The colors we see are just a little portion of the light spectrum. Starting from deep red to violet, the colors occupy about 380 nanometers to 750 nanometers. Wavelengths shorter in size are called Ultraviolet and wavelengths longer than that are called Infrared. Some cameras can even capture this in the form of digital infrared photography.
Even though we can’t see with the naked eye these extremities, the sensor on a camera is able to pick up on them. But for normal photography, these wavelengths can be harmful so that is why camera manufacturers put IR (infrared) and UV (ultraviolet) filters on the sensors, to cut them out of the image. However, infrared light can really create some hauntingly beautiful photos.
Infrared photos can be recognized by the black skies and white trees in black and white or with strange colors. The strange colors are present because objects respond in a different manner to infrared light. The trees and the plants reflect more light, which makes them seem like they glow, while the sky and water don’t reflect as much. Taking infrared photography in the traditional way was very tricky in the past. The infrared film was very difficult to deal with and was easily fogged in the daylight. The results of traditional photography were always a hit or miss. However, because the modern digital cameras have a preview, now it’s much easier to take an infrared shot.
Even if your camera can see infrared light, without additional planning you won’t get a very impressive photo. The solution that seems to be most common is to use an infrared filter on the lens of the camera. These filters block out all other light other than the infrared wavelengths. However, because these filters are very dark, you won’t be able to see anything through the viewfinder when you have them installed on your lens. A common solution is to prepare the shot first and then add the filter when you’re ready to take it. Some companies will convert your camera to use it to take infrared shots. The sensor is converted for infrared shots so you can have a good view through the viewfinder. However, we don’t recommend this because this process is very hard to reverse.
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Choosing the subject
For the best results you should always try to include some foliage in your shot to get that trademark glow on the image. There is no need for a very bright sunlight for the shot; as a matter of fact a cloudy day will probably get you the best results. Shooting in the summer means that you will have enough of those green plants to include in your photo. For a great shot contrast the foliage with something made by man: stone statues look very good in infrared, or you could try to include some water or a very cloudy sky in the image.
Setting the white balance
Infrared photos are very low in temperatures so they give a warm photo. To counter this you will have to adjust your camera accordingly. With the filter on your lens, hold a sheet of paper and take a reading of the white balance. However, if you wish for more extreme results, take the reading from a blue sky or some green plants.
Set the camera to take Raw shots
By setting your camera to Raw will not only guarantee the best possible image quality but will also give you the choice to adjust the white balance when you process the image and fine-tune it to your liking. If you want a mono infrared image, select the mode Raw+JPEG and make use of your camera’s black and white function. This will let you see what the end result will be while still allowing you to make adjustments to the Raw file.
Use the LCD/LiveView
Placing infrared filters on your lenses causes the viewfinder to be useless. However, you may still be able to see the shot through the LiveView (albeit, very dark) enough to give you an idea of what the image will be.
Because of the longer wavelengths, you may need to adjust the focus to get the sharpest results. Professionally converted cameras for infrared use will also have the focusing modified so you can use the autofocus function of the camera as you would on a normal shot.
Shoot in Manual mode
Switch your camera to Manual mode as you will need to adjust the exposure depending on the lighting.
When you use an infrared filter on your camera you will need slower exposure. You will probably have shutter speeds of up to, and over eight seconds. This kind of exposure cannot be obtained by holding the camera in your hand. Ensure that you have a very steady tripod and lock the adjustments and legs before taking the shot. Use a remote control to take a picture to even further remove the risk of movement from pressing the shutter button.
We really hope you enjoyed our guide on how to shoot digital infrared photography and wish you the best of luck with your infrared images.