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Today's e-tip:

Infrared Photography:
What it is,
why you may want to do it, and
how to get started

Get a DISCOUNT on an infrared conversion and/or accessories!

Your digital camera doesn't see the way you do. Understanding the differences in the way you and your camera sees is the start of taking great pictures.
Infrared (IR) Photography – the Basics - How to get started -
Part 1

This is a 2-part series. This 1st part is about what IR light is and what your options are for shooting IR. The 2nd part is on post-processing IR images - that will come next month.

I'm hooked on infrared (IR) photography.

IR photography opens up a whole new world of photographic opportunity. We can’t see infrared light, but it’s often all around us. On a sunny day, more than half of the sun’s energy is infrared – only about 40% is visible light. An incandescent light bulb only generates 10% of its energy as visible light – 90% is infrared.

One of the great things about shooting infrared, is that it’s best in the middle of a sunny day – the time when shooting "normal" (visible-light) photography is worst.

So, what is infrared photography and what does it take to shoot infrared? Read on…

IR Photography

To see some of my IR photography samples, see here: http://www.photobert.com/Gallery.aspx?g=in

In order to shoot infrared, you need a camera capable of seeing infrared. Any digital camera can see IR, but the sensors in our cameras have been modified by the manufacturer to block out infrared. So, a simple conversion is needed. We have partnered with KolariVision to provide discounted conversions and accessories. Use the code PhotoBert in the cart for a $10 discount. Click here for more info.

You can also purchase a camera that's already been converted - it's the easiest way to get into IR photography! (Don't forget to use the code PhotoBert in the cart for a $10 discount!)

What is Infrared?
Infrared (or just IR) energy is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum just above visible light. Our eyes can't see IR energy/light. Our eyes are limited to visible light, which contains color. There is no color above or below the visible-light spectrum. So, infrared has no color - pure IR images are black & white only. But, as you'll see, we can combine visible light with IR to get very pleasing IR images that have color. IR covers a much larger spectrum than our camera sensors can see - we call the part of IR closest to visible light, which is what our sensors can "see", the near IR spectrum.

IR Photography

Camera Sensors

Our digital camera sensors can capture UV, visible and near infrared light. Camera manufacturers place an "IR Cut" or "hot mirror" filter in front of the sensor to cut-out UV and Infrared light from reaching the sensor.

Without this filter, our images woudn't look like they do to our eyes. 

Basically, our camera’s sensor is DESIGNED to shoot infrared, but has been limited.

IR Photography

Sensor Conversion
Option #1 If you remove the filter that removes IR and UV from the front of the sensor, this converts the camera to a "full-spectrum" camera, with the ability to see UV, visible and "near IR" light.

A second choice is a "2-spectrum" conversion. In this conversion, the IR Cut filter is replaced with one that blocks just UV light, so the sensor is sensitive to visible and IR light. Since UV photography is very specialized, I chose to do a 2-spectrum conversion – for just visible and IR.

With a full-spectrum or 2-spectrum conversion on a DSLR camera, you will need to use LiveView  – you won’t be able to use the viewfinder to compose images. You can use the electronic viewfinder or LiveView on most mirrorless cameras, however.

These conversions require filters in front of the lens to take the kind of images we want: UV (full-spectrum only), visible or IR. This is the most flexible conversion, but it requires filters for each kind of photography you want to shoot. You can't see through these filters with your eyes, but the sensor can see the IR light passing through these filters. This is why you can't use the viewfinder on a DSLR. Since LiveView shows you what the sensor is seeing, you can use LiveView to compose the image. These conversions also allow you to take visible-light (normal) images using a "hot mirror" filter that blocks infrared and UV. This is the same kind of filter that sits in front of the sensor on a non-converted digital camera. You can see through this filter, so the viewfinder can be used on DSLR cameras with this filter.

A third choice is to replace the IR cut filter In front of your camera’s sensor to a specific frequency IR filter. This conversion only allows you to shoot IR photography with your camera, but doesn’t require the use of any filters. It also allows you to use the viewfinder or LiveView on a DSLR, but limits you to one-type of IR photography.
A stock sensor with the IR-Cut/Hot Mirror filter installed
IR Photography

Sensor with IR-Cut/Hot Mirror filter REMOVED

IR Photography

Infrared Photography Options

When shooting infrared, there are several different types of IR photography you can shoot, and each can look very different.

