Experimenting With Infrared Photography

In the very old ancient days when film cameras still reigned, perhaps four or five years ago, only the most adventurous might attempt infrared photography.

Infrared films can only be loaded and unloaded in total darkness.  Metering and exposure times are hurdles that take rolls of film to overcome.  Development methods and times require specific, experienced knowledge, and you pretty well have to develop the film yourself with all those messy chemicals to get the effect you want.

With the advent of digital cameras, all this has changed. Now, even a tyro such as myself can play with infrared (IR) photography and get reasonable results without a lot of specialized knowledge.

What is infrared photography?  In part, it’s looking at the world beyond the bounds of our usual perception…   It’s one part of the wider electromagnetic spectrum just outside what we can normally see and it gives us a fresh view on reality, a reality where different visual relationships apply.

There is an otherworldly, even dreamlike aspect to infrared photography that is part of its appeal.  In infrared black and white photos, green foliage turns to blazing white against the darkness of the blue sky and the world turns eerily dramatic.

Infrared wavelengths are longer than visible red.  The full spectrum of infrared radiation, though, is not used in infrared photography, just the near infrared (NIR) since this is what digital cameras can record.

Older digital cameras in particular could be quite sensitive to infrared, but the technology now tends to reduce IR sensitivity.  This makes some of the best modern digital cameras unsuited for IR photography.   For example, the Nikon D200 SLR camera does not do IR well, while the older D70 does.   The old Olympus C-2020Z is widely known as one of the most friendly digital cameras for IR work.

Some photographers go so far as to pay a few hundred dollars to have a digital camera converted to purely infrared shooting.  This may entail removing the IR blocking filter inside the camera and installing an infrared filter.  Of course, you now can’t use this camera for anything else! 

I’m not about to go that far.  I have a Panasonic FZ50, which with its Leica lens is a good camera, but not a digital SLR.  I ordered a Hoya R72 filter, which along with perhaps the Wratten 89b filter, is the standard IR filter.  It’s so dark red it’s almost opaque.  It cost me about $55 Cdn for a 55mm diameter filter, so that was bearable.  (Be advised though that larger diameter R72s can be considerably more expensive.)

bwfenceir2.jpg

For my first shot, I headed for the south side of Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver.  It’s a large diked island in the delta of the Fraser River.  This first photo shows grain, which I happen to like, and most everything is a little out of focus.  I still like it.  But it does highlight one difficulty with IR photography: focus is different than with regular photography.  Various wavelengths, such as infrared, do not focus on exactly the same plane when passed through a lens.  On some digital SLR lenses, there is a red dot or similar indication on the focus index, but for some reason, most lenses no longer come with that.

Another method is to work with the hyperfocal distance, which I won’t go into here, but basically it maximizes depth of field so that focus is not so much of an issue.

In my case, in future I will set the smallest aperture I can for the maximum depth of field, and bracket with shutter speeds for exposures.  However, I was in a hurry this time, and since my camera is not an SLR I just set it to Program mode which is just about auto everything and fired away on a tripod.

All of these shots were done in colour mode in RAW format and then converted to B&W in Photoshop Lightroom.  Some recommend shooting IR with the camera’s own B&W mode, but Lightroom works so well I felt I didn’t want to mess with in-camera processing.

finnslough1.jpg

This next one is done in an interesting area of south Richmond known as Finn’s Slough.  It’s a cluster of old buildings and boatsheds clustered around a tidal slough on the Fraser River settled by Finnish immigrant fishermen, and serves as a location of great subject matter for photographers and painters alike.

finnslough2.jpg

I started to play with the processing on this one, working for a duotone effect.

And finally, just to show how infrared shooting makes a pretty ordinary shot at least a little more exotic…

carplantscol.jpgcarplants.jpg

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6 Comments on “Experimenting With Infrared Photography”

  1. sputnki Says:

    What a great collection of IR treats! It’s amazing how rebelling against the intrinsic perfection of a normal lens can produce magic. I think that’s the secret to truly inspiring photography. Showing people the world they DON’T see.

    Doug


  2. “In part, it’s looking at the world beyond the bounds of our usual perception… It’s one part of the wider electromagnetic spectrum just outside what we can normally see and it gives us a fresh view on reality, a reality where different visual relationships apply.”

    Great post — characteristically informative and lyrically written — with some stunning images. Isn’t that interesting about older dig cameras often faring much better with IR photography. I hope this is an art that will not be lost and in fact reading this makes me want to take up and try infrared photography.

  3. fencer Says:

    Doug!

    So nice to hear from you… I see just now that you’ve got a new post at your site, which I haven’t read yet, but will.

    That’s an interesting point you mention that I’m lingering over to see what I get out of it: “rebelling against the intrinsic perfection of a normal lens”… I think what you’re getting at is close to what Ann brings up in her comment. To me, though, it’s not so much the lens as my tired and assumptive eyes that I bring to look through it.

    The white foliage jolts us into a renewed freshness of perception that in its turn will eventually become mundane until one finds yet another place to stand and see anew. Although this is all only photography, there are rich metaphors here. It has to be good to rebel against the intrinsic perfection of our well trodden ruts in their many forms…

    Regards

    ——–

    Hi Ann,

    So nice to hear from you as well!

    That’s great that you zeroed in on those sentences because I look at them again and ponder on how I should reflect more on what I glibly write.

    Isn’t that really what we need as disputatious, ornery human beings, to have a glimpse of fresh ways of perception (I know I do)… a glimpse, if only through a narrow medium like photography, of how the instrument (concepts, assumptions, culture) through which we see determines what we’re able to see.

    Get out there with a digital camera and a R72 filter (and a tripod)! It’ll even work apparently if you hold the filter in front of a point and shoot camera that can’t take a screw-on filter…

    One good trick to see if your digicam is well suited to IR photography is to take a picture of your TV controller when it is pressed on and pointed at your camera. (It uses IR to turn on your TV. ) If the photo shows a nice white dot, the whiter the better, you’ll be able to get good IR photos out of it…

    Regards

  4. forestrat Says:

    I did some color infrared photography back in college as part of a presentation on remote evironmental sensing techniques. At the time I was interested in what the images could tell me about the environmental stresses on the plants that I photographed – they weren’t much on the “art” side of things.

    A couple of months ago I thought I should try to shoot some IR again. AAAAAH! I have a Nikon D200! Oh well.

    MDW

  5. fencer Says:

    Hi forestrat,

    My wife has a Nikon D200, a good camera as you know. We bought an expensive IR filter for it before reading on the web how the D200 is not the best for IR… oh, oh. Can still be done apparently, but long exposure times…

    Regards


  6. […] On this day of sun and cloud, I took along my Fujifilm X100s for the outing.  I wanted to try shooting infrared style using a Hoya R72 filter.  I had one for my old Panasonic FZ50 camera, which I used to make infrared photos some years ago (see Experimenting with Infrared Photography). […]


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