Photographing infra-red photos – Taking the photo.

Hi everyone today we’re going to look at how you take infra-red photos, this is a niche form of landscape photography which when done well produces amazing results. The results you’ll see look like magical dreamscapes with white foliage that resembles snow, and an ethereal black sky, when combined with either very modern or traditional architecture the result can be fascinating. Today I’m going to take you through what you need to do in-camera to create these images, and the next blog will show you the post processing needed to produce the final result. There is a lot of post processing that goes on as well, especially if you choose to use the camera’s automatic white balance (AWB).

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This photo is of the Qibao water town near Shanghai, infra-red works well with older traditional buildings. In this photo the custom white balance was used, so the IR effect was achieved in camera.

So what is infra-red photography?

OK well for a start you can’t see infra-red light with the naked eye, so how can you photography it? Well your camera sensor can see it, albeit not very much because of a filter added to your sensor which we’ll come back to later. So Infra-red light is literally at the end of the rainbow, it’s red light beyond the visible spectrum, and as a point of interest it’s also the way remote controls on TV’s work as they use an infra-red signal. In order to photograph this type of light you have three options, you can get a filter, you can refit your camera for infra-red use, or if you use a film camera you could use special infra-red sensitive film.

  • Infra-red filters – The easiest way to get into IR photography is to pick up a filter that you put on the front of your lens, this filter blocks out all light except for infra-red. Now because your camera sensor isn’t sensitive* to IR light this means some very long exposures of around 3 or 5 minutes at lower iso’s, though you can bring this down to around 30 seconds if you choose to shoot at a higher iso. The filter you get is most likely going to filter for light at 720nm, and several companies make this type of filter.
  • Infra-red cameras – If you really want to explore infra-red photography to its fullest then get an infra-red camera, or refitting one of your existing camera bodies for infra-red photography is the best way to go. The camera will now behave as a normal camera would, if you want to take long exposure you’ll need to add a neutral density filter to your camera lens. The main difference of course is that you’ll be shooting everything in IR.
  • Infra-red film – If you shoot film then you could buy yourself some film that’s sensitive to infra-red light, in this case you’d be shooting in much the same way as an infra-red camera with no need for long exposure. When shooting with black and white IR film additional lens filters are often used to block out any blue light coming into the camera.

The most appealing thing about infra-red photography is of course the white coloured foliage. The reason for this is that when plants photosynthesis light they emit light in the infra-red range, it’s for this reason that you’ll need to shoot your infra-red photos on a nice bright sunny day. It’s great to have some white clouds in the sky, but a moody overcast day with no photosynthesis on those plant leaves is going to be a bust as far as IR photography goes.

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Tree leaves are the staple of infra-red photography, so trees like the one on the right of this photo are good subject matter. The photosynthesizing leaves appear white.

Where to shoot infra-red photos

These shots are best as landscapes, though that’s not to say you can’t do other forms of photography with infra-red. You’re looking to have a foliage element to your shot if you can, though sometimes the black sky and white clouds can be a strong enough effect to hold the photo together. A lot of people like to use long exposure for IR photography as well, so a body of water that is flattened out by the long exposure is another good call. With this in mind an obvious starter for this type of photography could be a city park, a backdrop of skyscrapers against the white foliage will work well. As always a vantage point that allows you to get a well composed landscape scene will work well for IR as well. In summary then, look to have foliage and possibly a body of water in your frame.

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If you shoot IR with automatic white balance then you will need to use post processing to make the sky this dark blue colour, see my blog on post processsing IR images to see how to do this.

How to shoot infra-red photos

How you shoot an infra-red photo will depend somewhat on whether you’re using a converted camera or a filter to make the infra-red photo. The guide below is for those using filters, as there are some specific steps you’ll need to take.

Shooting infra-red photos with a filter

  • If you haven’t done already take a photo of some grass with your infra-red filter on the camera. Look for a normally exposed photo and move the camera around as it exposes. The image should show as mainly red. This is the image you’ll now use to set the custom white balance on your camera. Note – You may wish to shoot with AWB and skip this step, and then change the white balance in post-processing instead.
  • Having chosen a good location to shoot in, perhaps following the advice above, you’ll now need to put your camera on a tripod and compose your photo. At this stage the filter should not be on the camera.
  • Now focus your camera on the scene in front of you using auto-focus or manual focus with live view, whichever is your preferred method. Once focus is achieved make sure the lens is set to manual focus.
  • Now carefully add the filter to the front of your camera, be careful not to interfere with the focus of the lens. It’s a good idea to add the lens hood, and cover the viewfinder otherwise light can leach into your frame.
  • Now prepare your settings, if you wish to shoot around 30 seconds then use an ISO of 1600 or higher depending on the level of the light. If you choose to shoot at iso 100 you will likely need to expose for around 5 minutes. It’s also a good idea to shoot in raw. There is an element of trial and error when getting the correct exposure time for this infra-red photos, consult your histogram each time and adjust your exposure accordingly. It’s best to shoot at f8 for landscapes, but as the exposure time can be very long using a larger aperture may be preferable.
  • Once you have the exposure value set you’re ready to shoot your frame, it’s best to use an external shutter release to trigger the shutter. If you wish to expose longer the 30 seconds you’ll need to use the camera’s “bulb” function, in which case you must use an external shutter release that has a shutter lock function.
  • You now have your image ready for post processing. Depending on whether you use custom white balance for infra-red images, or the AWB you will have a different post processing work flow to follow.

*The sensor itself is sensitive, but a blocking filter in front of it prevents most IR light reaching the sensor.

 

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Cityscapes are also another popular subject matter for IR photographs, this is Yeoido in Seoul. The lines of trees in yeoido park look great with the infra-red filter.

Shooting with an infra-red camera or infra-red film.

Many of the steps listed above don’t need to be followed if your camera is set up for infra-red already. You can use the camera as you’d use a normal camera without needing to make long exposures. Long exposure and infra-red go well together though so using a strong ND filter such as the ND1000 will allow you to take long exposures if you wish, long exposure as per usual will require a tripod and possibly an external shutter release.

In next weeks blog I’ll be following up this topic with information on post-processing your IR image, I’ll see you then!

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