD or CMOS) do nothing more than convert light into a digital value. Camera manufacturers have known for some time that these sensors can detect light outside the visible spectrum, so they provide a dichroic filter (hot mirror) over the sensor to exclude unwanted (IR) light. As camera technology has evolved, these hot mirrors have become better at excluding unwanted light from the sensor.

If you would like to try shooting digital infrared, you have two options: Find an older camera with a less efficient hot mirror (such as the Nikon CoolPix 950) and use a filter over the lens to exclude visible light (such as a Wratten 87 or Hoya RM-72); or convert a camera into a dedicated IR camera by replacing the hot mirror with one that passes only IR wavelengths. It is important to note that once a conversion is done, you can no longer take conventional images with the camera.

For my imaging, I have opted for the latter and use a converted Nikon D100. My camera was converted by lifepixel, but there are numerous companies worldwide that perform this service. My only recommendations are to use a reputable company, and do not attempt the conversion on your own.

Another important consideration is the lens you will use as some are better than others for IR imaging. From my own experience, my standard 18-55mm Nikkor yields the best results, while images from my much more expensive 12-24mm Nikkor are disappointing due to a lot of internal flare from the optical elements. Check around for online feedback for your particular lens to see if others have had any issues with them when shooting infrared.

How I Work

All my shots are taken in aperture priority mode using a three-frame bracket of +1, 0, -1 stops. Capture is done in RAW mode and brought into Photoshop through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

After picking the best image from my bracketed set in Adobe Bridge, I increase the Clarity to 75% in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and then open in Photoshop (PS). The images will have low contrast and look very red as they are brought into the post-processing program.

Processing Steps

1. Channel Mixer: Working with adjustment layers in PS, I do a Channel Swap using the Channel Mixer. Set the Red channel to R=0 G=0 B= 100; set the Blue Channel at R=100 G=0 B=0.

1_RAW

2. Levels adjustment: Sometimes “auto” works, but be aware that this will affect color balance as well, so use with caution. Most images need both a boost the mid-tones and in the contrast.

2_Mixed

3. B&W or Color: At this point, you need to decide if you want to have the image retain color, or go as monochrome. When converting to monochrome, I always use the Convert to Black and White adjustment rather than simply converting to grayscale. By choosing the B&W adjustment option, you can further manipulate the contrast by using the color conversion sliders.

3_Levels

4. Tone: The Toning option is done through the Photo Filter adjustment. My particular favorites are Sepia (Warming) and 80A (Cooling). I rarely go much more than 15% with either.

4_BW

5. Brightness Contrast/Curves: Use either or both to get you to where you want to be in the image.

5_Final

6. Finalize: Flatten the layers and Smart Sharpen (Amt. 133, Radius 1.5).

Of course, any of these steps can be used with layer masks, blend modes and other elements to bring out what you want in the final image.

On a Personal Note

I am particularly fond of shooting man-made objects juxtaposed with natural elements. In post-processing, the clouds and sky are often a surprise as formations are usually invisible to my eye when framing the shot. Regardless of your subject matter, infrared photography allows you to truly see your world in a different light.

A special thank you to Leanne for allowing me to discuss this topic here as well as hosting all her very informative posts. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email me at: Robert@digital-infrared.com

Links:

Robert’s sites:

www.digital-infrared.com (IR images only)

www.infraredrobert.wordpress.com (IR and Conventional imaging)

http://inadifferentlightbook.wordpress.com/ (Book sample site)

Lifepixel: www.lifepixel.com

IR lens comparison chart: http://dpanswers.com/content/irphoto_lenses.php

Thank you

Back to me, I would just like to thank Robert for writing this for us and I hope you learned a lot more about infrared photography.  The results are always stunning.  He has sent me some more image for you to look at as well, so I will included the ones above as well, and the extra wonderful images.

69 Comments
  1. Well done for showcasing infrared Robert.. I recently started following his site because I love the images of man made objects (usually abandoned) in the natural world…

    June 24, 2014
    • I have been following him for a while, I did do an introductions post on him, but it was a while ago. He is the expert to this kind of photography for me.

      June 24, 2014
      • 🙂

        June 24, 2014
  2. Always interesting but perhaps does not work with whole image???

    June 24, 2014
    • What do you mean Diana?

