Infra-red - Photography Marmite?

As the title suggests, I get mixed feedback on my infra-red photography. I am biased, because I love it, but I can only guess that people may not like it because it is a bit too far away from reality. If you are reading this, then you must be at least intrigued by infra-red photography, so let's teach you a little more about it.

 Wakehurst Place

Wakehurst Place

At first glimpse, they could be mistaken from snowy scenes, however the truth is the sunnier the better! Infra-red still works when the sun goes in - but it is less effective. I am not going to go into depth about what infra-red is, there are plenty of places on the internet that cover this topic, this is more of an introduction to the genre to see if it is something that you may want to try. Below is a scene shot using 'normal' light, and the same scene in infra-red for comparison. 

 An HDR of Shoreham church (as it was too sunny to get in one shot)

An HDR of Shoreham church (as it was too sunny to get in one shot)

 The same scene shot with an infra-red filter screwed on the front of the lens

The same scene shot with an infra-red filter screwed on the front of the lens

Before you spend any money

There are several ways of capturing infra-red photos, and I have tried all of the mainstream options. You can go old-school and buy infra-red sensitive film, which combined with a filter (such as the Hoya R72) will get you infra-red photos - but still require a longish exposure (around 30 seconds). Note that few places develop this specialist film, as it requires special treatment. Colourstream in Brighton developed mine for me. The below image of the BMW was shot on film, processed and scanned. 

 This is my first infra-red photo, shot on film 

This is my first infra-red photo, shot on film 

Can you shoot infra-red photos with your existing camera? 

Yes, you can - however your camera manufacturer has put a filter over the sensor to block infra-red (most of it anyway). The way to over-come this is to buy an infra-red filter to put over the front of the lens, which blocks all visible light and only lets the infra-red wavelengths of light through (depending on the filter that you go for). This will result in a long exposure though, since the filters are very dense, you can just about see the sun through it if you hold it up to the sky. 

 This is an infra-red of Leeds Castle taken on an unconverted DSLR and IR filter

This is an infra-red of Leeds Castle taken on an unconverted DSLR and IR filter

What is a nano-meter? 

This is a term that you will hear when you start looking for filters. I would recommend that you get a 720nm filter, which will allow a little bit of visible light through to the sensor, and a good amount of infra-red. If you get a higher filter, say 800nm or 900nm, then your images will be black and white. The reason for this is that infra-red does not have colour. I would recommend getting the Hoya R72 filter (which is 720nm). Don't buy cheap filters off ebay, they aren't any good!

What is colour infra-red then?

It's correct name is false colour. The raw image, once you have corrected your camera's white balance will have an orangey/brown sky, which you will have to flip in photoshop to give you a more natural blue sky. This takes a bit of practice to get the right shade of blue, and there are numerous ways that you can do this action. Some of the images here are my early experiments, so the blue can be quite punchy in places. 

 This is what the raw file will look like (without the white balance corrected)

This is what the raw file will look like (without the white balance corrected)

 This is the corrected white balance image - looking a bit more normal now...

This is the corrected white balance image - looking a bit more normal now...

Jumping in at the deep end...

If you have tried the filters, and you think that infra-red could be for you...however you don't want to be tied to a tripod all the time, you will need to invest in converting a digital camera. This might sound expensive, but it is a really convenient way of using an older camera body if and when you upgrade. There are reputable companies that convert your camera for you, and you can expect to pay a few hundred pounds for the pleasure. Note that your camera will only take infra-red photos once converted! 

Which camera should you convert?

I converted a Canon SLR, so I only have experience of that. However I would strongly recommend that you research the lenses for the camera, since some lenses don't work for infra-red. I don't know the reasons why, but some lenses (regardless of their price!) create large bright areas in the shot that are difficult to remove afterwards (referred to as hot spots). Other than this, just make sure you have a half-reasonable screen on it if you have a full-frame camera you will have a higher dynamic range. If you have too much money, then Fuji (and perhaps other camera brands?) have a straight-out-of-the-box infra-red ready camera, but I have no experience with this - so can't pass judgement. 

When my camera gets used the most.

I like infra-red photography for several reasons. I like to be out of the house in my free time, and landscapes don't look so lovely at midday in June. With infra-red, I can still enjoy outdoor/landscape photography in the middle of the day in June, which opens up so many more possibilities. Heavily glazed buildings and areas with water photograph especially well in infra-red, which I have included a few examples here. 

I hope that this has been helpful - give me a shout if you have any questions. Let me know if I have converted you into living this extraordinary method of image capture!