You can shoot pure IR (high-contrast black & white), or you can add varying degrees of visible light with the IR.

The top image to the right was taken with visible light - a "normal" image as any standard camera would take. The remaining images were taken with infrared light with varying degrees of visible light. We do this with filters. Different filters allow different frequencies of light to pass. Only the light that the filter allows to pass reaches the sensor.

Infrared has no color, so pure infrared photography creates a black and white image (the bottom image). As you can see, foliage typically is rendered very light-colored. Water and sky is often rendered very dark and clouds are very prominent.

The purple tulips in the visible light image renders almost white in each of the IR images. (click on the image for a larger version)

By combining some visible light along with IR, we can create images that have "false color". False-color images can be very striking to view, and are probably the most popular kind of infrared photography. The middle images all have false-color.

The electromagnetic spectrum is measured in "nanometers" (nm). Visible light ranges from about 400nm to 700nm. Near infrared (the range of IR that our sensors can see) ranges from about 700nm to about 1,000nm. Popular IR frequencies for photography include:
  • 550nm – sees a lot of visible light and some infrared. Images have deep blue skies with lots of crimson color – similar to false-color infrared film

  • 590nm – sees a little less visible light & less false color than 550nm

  • 680nm – sees very little visible light w/some false color

  • 720nm – a "standard" IR filter that provides some false color & good B&W contrast

  • 850nm – sees only IR - high contrast black & white
All but the last option requires image post-processing.

Note: All of the images to the right were taken with a camera converted to 2-spectrum (visible and IR). Each image was taken with a filter. The top visible-light image was taken with an "IR cut" or "hot-mirror" filter that filters out IR and UV - just like the filter in front of a "normal" camera's sensor would have installed. The remaining images were taken with a specific IR filter - 590nm, 680nm, 720nm & 850nm.

(Click on the image
below for a larger version)

 IR Photography

What to photograph with IR?
Objects that reflect IR light will come out white. Objects that don’t reflect IR light will be black. Depending upon the degree of reflection, objects will come out various shades of gray. That’s assuming you’re shooting pure IR (850nm). If you shoot false-color (550nm – 720nm), you will also get some visible light color in your images – more at 550nm; less at 720mn.

One of the most striking things about IR photography, is that foliage generally reflects IR light, and thus comes out very light colored – white or pale yellow. Blue sky doesn’t reflect IR light, and will come out very dark, sometimes, almost black. Clouds come out white with more detail than visible-light photography. Water generally absorbs IR and comes out dark (but not always, as in the image to the right!). If you shoot false-color IR, you will get varying degrees of color added to your images, depending on which frequency filter you use.
IR Photography

IR photography works best with simple scenes. Foliage, puffy-white clouds with blue-sky and water all render beautifully with IR. When shooting people, faces tend to come out much smoother than with visible-light photography.

IR light also can cut through haze, thus IR images often come out sharper than visible-light images.

IR Photography

As with most photography, RAW is preferred, but not required.

JPEG photography, visible or IR, requires you to properly set the white balance for every picture. In visible-light photography, it's not as critical, and most cameras have an "auto" white balance setting that generally does an acceptable job of getting the white balance correct. IR JPEGs require a VERY accurate white balance. This means that you need to do a "custom" white balance for almost every image. In visible-light photography, you take a white balance reading from something white or neutral gray, but in IR photography, you generally take the WB reading from green foliage, as it comes out white. Green grass is the preferred target for IR white balance.

When shooting RAW, just as in visible-light photography, you don’t need to set the white balance when shooting, but can set it during post-processing.

Above, I mentioned that there is more IR light on a sunny day the visible light. This means that your camera’s exposure system, which is designed for visible light, will generally overexpose most IR images. I find that using minus 0.7 EV exposure compensation is all that’s needed to correct this.

