Four Exposure Tips for Shooting Infrared

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When learning how to see infrared imaging possibilities, I suggest that the first thing you should do is forget what you know about photography with visible light. That’s because when shooting infrared everything you know about light is wrong.

In fact, one reader once told me that he liked shooting IR because he could only shoot on his lunch hour, which is the worst time for color photography but is the absolutely best time to shoot infrared.

Exposure meters aren’t sensitive to infrared light, so theoretically it’s difficult to determine exact exposures but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Your camera’s LCD screen can provide feedback but the histogram might be misleading. That’s because subjects that seem equally bright under visible light may reflect infrared radiation at different rates and exhibit different brightness levels. So here’s a few tips for one of your first infrared shoots:

  1. The simplest approach is to shoot a bracket of three to five different exposures until you find where the best exposure lies. Because some/many LCD screens are notoriously unreliable, that may not happen until after you look at your files on a computer. When you do, make some notes about the results for next time you shoot IR.
  2. Some cameras have an auto bracketing function that makes a specified series of shots at exposures over and under what’s considered “normal.” Because every camera’s a little different, read the manual for specific directions. If your camera doesn’t have bracketing function it should have an Exposure Compensation feature that lets you adjust exposures in one-half or one-third stops. If all else fails, most cameras have a Manual mode. Typically I look through the viewfinder in Program mode to see the suggested exposure, then transfer that shutter speed and aperture to the camera set in manual mode and then bracket on the overexposure side because most times you’ll be slightly underexposed.
  3. Just because you don’t have a converted IR camera doesn’t mean you can’t use all these tips when shooting with IR filters. When using these dark (you can’t see though them) filters you’ll need a tripod because of the long exposure times they will produce.
  4. When using IR filters, I suggest that you focus first then put the filter on the camera. Usually I just hold it there with my fingers during the exposure or have somebody else, as Mary is doing here hold it, which is just another reason why a tripod will come in handy.

Life Pixel does a great job with IR conversions and have done most of my Canon DSLRs and all of my Panasonic Lumix G-series cameras. This is not a paid or sponsored endorsement, just my experience.

My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography is currently out-of-print but used copies are available from Amazon for less than ten bucks as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with used copies selling for $2.00, less than your next coffee at Starbucks.