      June 24, 2014
      • I think (personal) the brown sky does not work with the white/bluey trees????

        June 25, 2014
    • If you mean that not everything works with IR – you are correct. I have my share of dud images – things that i thought would work, but just don’t.

      June 24, 2014
  3. I like the infrared treatment on some of the photos and they are quite striking however not sure that this infrared thing is for me. 🙂 Still, it is an interesting concept and takes a lot of skill.

    June 24, 2014
  4. leecleland #

    Great post, well written for someone who knows nothing about infrared – that’s me. I now understand more of the possibilities of how to go about using this sort of equipment and the effects I would get. Thank you both Leanne and Robert.

    June 24, 2014
    • I have been shooting IR images since the days of film – and digital certainly is a lot easier. But as with most things, you learn as you go – seeing what works – what you like and go on from there. Believe me, you can shoot IR quite well not knowing anything about why it works – I just have the photo/science geek streak in me 🙂

      June 24, 2014
      • leecleland #

        It shines through, though you can explain in a manner non- techos can follow, which is a gift.

        June 25, 2014
  5. I am a huge Robert fan! I love his IR work. How handy this is to have an explanation how to do it in PS. I’ve tried only using the filter in Nik Efex so it would be fun to try it based on these instructions. Great photography on this post, Leanne. Thank you.

    June 24, 2014
    • Thanks Laura – always happy to share my experience with others – we all learn from our interactions.

      June 24, 2014
      • We sure do. I love it. 🙂

        June 24, 2014
  6. This is a great post Leanne and Robert. Thankyou both. 🙂
    Such an interesting topic with stunning results.
    I’d really like to try this myself one day.

    Robert and his work are an inspiration. Theres always something amazing to see 🙂

    June 24, 2014
    • As soon as you try IR work, you too will be heading out in the field with two camera bodies – conventional and IR and all the peripherals – which is why I don’t need a gym membership.

      June 24, 2014
      • Ha ha yes I see 🙂

        June 24, 2014
  7. Very cool! … or should i say: hot! 🙂

    June 24, 2014
  8. im always fascinated by infra red photography. awesome stuff

    June 24, 2014
  9. Leanne, I follow Robert and he is a regular visitor to my blog. I am going to review this in detail to see if there are any tricks that I can apply to visible light photography.

    June 24, 2014
    • I’d certainly be interested in how some of your locations would work in IR.

      June 24, 2014
      • What I was wondering is if I could apply IR processing techniques to visible light, or learn something from IR processing techniques.

        June 24, 2014
  10. That is very interesting. Aalways wondered how it was done.

    June 24, 2014
  11. Love this post as I wondered how it was done.

    June 24, 2014
  12. I am a huge fan of Robert. In fact, it was mainly his beautiful images that inspired me to get one of my camera bodies converted to IR. I did this recently, so I have a lot to learn! But it is fun, and I’ve gotten some decent shots already.

    Thanks Leanne and Robert for a great post! I follow both of you, and appreciate all your work.

    – Jo

    June 24, 2014
    • And you are doing quite well with your conversion – it really does not take a lot of time to “get” what works and what doesn’t with IR.

      June 24, 2014
      • 🙂 Thanks, Robert!

        June 24, 2014
  13. Intriguing images and great to know how it’s done….might try sometime in a distant future 🙂

    June 24, 2014
  14. Amazing. Very educational and most interesting!

    June 24, 2014
    • Thanks – IR is a fun departure from conventional photography – which I still enjoy as well.

      June 24, 2014
  15. Love Robert’s work! and good job on the infra red look alike Leanne. Thanks for the history behind infrared!

    June 24, 2014
  16. just got my hands on some IR black/white film that I am hoping to start working with soon… although I’m planning on getting some research done first on the science behind it– partly so I can better plan what I can reasonably expect to get from the film (i work primarily in the 3-colour separation process), and so I don’t end up ruining the film in the process of experimentation! nice post!!

    June 24, 2014
    • With the film, you should load it in near total darkness – both when you place it in your camera and when you remove it to put in the developing tank. Also, if you have an older lens there should be an Infrared mark at which you need to move the focus to after composing your shot – as the IR light focus point is not where visible light is. I only used the Wratten 87 filter in order to exclude visible light – which is totally opaque, so a tripod is recommended – plus bracket like crazy!