Chromatic aberration is a term that describes color-fringing in visible-light photography. It happens because different colors of the visible spectrum focus at different points. Thus, red may be in focus, but blue isn’t. This can cause a blue or red fringe on the edges of objects in your image. IR light also focusses differently. Thus, when you have a camera converted to IR, the company that does the conversion, also adjusts the auto-focus system to focus properly for IR light.

Camera lenses are designed for visible light. Not all work well for IR photography. There are many on-line sources for which lenses work best. I have found that some of the least expensive lenses work best with IR. High-end "pro" lenses haven’t worked well for me. Lenses that don’t work well generally exhibit a "hot spot" in the middle of the image. This hot-spot is brighter and often has some off-color areas. These often can be corrected in post-processing, but it’s best if you can find a lens that works well for IR.

Shooting Infrared with a non-Converted camera
If you want to shoot infrared, you CAN do it with a standard non-converted digital camera. But, it's not easy.

Because there is an IR cut filter in front of the sensor, most, but not all, infrared light is blocked. If you only allow infrared light (w/an IR filter) and no visible light, to reach the sensor, some infrared will reach it. The only things  you'll need is a digital camera, a sunny day, a tripod and an infrared filter. One like this: Hoya R72 Infrared Filter

Here are the steps you'll need to follow:
  1. Put your camera on a tripod
  2. Compose & focus your image (viewfinder or LiveView)
  3. Place the infrared filter on your lens
  4. Select Manual exposure mode
  5. Set your aperture to between f5.6 and f11 (you don't want to shoot wide-open as you'll need some DOF because IR doesn't focus the same as visible light, and middle-apertures tend to work best for IR)
  6. Set your shutter speed to about 20 seconds.
  7. Set your ISO speed to about 800
  8. Take an exposure
Now, you may need to adjust your shutter speed and/or ISO speed to allow enough light to reach the sensor, so you may have to shoot multiple exposures until you get one right.

As you can see, the big issue is the shutter speed. The IR Cut filter removes most infrared from reaching the sensor, so you have to use very long exposure times. You can't shoot if there's any motion in the scene (e.g., wind, etc.), and it may take multiple tries before you get the exposure correct.

Here's a shot I took with a non-converted camera (the exposure was f5.6. ISO 800, 20 seconds with an 850nm IR filter):
IR Photography

What I shoot with
I shoot with Nikon gear, so it made sense to shoot IR with a Nikon camera. I bought an inexpensive used Nikon D3300 and had it converted to 2-spectrum, so I can shoot normal (visible-light) pictures with it, using a Kolari Vision Color Correcting Hot Mirror Filter or infrared using any infrared filter I choose (550nm, 590nm, 665nm, 720nm or 850nm). I also purchased a used 10mm-24mm/f3.5-4.5 used lens, which does a good job for IR photography.

Since LiveView is required, I also purchased the XIT Elite Series Locking LCD Viewfinder. This is a fantastic accessory for anyone that shoots with LiveView.

Choosing a Camera for Infrared
Purchase a Camera that's already been converted for IR
Choosing a Lens for Infrared
Choosing an Infrared filter
Some of our IR images
Gallery of IR images
Camera Conversion Discount

Important Considerations for IR Photography
There are some important considerations that you need to think about before converting a camera to IR.
  1. If you do a full-spectrum or 2-spectrum conversion, you will need to use Live-view and filters with a DSLR, but these conversions give you the widest range of options. Plus, you can still shoot visible-light images using an "IR cut" filter.
  2. If you do a single-frequency conversion, you need to decide what frequency you want to shoot.
  3. If you shoot JPEG, you need to do a custom white balance for each lighting situation.
  4. If you shoot RAW, you don’t need to set the white balance, but will need to post-process your images in Photoshop, Lightroom or other post-processing app.
  5. Flare can be an issue with IR photography. Lenses have coatings to prevent visible-light flare, but these coatings don’t work for IR light. Shooting into the sun can cause significant flare in IR photography.
  6. If you shoot 850nm (pure black and white), no post processing may be necessary (but you may want to), but when shooting false color (550nm-720nm), post processing is ALWAYS required (JPEG or RAW).

The next eTip will be on how to post-process IR images.

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