How to Expose When Shooting Infrared

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Digital nfrared photographs render landscapes as if they were glowing, moonlit, or immersed in an extraterrestrial light because of the nearly white reproduction of most vegetation’s chlorophyll. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that exposure meters—either hand held or in-camera—are not sensitive to infrared light, so it’s difficult to calculate exact exposures when shooting infrared either with filters or with a converted camera, as was the case with the featured image below. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try, especially since DSLRs and mirrorless cameras  provide you with instant feedback.

For example, two subjects that appear equally bright under normal, visible light might reflect infrared radiation at significantly different rates and have different brightness when captured with an IR-converted camera or infrared filters. My Panasonic Lumix G6 converted for IR-only capture by LifePixel (with the Enhanced IR conversion) was used to make the above photograph and it tends to slightly underexpose even though the image on the LCD looks perfect. And histograms aren’t always a good indication either.

When getting started in digital IR photography it’s a good idea to bracket three to five different exposures because you can’t count on your LCD screen to show you the kind of result you’ll see when viewing the files later on a calibrated monitor. Most cameras offer a built-in bracketing function but even if your camera doesn’t have a bracket function it should have an Exposure Compensation control that will let you adjust exposures on one-half or one-third stops while in the various automatic exposure modes.

If all fails, shoot in manual mode and you don’t need a hand held exposure meter to get started in manual mode. Typically I look through the lens in Program mode and see what the suggested exposure is, then transfer that shutter speed and aperture to the camera after changing to manual mode. You are now free to change shutter speed or aperture to bracket exposures just like in the good ol’ days.

PS. For tips on creating the above Blue Sky Effect in infrared, click here for a post on my old blog.


My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography is currently out-of-print but used copies are available from Amazon for $11.20 or less, as I write this. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with used copies for under four bucks, which is a heckuva deal.