Infrared photography can be a lot of fun!
To me, it’s one of those areas of photography that you either love or hate. The look can often be very dreamy and other worldly. B&W, in particular, can give a very dramatic look, the blue of the sky becoming black and the green of vegetation becoming white.
Here is a brief overview of IR photography, what I use and how I process the shots. I consider myself a complete beginner in this area, there are many great sources for infrared photography online if you wish to learn more.
So how do you take IR shots?
You need two things.
A camera that is capable of capturing IR light and an IR filter.
The IR filter goes in front of the lens as any other filter would and is used to block most visible light and allow IR light of certain wavelengths through. One of the most common IR filters is the 720nm.
Not all cameras are capable of capturing the IR light needed to produce an IR shot. This is due to most modern cameras having an IR blocking filter fitted internally to prevent IR light from reaching the sensor. The idea being that this will improve image quality for a normal, visible light shot.
You can have cameras converted for IR use. Basically, they will remove the IR blocking filter and replace it with an IR720 or other IR filter, inside the camera.
This isn’t cheap and results in a camera that can only be used for IR. You would no longer be able to use it for normal, visible light shots. However, it will give you a camera that you can use just as you normally would, no need to put filters on, no long exposures etc.
If converting a DSLR you will also need to bear in mind that some lenses work better than others for IR. Some lenses produce ‘hot spots’. There are good resources online that give lists of lenses and how they perform with IR.
If you feel brave and have a steady hand you can, of course, do the conversion yourself, although I wouldn’t recommend this on an expensive camera.
There is a cheaper way into IR photography.
You will not get the quality of a converted DSLR but you will be able to take some pretty cool IR shots, dip your toes into the world of IR, see if it is for you and have some fun!
Some older cameras do not have an IR blocking filter fitted. These let IR light onto the sensor and all you need is an IR filter to go over the lens, to filter out most of the visible light.
In fact, the iPhone 3GS is capable of IR photography!
One way to get a good idea if a camera is capable of IR is to look at the end of a TV remote using the LCD live view on the camera and press a button on the remote.
If you see a bright light coming from the IR LED in the end of the remote then there’s a good chance the camera will perform well with IR.
If you see no light then the camera is blocking all the IR light and will not perform well with IR photography.
The brighter the light, the better at IR the camera will be.
One of the most well-known ‘old’ digital cameras that can capture IR light very well is the Olympus Camedia C-2020 Z. This is also reflected somewhat in its second-hand price tag, though they can still be picked up for a decent price.
The C-2020 Z is what I use for my IR play, along with a Neewer IR720 filter.
The C-2020 Z can be picked up on eBay for around $60 USD or less and the Neewer IR720 can be found on Amazon for around $13 USD.
Here is my workflow and processing for the B&W IR barn shot….
You can buy filter adapters for the C-2020 Z but I just hold the IR filter over the lens with one hand and press the shutter with the other.
It’s best to frame the shot without the filter in place. The filter will darken the image that you see greatly and also increase your shutter speed, so be careful of camera shake.
Put the filter in place and take the shot. What you see will be heavily tinted red. This will be fixed in PS with color channel swapping.
One slight drawback of the C-2020 Z is that it uses SmartMedia cards and has no USB. I don’t have a card reader for these cards so I have to use another older camera, an Olympus Camedia C-220 (which does not do IR), which takes the same card but does have a USB to get them into the Mac!
Load the image into PS.
Disclaimer: I am a LR user. I very rarely use and know very little about PS! I am sure there are better, more correct ways to do this. This is just the way I came up with by playing around.
The image SOOC has a red tint, especially on the blue sky and doesn’t look much like the usual IR shots that you see…..
The first thing to do is to swap the red and blue color channels. This is something that you will want to do on all IR shots to get the sky back to blue and more ‘realistic’ colors overall.
I have created a Photoshop Action, ‘IR Channel Mixer Color Swap’, that you can download for free at the end of this article but this is how it is done…
Create a new Channel Mixer adjustment layer above your background layer.
Select Red for the Output Channel and set red to 0 and blue to +100.
Select Blue for the Output Channel and set blue to 0 and red to +100.
This swaps the red and blue color channels and your image should now be looking more ‘normal’.
You can then select Green for the Output Channel and tweak this to your liking if you wish.
This should have brought your blue sky back and given more ‘realistic’ colors…
Next, create a new Curves Adjustment layer above the Channel Mixer layer and set the white and black points with the eye droppers…..
The sky and the barn aren’t looking too bad but the vegetation is too bright and saturated.
Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer, select Yellows and reduce the saturation and lightness to taste….
Add a B&W Adjustment layer and adjust the color sliders to taste, specifically to brighten or darken sky and vegetation, then add a Curves Adjustment layer, use the strong contrast preset to add some contrast….
The clouds, in particular, look a little too white, flat and lacking depth and definition. This is easily fixed with a duplicate layer and a technique a little like the Orton Effect.
To add some instant dramatic, yet soft lighting, depth, detail and definition to the clouds….
Duplicate the background layer.
Apply a good amount of Gaussian Blur to this new layer.
Set the blend mode of this layer to Multiply and adjust the opacity to taste.
This will give instant depth and definition to the clouds.
The barn is now black, use a layer mask on the new blend mode layer to mask out parts of the barn to add some selective lighting back in….
Next, to add a little more selective light and softness, duplicate the Gaussian Blur layer, set the blend mode of this new layer to normal, opacity around 50% and use a mask to add some ‘blurry light’ just around the barn and some vegetation….
Final touches, create a new blank layer, set to screen mode, opacity around 10% and use a soft white brush to selectively add some subtle, soft light to areas and finish up with a Levels Adjustment layer…
Bob’s your uncle! This is all for fun. Ordinarily, I would go back into LR, the environment I know and that I am comfortable with, for some local adjustments and the final touches.
Feel free to leave any comments, tips or suggestions….