How to shoot haunting digital infrared photography

Digital Infrared Photography: our final image

Digital Infrared Photography: our final image

Infrared light isn’t normally visible to the human eye, but in some circumstances it’s possible to capture it with your camera. The results of digital infrared photography can be truly stunning, lending a haunting appearance to outdoor scenes. The effect works particularly well on bright, sunny days in summer, when there are plenty of young, photosynthesising leaves on the trees.

Most digital cameras have an infrared blocker that’s great for regular photography but obviously not for infrared work. Removing the filter is a fairly complicated and expensive process, so don’t try to do it yourself.

A creative alternative is to add an infrared filter to your setup. Specialist models, such as the Hoya Infrared R72 we’ve used here, can work a treat. These screw into the front of the lens and cost from £35 ($57) depending on the thread size required.

The filter will block out most of the visible light, only allowing the infrared light to pass through. You’ll get pretty good results but will need to adapt the way you shoot, as the filter will be very dark and dense. Here’s what to do…

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 1

01 Check the weather
Whether you’re using a infrared filter or converted camera, it’s best to shoot on a bright day. If you do, the blue skies will be captured as sumptuous dark tones, while the photosynthesizing foliage will be recorded in white, almost snow-like hues.

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 2

02 Set up properly
If you’re using a filter, exposures will be long due to the density of the add-on – 30 seconds at ISO100 and f/8 on a sunny day wouldn’t be unusual. A sturdy tripod is essential. It’s also a good idea to lock the mirror in the up position and use a cable release or self timer, to minimise camera movement.

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 3

03 Focus and compose
It’s difficult to see through the filter when it’s attached to your lens, so you’ll have to compose and focus your scene first. The exposure is likely to be skewed a little too, so use the histogram to assess exposure. You should focus and expose manually too.

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 4

04 Prepare to process
Straight out of the camera, your infrared images will be bright red and need to be processed in the digital darkroom. You can make a simple black-and-white conversion, or swap the Red and Blue channels for striking and surreal shades.

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 5

05 Convert colours
Go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer, select the Red Output Channel and move the Red slider to 0 and the Blue slider to 100. Next, select the Blue Output Channel and set the Blue slider to 0 and the Red to 100. Go to Image > Adjustments and choose Auto Tone. This will give you a good starting point.

Digital Infrared Photography Tutorial: step 6

06 Go mono
Traditionally, infrared images are presented as black-and-white shots. Here, we’ve used a Black and White Adjustment Layer to make the conversion. Use a Curves Adjustment layer to tweak the contrast and darken the sky. To add to the ethereal glow, add a Gaussian Blur layer and set the Blend Mode to Soft Light.

Final Tip
Traditional infrared film shots can be quite grainy, and you can replicate this by adding digital noise from Photoshop’s Filter menu.

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