PHOTO SKILLS: INFRARED FILTER
WANT to capture WHAT the HUMAN eye can’t See? INFRARED photography is A GREAT WAY to Flex your creative muscles AND try out A NEW Discipline. JORDAN Butters Guides the WAY…
Learn how to shoot infrared using an IR filter on your lens. Jordan Butters shares the techniques to try
The human eye is a truly fantastic, advanced and complex piece of kit, however for all of its abilities, our eyes are only able to see some wavelengths of light. The average human eye can respond to wavelengths of 390nm to 700nm – wavelengths outside of this are either ultraviolet ( shorter than 390nm) or infrared ( longer than 700nm). herein lies one of the big attractions of infrared photography – your camera can be made to see what the human eye can’t – you can literally photograph invisible light!
The results are high in contrast with dark skies and water, and bright, radiant foliage and human skin. This is due to the different ways that surfaces react with infrared light: surfaces that reflect infrared light ( such as leaves and our skin) are rendered as bright white, while those that absorb infrared ( IR) light ( such as water) are rendered dark. another bonus is that infrared photography is often best practised on sunny, bright days, so it’s the perfect discipline to try out when the light is too harsh for shooting regular landscape images.
If you want to capture your own infrared images ( and why wouldn’t you?) then there’s two ways to go about it: you can either have your camera permanently converted to record infrared by removing the IR cut filter to allow infrared light to reach the sensor, or you can use an infrared filter on the front of your lens. Both approaches have their pros and cons – for example, IR- converted cameras can be used handheld at normal shutter speeds, whereas using an infrared filter on the lens requires much longer exposures. The main benefit of using an IR filter is that they’re cheaper than converting a camera, and it can be fitted and removed at will, so the camera can still be used to take ‘ normal’ images without the filter. Once you’ve converted a camera to infrared, that’s all it captures. There are two common trains of thought for processing IR images – monochrome or ‘ false colour’. The latter involves creating custom camera profiles to gain sufficient White Balance adjustment, which varies from software to software and camera to camera. Therefore, in the name of simplicity I’m going to focus on monochrome infrared images here…
a Pic ture st yle Before finding your composition, you’ll need to set up your camera to make IR photography a bit easier. This is personal preference, but I like to switch to shoot in both JPEG + Raw, then I set my Picture Style to monochrome – this way I can get a feel for the final monochrome image using the preview image that I see on the LCD monitor, but the Raw file is saved in colour.
First you’ll need a tripod as exposures are likely to be long. as the infrared filter blocks a lot of light, you won’t be able to see through it using the viewfinder. Therefore, get your composition set, focus accurately and then switch to manual focus before fitting the filter to stop the lens from refocusing. you could try Liveview too – some sensors are sensitive enough to still see through IR filters.
White Bal ance If you want to play around with colour infrared images at a later date, then it’s a good idea to set a custom White Balance in- camera at this point. as foliage reflects strong infrared light, a good reference is a patch of foliage or grass in full sun. Consult your camera’s user manual for information on setting a custom White Balance, as it differs wildly from model to model.
e xposure Our cameras can’t meter infrared light, so you’ll need to use manual mode. a slightly higher than usual ISO will help keep exposure times down, but they’re still likely to be in excess of ten seconds. Start with a base settings of 15 seconds at f/ 8 ( ISO 400) on a bright, sunny day, or 20- 25 seconds on an overcast day. When you’re ready, fit the filter, being careful not to shift the focus.
and reshoot Check the results, turning on the blinking highlight clipping warnings for signs of overexposure. Adjust your exposure if necessary. Don’t be afraid of increasing the ISO rating to bring the exposure time down – more recent DSLRS are capable of producing clean images at ISO 1600, and any noise can even add to the effect. As you can see, my first attempt was very overexposed!
your images Download your images onto your computer. If you’ve shot in Raw + JPEG with the Monochrome picture style then your JPEGS will be ready to use straight away. Infrared Raw files often benefit from additional tweaks – I’ve found that Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro is quick and easy for processing monochrome IR images, and offers great results.
it’s all white Infrared photography is best suited to scenes with plenty of foliage under blue skies and fluffy white clouds.