How to capture infrared photos

Last week we did an article with some amazing examples of infrared photography “infrared photography – 16 amazing shots” and today I want to go over some how to’s to get you started with infrared photography.

First there are a lot of different ways to try and get an infrared look to your images, but to keep things simple we are going to just focus on the 3 main ways. 1) infrared film 2) converting your DSLR to an infrared camera 3) using photoshop to get an infrared look.

Before we get into it just a very brief look at the science of Infrared photography (IR photography). IR photography captures light wave lengths that range from about 700 nm to about 900 nm. To give you an idea of the normal color ranges, blue is from 400 – 500 nm, green is from 500 – 600 nm and red is from 600-700 nm. WIth IR photography you use an IR filter (dark red normally) that lets IR light pass through the filter but blocks normal light. That along with IR film or a converted IR camera will produce results like the ones in our post last week. Here is a example of an image photographed in the normal light spectrum and the IR spectrum:
Infrared photography
Infrared photography

We will cover Infrared film today and digital infrared and photoshop on another day. A lot of the same techniques with film do apply to digital though.

Infrared film – Even though 98% of what we cover on this site is Digital Photography there still is a place for film in my mind when it comes to photography in general. One really fun way to get into infrared photography is to grab an old film camera you have lying around (if you still have one) and load some infrared film into it. Unfortunately there isn’t as many types of film available as their used to be. Although it wasn’t ever my favorite, Ilford SFX 200 is still available for sale and does a pretty decent job. You can get it at B&H here: Ilford Infrared film. This film isn’t a true infrared film like Kodaks high speed IR film but since that isn’t available anymore this will have to do. And what I mean by it isn’ a true infrared film is it doesn’t cover as much of the light spectrum as other IR films used to. Kodaks high speed IR film would cover light up to the 900nm range while this Ilford goes up to 740nm.

Shooting with IR film there are a few things to take into consideration:

1) Filters – to get the normal characteristics associated with infrared photography like white foliage and dark skies you need to use a filter. This will block out the normal visible light and allow the infrared light to only remain. Based on the filter type it will block out more or less of the normal light spectrum. I usually prefer a red 25a filter for IR photography.

Here is a table showing the different types of filters and what light they block out:

Filter Exposure
increase (f-stops)
IR
Sensitivity
IR
film
Regular
B&W films
Blocks
all light below (apx.)
UV
warming
0
0
No
DATA available
#8
yellow
1
1
450nm
#15
orange*
1 1
2/3
500nm
#25
red
2
3
600nm
#29
dark red

2

4 1/3
620nm
#70
No
DATA available
No
DATA available
680nm
#89B
opaque

No DATA available
No
DATA available
720nm
#88A
opaque
No
DATA available
No
DATA available
780nm
#87
opaque

3
Don’t
use
730nm
#88A
opaque

3
Don’t
use
710nm
#87C
opaque
12
or more
Don’t
use
780nm
B+W
#92 near-opaque
4-6
Don’t
use
650nm
B+W
#93 opaque

Depends on film
Don’t
use

750nm
B+W
#99 amber*
Depends
on film
No
DATA available
520nm

*Orange-colored
filter reduces the blue-green sensitivity for color infrared films. It helps
avoid blue tint and differentiates colors more evenly. Filter factor depends
on film sensitivity.

2) Focusing – Your camera lens is calibrated for the normal light spectrum. Most lenses will have a little red dot or line that is close to the normal focusing line. You will have to manual focus and instead of lining up the distance scale on the lens to the normal marker line it up to the red marker.

3) Exposing - One tricky part of IR photography is that the environment is always different every time you shoot and your exposures will always have to be a little bit different. Depending on the strength of the infrared radiation in the landscape you will have to modify your exposure and the best way to ensure that you get some good exposures is to just bracket things a lot. I will sometimes bracket in 1 stop increments over 3 stops and under 3 stops.

One note for getting the signature white foliage effect, that will appear the strongest at low sun levels.

489346768 79744b404e infrared photography   16 amazing shots

Field 0, originally uploaded by zachstern.

So lets all get out and shoot some IR film! If you have any great examples to share leave us a link in the comments below!

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Author: Mark Stagi

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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3 Comments

  1. Good evening. I found your article particularly interesting :) so I’ve been wondering:
    1- Where can I get this sort of infrared filter? Is it possible to purchase online?
    2- Is there any film that blocks ALL visible light, enabling just the infrareds to be seen?

    3 – Is it possible to use a pinhole camera to shoot IR photographs? For expample, by adapting the filter and the film Yes? No? Why, why not? And if it is possible, how to do?

    I would REALLY appreciate it if you answered these questions, specially the last one, for my hole photography project depends on that…

    Thx for your time and have a nice day =D

  2. Hello Catherine,

    Sorry for the late reply, somehow missed your comment. You can purchase these types of filters online at many places. If you wanted a red filter those can be found on amazon pretty reasonably.
    (http://amzn.to/gCRdV9).
    In terms of sensitivity I don’t know if there is anything higher than the #88A which blocks 780nm.
    You can definitely do infrared with pinhole which I have seen before to be super cool. I have never done it before and might be very tricky though due to the sensitivity of the film and the light tightness of the pinhole camera. If you found a way to work it would love to see your results.

    Thanks,
    mark

  3. Oh great thank you I was looking for a table like this with information on filters. Thank you very much ;)

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