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What Is Infrared Photography?

Have you ever heard about infrared photography? If you are fascinated by alternate realities, you’ll definitely enjoy this genre. Some photographers classify infrared photography as a sub-genre of landscape photography. They could be right, but an infrared image requires a different approach to evaluating composition, understanding the limitations of the infrared spectrum, and the ability to adjust exposure parameters. Yes, infrared light for cameras is a challenge, but if you give it a try, your world will turn upside down. Let’s have a look at the basic principles of infrared photography, and explore the required gear and skills to start shooting in this genre.

What is infrared photography?

Infrared (IR) photography transforms traditional landscapes into mystical images. It completely transforms skies and bright hues. Green tones become red, pink, pale pink, or white, depending on the image processing method.  Unlike other photography genres, IR captures only infrared light, which is located on the invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. We can’t see infrared light with our naked eyes because we’re capable of perceiving a small portion of the light spectrum. To be more specific, a wavelength of visible light ranges from 350 nanometers (violet) to 760 nanometers (red). This means that there’s an entire world unbeknown to us, but infrared photography can help us see it. Infrared photography - Electromagnetic spectrum infographic

What is IR photography used for?

Infrared light is used in many different fields, in addition to photography. IR proved its necessity during World War I when soldiers used IR images to identify potential enemy targets. An infrared filter allowed them to see sharp differences between trees and camouflaged munitions factories. Nowadays, railway workers in Germany use infrared cameras to examine rails. They find hidden cracks and other defects that show up only in infrared light. Infrared spectrum radiation is also used in dentistry to detect cracks and other defects.

How to take infrared shots

Compose your shot and focus before attaching an infrared filter. Once you attach the filter, you won’t see anything in the viewfinder. This is because infrared filters are designed to block out all visible light.

Step-by-step tutorial on infrared photography

    1. Set up a tripod on a stable surface in front of your subject, then attach the camera to the tripod. Establish a composition. Set the focus ring to auto mode, because you’ll focus after attaching the filter.
    2. Set aperture and ISO values. The aperture should be f/16 to capture the entire scene in focus. The ISO value should be 100 or 200 to reduce the amount of noise in the photo. 
    3. Shoot in RAW format! It will simplify the image editing process.
    4. Determine shutter speed. When the initial settings are at work, set the filter up and take a picture. The shutter speed will vary from 1 to 30 seconds, depending on the subject. Once you’ve determined the correct shutter speed, you are ready to shoot.
    5. Post-processing. After taking the picture, you’ll get an awful photo in red tones. Let’s take a look at Photoshop techniques that will make it better. Open LevelsImageAdjustments. Then, move the leftmost slider to the left starting point of the histogram curve; the right slider to the right for each channel (NB: Red, Green, and Blue), and set the central one in the middle between the absolute minimum and maximum. Next, change the blue range to red, and the red range to blue in the Channel Mixer. Select the Red channel, and set the slider to 0 in the Red line, and +100 in the Blue line. Similarly, we adjust the blue channel. To adjust the tonal range, open ImageAdjustmentsShadow/Highlight.
Frankly speaking, there is no exact formula for processing infrared photos. Each case is unique.

Tips to improve your infrared photos

Now that you are equipped with professional gear and know the basics, let’s talk about key points that will help you pick more suitable subjects and conditions.
  • Go green

Landscapes look great in IR light. Green leaves turn white, and the sky turns black (you can make it very dark and oppressively blue if you swap the red and blue channels in Photoshop). The moon will look sharp, even with a foggy or bright sky. Portraits will look strange at first, but great too. Skin will look smooth and beautiful, but eyes might turn black. Think contextually and you’ll get fascinating results.  
  • Let the light in

If you work indoors with different types of artificial lighting, you will notice that IR photos are quite different from what’s expected. Get used to outdoor photography. Photographers often avoid midday lighting because it creates harsh shadows, and the light itself is flat and uninteresting. IR light bounces off surrounding objects in a completely different way, so don’t be afraid of shooting at noon. Give yourself an excuse to go outside and take some photos during lunch!
  • Lenses matter

Not every lens can be used for IR photography. This is because many lenses exhibit flare, ghosting, and light spots when working with IR light. The most common issue with some lenses are hotspots. This is a bright circular spot, often located in the center of the frame. Although it can be corrected in the post-processing stage, experienced IR photographers tend not to use lenses that cause this problem. Sometimes, in addition to a new filter, developers provide a special anti-reflective coating. They are designed to minimize or eliminate light spotting. But using the right lens is the best solution. example of infrared photos

To sum it up

Infrared photography is a way for both aspiring and professional photographers to develop their creative potential. Although it might not be the easiest technique in photography, the results are spectacular. IR photography opens up a whole new world of unusual, but fascinating landscapes that can’t be captured with traditional photography. So, grab your camera, and start exploring new realities with Infrared photography