Infrared Photography with Digital Cameras
by Jeffrey Sward

How To Do an Infrared Test

Hunt down a TV, VCR or DVD player remote control. Look at the end that points to the TV. There is a little bulb or flat back plastic window. This is the transmitter that sends the signal from the remote.

The signal usually uses infrared light. Infrared is invisible light. When looking at the remote, nothing can be seen when pressing the buttons.

Look through the LCD viewer while pressing any button on the remote. If bulb light is visible, then the camera can see infrared light. A DSLR requires taking a photo to view the results. Cameras with a live view feature allow seeing the results on the LCD as well.

The whiter and brighter the light from the remote, the more sensitive the camera is to infrared. If the light is more purple or red then the camera may not be a good candidate for shooting infrared photos.

Infrared Filters

Infrared filters allow infrared light to hit the camera's sensor, whilst preventing visible light from doing so (totally opposite of what the camera is designed to do!)

Manufacturers offer infrared filters in either screw-on or slide-in systems. The Hoya infrared filter (R72) is a popular screw-on infrared filter. The R72 refers to the amount and type of infrared light that passes through to the sensor (cutoff 720nm). It is a good starting filter for beginners.

Different brand filters render color differently as they may address specific light ranges of the infrared spectrum. There are variables and choices to fine tune the effect.

Sample Infrared Filters

  • Hoya R72 Infrared Filter (720nm)
  • Kolari Vision 665nm Infrared Lens Filter

Use a Tripod for Infrared Shooting

The exposure times for infrared photography can be lengthy, making hand holding impractical. Instead get a strong and sturdy tripod. It may be necessary to weigh down the tripod to avoid any slight movements during exposure from the wind.

Full Spectrum Cameras

There is a permanent option to have a dedicated infrared camera body.

Removing the infrared blocking filter (that sits in front of the digital sensor) will leave the camera exclusively adapted for reading infrared light. It is an expensive option. Removing the blocking filter is irreversible.

Cameras can also be modified to become a full spectrum. This when the camera's internal IR cut filter is removed and replaced with a clear filter, making the camera sensitive to UV, visible, and IR light.

The term 'infrared lens' is often misused. What photographers usually mean is an IR lens filter. Actual infrared lenses are incredibly high-end.

Common Infrared Wavelengths

Infrared filters for cameras are graded in different levels of sensitivity to light.

These numbers refer to the range of wavelengths of light it blocks. Visible light is about 360 to 720 nanometers (nm). Infrared light waves begin at around 700nm and go up to 1,000nm.

A 550nm filter blocks all light shorter than 550nm. This leaves a mixture of visible and IR wavelengths. This filter produces less contrast than stronger filters and works nicely when photographing people for infrared portraits.

A 665nm filer is often used because it transmits a useful combination of infrared and some visible light.

720nm is the standard IR filter level and the most common choice among photographers. It blocks nearly all visible light, allowing just a hint of the red spectrum. It helps create beautiful colors in infrared photography.

With better filtration comes a higher cost. Often it is best to invest in a quality IR filter for professional-looking results. Often starting with a cheap tool will result in the purchase of an expense tool later when the cheap becomes inadequate. Thusly, the expensive tool is the cheapest because it will is a one-time purchase.

Camera Settings for Infrared Photography

Try shooting both RAW + JPG.

Any images taken with a DSLR or Mirrorless, RAW files give the most flexibility when editing. The original RAW shot taken will not look like the final article after a few tweaks in editing.

Having a JPG file allows faster visualization. (in Lightroom for example). Check the differences between shots to determine how to adjust the settings. Over time the ability to read those dull pinkish RAW files and figure out which ones will translate into great infrared photographs will increase.

Starting Point for Settings

  • Set the ISO between 100-400
  • Set the any Long Exposure noise reduction setting to ON
  • Use a shutter speed of around 20 seconds. A longer exposure any be needed after checking the results. Anything longer than 30 seconds usually will require bulb mode.
  • Shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority (A/Av) mode
  • Set exposure bracketing to +/-1 EV
  • Change the aperture to F/8
  • Set white balance mode to daylight
  • Switch the lens to manual focus. Focus as normal. When using an IR filter, the camera will struggle to see the scene and auto-focus will be almost impossible.

How to Edit Infrared Photos

Editing can either look to use IR presets to help convert in an app such as Lightroom or Photoshop or and editing app like Snapseed.

  1. The main idea is to first set the white balance and choose something that should look white in the scene.
  2. Next look to swap the color channels around. Replace red with blue and blue with red. Also, split the green channel 50/50 between red and blue.

Effects of Infrared Photography

Shooting an infrared photography portrait (and landscapes) requires a similar approach to shooting B&W. Think about the tones and shapes in the scene ahead. To add more dynamics to the infrared shots look for contrast in these places.

  • Light areas vs. Shadow areas
  • Smooth surfaces vs. Textured materials
  • White objects vs. Dark objects
  • Bright backgrounds vs. Dark foregrounds

Infrared photographs are similar to B&W images because there are limited tones. To make the shot more eye-catching then compose the shot so dark and light objects are grouped next to each other.

In the instance of landscapes, green foliage and fluffy clouds will always turn out light/white through infrared. Features such as the sky, stones, wood, water and concrete will be darker/black.

Often a sunny day is useful when there are lots of summer green foliage. Dull, cloudy days often give lessor results. Living things reflect the most infrared light. Cumulonimbus clouds in the sky add an element of interest.

Infrared Filter Apps for Phones

Thermal Camera Fx

One of the most entertaining thermal camera effect apps out there. Effects can be changed while recording is in progress thus providing a more effective video as output.

Seek Thermal

Seek Thermal is the best way to experience and visualize thermal energy while on the go, at work, indoors, or in the outdoors. Using this free app and a Seek thermal imaging camera. it is possible to quickly and accurately detect, inspect, measure, and visualize thermal energy from the smartphone and tablet.

Thermal Night Vision Camera

Thermal Night Vision Camera Effect simulates a thermal vision using image processing color filter on each shot. Enable the iPhone's flashlight by pressing the light button. Then push the thermal night vision device button to switch to Thermal Vision.

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