I love infrared photography (IR). When done right, will get you some dramatic images. IR is a unique form of photography, that allows you to produce some “other worldly” like images.
IR requires you to step a little out of your comfort zone. In this post you will find a basic understanding of the limitations and behaviour of IR. I hope this article will encourage you to give IR a shot or several shots!
UNIQUE QUALITIES OF INFRARED
The beauty of IR comes from the mood and feel that you get with IR images. IR photography resemble an inversion of the images you would see in natural light. You might notice unusual patterns that aren’t normally visible. The differences are especially visible on foliage and flowers. Some foliage reflects more IR than others, and of course the main attraction are the dark dramatic skies that contrasts the white puffy clouds.
INFRARED BOOT CAMP
Infrared light is invisible to the human eye. To capture IR images you’ll need IR sensitive film like Rollei Infrared or Ilford SFX.
Firstly, an IR filter is required to block out visible light and only allow the IR light to pass through. IR filters are available in a range of intensities that range from 550 to 800 nanometers (nm). The lower the intensity (the number) of the filter allows the most visible light through and gives the least IR effect. Lower IR filters however, allow you to use higher shutter speeds.
The R72 IR filter only allows light wavelengths of 720 nm to pass through and is pretty much the standard filter for IR photography. The R72 will likely be the only IR filter you will buy. I used a R72 filter for all the images shown in this post.
A BASIC IR KIT
- A manual camera, with a T or B setting.
- A lens with a matching filter thread to mount your R72 Filter, or filter of your choice.
- See item #1, your camera needs the ability to do long exposures to reduce camera shake use a cable release mirror lockup if you have it.
- A tripod.
- An Infrared film, to my knowledge Rollei IR (ISO400) is the only readily available true IR film available today, Ilford SFX is considered a near infrared film with “extended red sensitivity” this means it’s only sensitive to the strongest wavelengths of the IR spectrum.
EXPOSURE – RULES OF THUMB
An affordable and accurate IR light meter would be a great kickstarter idea!
Unfortunately photographers don’t have an infrared light meter in their kits today. So, what to do, it’s not an insurmountable problem by any means. IR comes from sunlight and with experience and experimentation you’ll likely get the best results on sunny and not so windy days with spaced fluffy clouds. The same rules of exposure such as sunny 16 apply to visible light photography. Due to the cost of film and my need for consistency and accurate exposure, I use a light meter.
I usually overexpose by 5-6 stops. For example, I rate 400 ISO film at EI 12 or EI 6. I also regularly bracket using baseline exposure compensation of +5 stops and shoot at a minimum aperture of f/8, and bracketing 1 stop over and under for a total of 3 bracketed exposures; -1, N, +1.
FOCUSING WITH IR
Ever wonder what the red or orange lines or numbers mean you the barrel of your lens? infrared light doesn’t focus on the same plane as visible light, it focuses slightly in front, this is called “infrared focus shift.”
This is easy to compensate to ensure sharp images, most lenses have a red infrared mark on the depth of field scale, once you achieve visible light focus you note that point and turn it to the infrared mark. I recommend shooting no wider than f/8. f/8 has enough deep depth of field that you likely not notice any degradation of sharpness. For most lenses as well f/8 is in the “sweet spot”. As a result at f/8 or higher your images will come out very sharp.
GO FOR IT!
Once you have a good understanding of the basics get out there and shoot! Most photographers, are keen on shooting green vegetation, blue skies smattered with big well defined puffy clouds. Remember that your blue skies will appear dark and black, your green leaves and foliage white and glowing. This combination will make for dramatic images. Be mindful that conditions may change quickly wait for sun blocking clouds to pass or make adjustments to exposure.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different scenes, backlit, side-lit, and front-lit scenes to see the effect on your images. Also switch it up try shooting people and see the effects of IR on various skin tones, and shoot some architecture as well.
There are some challenges and lessons to learn with IR photography. I’d bet you’ll love putting this technique in your arsenal, as Nike says “Just Do It!”