What is Infrared Photography?
Infrared photography, also referred to as IR photography, is photography utilising Infrared light, as opposed to visible light which is more typically used to create a photograph. Human eyes cannot detect Infrared light, which is a light that surpasses the visible light spectrum – but cameras can. When we use cameras designed for Infrared photography or Infrared film, we can see our world in an entirely new light.
The world reflects Infrared light in a way that is awe-inspiring to eyes that have never witnessed its dreamlike effects before. The colours and textures presented by Infrared light look completely different to how our eyes perceive visible light which makes a visually interesting and unusual style of photography.
If you’re interested in learning more about infrared photography, this post will cover everything you need to know from Infrared photography techniques to Infrared photography retouching. In this article, we will be discussing:
- What does Infrared photography look like?
- How Infrared photography works
- How to take Infrared photos
- Infrared photography tips
What does Infrared photography look like?
Near-Infrared (NIR) photos look relatively similar to human vision but the colour wavelengths are altered, making the image look like a greyscale image. However, foliage takes on a remarkable appearance in NIR, because of its high reflectivity in the NIR wavelength; comparable to the way snow reflects visible light. Like snow, trees and plants appear bright and white in NIR photos. The best Infrared photography examples feature snowy white trees.
While foliage is highly reflective of infrared light, other objects appear dull; we also see reduced atmospheric haze and distortion in the NIR wavelength which makes images appear sharper at long ranges. The sky will also appear very dark in infrared photography. These effects make a normal environment appear as a lurid dreamscape. It makes sense that English photographer Karl Ferris used Infrared photography to design Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic album art in the 1960s.
As well as landscape photography looking surreal using Infrared photography; portrait photography takes on a unique appearance too. In addition to colour alterations, skin takes on a glassy, blurred texture, and the overall look of the image will appear crisp, and high-contrast. Eyes will also look very unusual with irises appearing dark and whites of the eyes appearing grey. Colour can be added to IR photography using filters, film, or infrared photography editing.
How Infrared photography works
You may associate Infrared cameras with military thrillers where intelligence operatives target criminals using Infrared cameras to detect them using their body heat, where a glowing red silhouette appears on the camera. This Infrared technology is different from the kind used for Infrared photography. The military movie kind of Infrared belongs to part of the electromagnetic spectrum called ‘far infrared’ which is the domain of thermal imaging photography. Infrared photography uses near Infrared light, NIR, which makes photographs appear entirely different.
So, how does it work? To practise infrared (IR) photography you need either special IR film or a camera with sensors that are sensitive to IR light. The wavelengths used for photography range from 700nm – 900nm, which does include IR light. Because of this, DSLRs have an IR light blocking filter to prevent light from reaching the filters so the photograph appears accurate to human vision.
How to take Infrared photos
There are a few options for taking Infrared photos:
The first option is to use a NIR (Near-Infrared) camera to take your photos. These cameras are optimised for IR light perception, so no tampering is required for the camera to take IR photos. However, these cameras are typically designed to be used as surveillance cameras and therefore are quite expensive. We would recommend using your usual camera for IR photography. As we mentioned before, all cameras can perceive IR light, but they have IR light-blocking filters in place.
A fairly economical option for IR photography is to use film, which is readily available in both black & white and colour, allowing you to experiment with IR photography using your SLR camera. However, your lab may not have the capability to process IR film, and it can be a challenge to find a lab that can process the film.
For Infrared film photography, you should use a camera that does not auto-advance film. This is because auto load cameras use small LED lights to detect and count frames that can damage the film.
For DSLR users, you can acquire an IR filter to attach to your camera lens, without having to tamper with your camera’s mechanisms. An IR filter works by preventing visible light from passing through to the camera’s sensors, so only IR light will be able to pass through. However, IR filters vary a lot in terms of price, and colours. Price does not necessarily correlate to quality here – whether you like the part of the IR spectrum that is filtered is a personal preference, so go on which look you prefer.
While using an IR filter on a DSLR is a quick fix for Infrared photography there is still the issue of exposure times. Because a DSLR has an IR light blocking filter, even with an IR filter placed on your lens, it is very difficult for your camera to pick up on infrared light. To combat this, you have to use long exposures, where motion blur is likely (so use a tripod).
Optimise your DSLR for Infrared photography
If you are an avid photographer looking to get stuck into Infrared photography, you may consider converting your camera to a camera to be used specifically for IR photography. You can send your DSLR to a reputable IR conversion company where they will remove the IR light blocking filter so that you can use your camera for IR photography using your normal exposure times. However, you should bear in mind that taking the IR light blocking filter out of your DSLR will void its warranty.
Infrared photography tips
- When practising Infrared film photography, you should load and unload your film in dark conditions. IR film is highly light-sensitive and can become damaged if exposed to even minimum light.
- Infrared photography is a very experimental form of photography – expect that colours may vary from image to image. Because IR photography is very experimental, there is no cut and dried exposure values; experiment with exposures, and you can then bracket your images if need be.
- You need to shoot in natural sunlight for the best source of infrared radiation; preferably when the sun is low in the sky.
- To add colour to your images, you will need to use an additional colour filter.
- For digital photography, taking photos in RAW offers the most flexibility for photo editing, but the RAW images will be pink. You can correct this in Adobe Lightroom by adjusting the white balance to a temperature of 2100, which will make the image black and white again.
- In Photoshop and Lightroom, you can play around with saturation and colour hues to make your image more colourful and psychedelic.
- Another way to experiment with colour is to take two exposures; one infrared and the other full-colour, and combine the exposures in post-production.
We hope you enjoyed our beginner’s guide to infrared photography!
If you require a photographer to take Infrared photos, book with Splento. At Splento, we provide you with reliable, professional photographers, on-demand. Contact us today to see how we can assist with your photography needs.