      June 24, 2014
  17. I found these to be quite stunning. I think my favorites are the house with the ivy and the canyon with the water. I would have had no idea how these were done if you didn’t tell me they were infrared. Thanks for the great post and introduction.

    June 24, 2014
    • Thanks – yes the images are pretty shabby right out of the camera – the post processing is where all the magic happens – or the point at which you realize that things are just not working out as planned. It is this mystery that is so much a part of the fun in working with IR.

      June 24, 2014
      • I have to admit, that mystery draws me. I’d like to try it!

        June 25, 2014
      • Certainly give it a go if you can – not sure if you can rent a converted camera, but you may want to give that a try to see how you like it.

        June 25, 2014
      • Yes, this would be down the road a bit for sure. But I do want to try it. The renting idea is great.

        June 25, 2014
  18. BEAUTIFUL.

    June 24, 2014
  19. Interesting post this. I’ve never tried infrared photography myself, mainly because I’ve not been that inspired by the images I’ve seen previously…..but some of the ones above are impressive.

    June 24, 2014
    • Thank you – as I noted to another commenter – not everything works with IR. Glad you like my efforts.

      June 24, 2014
  20. Wow, fantastic Leanne. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    June 24, 2014
  21. Wow! To Robert, thank you for such a detailed process of your IR photo. Certainly a science in itself, which I am not ready for yet, but am certainly intrigued!
    and to Leanne, you always find such interesting people! I thank you both 🙂

    June 24, 2014
    • Thanks – it was fun to relate my technique to other photographers and I am very please to be featured in one of Leanne’s how-to series.

      June 24, 2014
  22. Fantastic 🙂 Robert certainly is one of the best in this field. I love following his work 🙂

    June 24, 2014
  23. Infrared does create for some stunning images. How well does just a filter work?

    June 24, 2014
    • If your sensor and hot mirror combination is sensitive to IR then you can get similar results by just using a filter – but with very long exposures (as you have the two filters “fighting” each other). One was to check your camera is to point an IR remote control (from a TV or A/V equipment) at your camera in “bulb” mode in total darkness – and see if you get any image.

      June 24, 2014
  24. Very striking photos! I also like to juxtapose the natural with the man-made. I haven’t tried infrared but the results speak for themselves. Thanks for posting!

    June 24, 2014
    • Glad you like the results – big thanks to Leanne for offering up this spot for me to tell people about how to work in IR – digital IR is really a whole lot easier than in the film days.

      June 25, 2014
  25. Reblogged this on dunjav.

    June 24, 2014
  26. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    The pink was interesting but I like the monochrome more.

    June 25, 2014
    • Thanks – the pink version is directly out of the camera – very red and usually pretty flat tone wise – which is why post processing is essential.

      June 25, 2014
  27. Great post and nice shots Robert. This makes me want to convert my D7000 into an IR camera as I don’t use it anymore after upgrading.

    June 25, 2014
    • Thanks, glad you like my shots – IR conversion is certainly a good thing to keep in mind if your older camera body is no long in use.

      June 25, 2014
  28. I’ve always loved the look of infrared photos and would love to try it out when I have the time (and money) to buy an old DSLR just to convert it to try it out…

    June 25, 2014
    • Try eBay and see if there are any converted DSLR bodies that would work with any lenses you have already – time I cannot help you with 🙂

      June 25, 2014
  29. Reblogged this on I Shutter at the Thought! and commented:
    I have had a longtime love affair with infrared film for its ability to transform landscapes and clouds. I like that it’s possible to give images an infrared feel in post, but am strongly considering having my Nikon D200 converted for true infrared capture. Your thoughts?

    June 26, 2014
    • Yes, the key word is “feel” in post processing – the things true IR can capture goes beyond just having the glow or grain in a simulated IR shot – If you can rent an IR camera – you may wish to give that a try before making the conversion – although you can always sell the converted D200 if you don’t care for the results – My converted D100 was the best investment I have made in gear in quite some time.

      June 27, 2014
      • Thanks for your feedback and very informative article, Robert. I see a conversion in my future. 🙂

        June 27, 2014
      • My pleasure and looking forward to seeing your conversion to the IR-side.

        June 27, 2014
  30. You don’t mention what you do with your white balance. Do you take a custom WB shot for each set of conditions? or just pick a green subject to shoot first?

    June 28, 2014

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