Using an Infrared Filter in Photography

For many photographers a sunny day at noon is just a nightmare, the light is hard, there are no clouds, skies look uninteresting, it seems nothing can be done. It’s a good time to use an infrared filter and try to see what we can do with it.

 

 
An infrared filter will block most (but not all) of the visible light in the scene letting infrared light pass thru. As the cameras have an IR blocking filter you will need longer exposure times and a tripod, depending on how dark your filter is exposure can go from 20 seconds to several minutes!

When you shoot with the infrared filter foliage becomes whitish, water and skies can look black and everything looks different, it’s a great tool to explore.

 

 
Straight from the camera the photo will look yellow/red and with blue foliage. Sometimes you can leave it as-is if that’s what you are looking for. If you want a look like the first image you have to tweak the white balance setting using foliage as a neutral spot and then switch the blue and red channels in Photoshop or your editing tool of choice.

 

 
You can also convert your infrared shot to B&W, that’s a very common processing choice for IR photos.  De-saturate, sharpen and add contrast to get foliage as close to white as possible for a dreamy look.

One common filter to get started with IR photography is the Hoya R72 (720nm), this filter will block most visible light but not all so you can have some false color in the image. Darker filters (800nm or more) will block all visible light getting only IR in the photo and you will have a pure-IR black and white photo, you need really long exposure times for those filters!

So the next time the light is “impossible” for regular photos try Infrared, the results can be good or bad but they will always be different.

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  1. Andy

    If using a DSLR then you’ll need to check that the low-pass filter in front of the camera’s sensor doesn’t block any wavelengths let though by the IR filter you are using!

  2. Yla

    INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Theresa Z

    Awesome article, can’t wait to try this out. Thanks!

  4. Anna Patrick

    Infrared photography is always interesting. Check some more examples of inspiring infrared photos at http://www.photographymojo.com/2010/12/incredible-and-inspirational-infrared-photos/

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