Getting Started with Infrared Photography

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

I’m always surprised to hear that many new shooters don’t know about infrared photography. Recently while photographing a beautiful model who is also an avid photographer, I mentioned photographing another model using infrared techniques and she asked, “what’s infrared?” Well, that’s the topic of today’s post.

My wife, Mary, always says that shooting in infrared transforms mundane subject matter into something more interesting and exotic. It can add drama to landscape photography while letting you to shoot during the middle of the day because the best time of day for infrared photography is the worst time for traditional photography.

Getting started begins with a question: Is your camera infrared sensitive? Because if it is, you can use on-lens IR filters. One way to check is to take the TV Remote test: Press a button on the remote, point it at your camera and take a picture or look at it in Live View. If you can see light from the remote you’re almost ready to make infrared images. Caveat: A few readers have told me this test isn’t infallible but it’s always worked for me.

Depending on their size, infrared filters may be the least expensive solution for capturing IR images. As I write this, a 52mm Hoya R72 Infrared filter costs $36.95 while the Cokin A007 filter, one of my favorites, is no longer available. The Hoya is and always was the least expensive way to try IR photography. More powerful infrared filters such as a 52mm Singh-Ray 690 I-Ray cost around $160. All of these filters are so dark they require exposures of one or more seconds. You’ll need a sturdy tripod and may have to focus with the filter off the lens, then put it back on to make the final exposure.

Another option is having your camera converted for IR-only operation which costs more than $36.95 and you won’t be able to use the camera for any other kind of photography. Depending on the specific model, LifePixel, the company that converted my mirrorless cameras, charges $175 and up to convert DSLRs, mirrorless and compact cameras for infrared capture. Once converted, you can shoot hand held using the same kind of camera settings—no long exposures, which can be a problem in windy days—you would use for daylight with your other cameras. Other than kicking up the ISO setting a bit higher than normal, I find that there’s no real difference between shooting a converted camera than a “normal” DSLR or mirrorless camera. Why higher ISO? So that I can shoot at f/16 to minimize focusing problems. Read more about that topic here.

If I put two IR photographs next two one another and one was made with a filter and the other with a converted camera, you probably would not be able to tell the difference. The only difference is what method suits your budget and how you prefer to shoot.

 

My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography, is out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $36.21 and used copies for $14.97, as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with used copies selling for $3.99, a price that can’t be beat for one of my favorite books.