Exposure for Infrared Digital Photography; It’s Not Hard

by | Aug 3, 2021

As I’ve mentioned before, “I’m not asking you to change anything you’re already doing. I’m just providing information that you can use—or not. This is not a my way or the highway blog.”

Thoughts for Today by Joe Farace

Yesterday I talked about my approach to obtaining proper exposure but I also recognize that exposing for invisible light is more of a challenge. So today I wanted to share some thoughts on how I approach exposure for infrared photography….

Because of the nearly white reproduction of vegetation’s green chlorophyll, infrared black-and-white photographs render landscapes as if they were glowing, moonlit, or immersed in an extraterrestrial light. Infrared color photographs, on the other hand, have a fairy-tale look enders infrared-reflecting plants in orange to purple-red tones, while the use of camera filters can suppress the blue and green components also present. As in black and white IR photography, the results are difficult to predict, making them ideal for experimentation and surprises!

How I Made this Photo: I photographed my second favorite tree in the Cherry Creek Trail portion of Parker, Colorado’s McCabe Meadows with a used Panasonic Lumix GX1 that I purchased from Roberts Camera and had converted by Life Pixel using their Hyper Color IR filter. Lens was the Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 12mm, perspective corrected in Photoshop. Image was tweaked using Photoshop Actions from Life Pixel and further enhanced by the Vivenza and Color Efex Pro plug-ins.

Because exposure meters aren’t sensitive to infrared films, it’s difficult to calculate exact exposures but that doesn’t mean you can’t try, especially since digital cameras that provide instant feedback. Keep in mind that two subjects that seem equally bright in normal (visible) light might reflect infrared radiation at significantly different rates and have different IR brightness. Therefore it is a good idea to bracket a series of three to five different exposures and especially do testing with your camera.

Bracketing, if you are not familiar with the term, means you make several photographs of the scene, changing the exposure each time. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer a built-in bracketing function that lets you make a specified series of shots at exposures over and under what is considered “normal.” As always read your manual for directions because every camera’s gonna be a little different on how they accomplish this.

Even if your camera doesn’t have bracketing function it should have an Exposure Compensation feature that will let you adjust exposures on one-half or one-third stop increments while in the camera’s automatic exposure modes. If all fails, use manual mode. Typically I look through the lens and see what the suggested exposure is in Program mode, then transfer that shutter speed and aperture to the camera after it’s set in M. Now you are free to change shutter speed or aperture to bracket exposures.


My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography is available from Amazon for with new copies selling for $45.09 with used copies starting around eight bucks as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with new copies at $20 with used copies starting at a little more than two bucks, as I write this. There’s no Kindle version available for either book, sorry.