Infrared Photography Tips

The first thing you will need is a filter for the front of your lens that only allows IR light through. The filter it self will look almost completely black.

Hoya 77mm RM72 Infrared Glass Filter

Now this is where you run into problems with modern digital cameras. Most will have an IR blocking filter that covers the sensor; some cameras block out more than others. This sensor IR blocking filter is there to prevent IR light from affecting image quality of normal photos. So when you put an a filter over your lens that ONLY lets through IR light, very little of that IR light actually makes it to the sensor because of the blocking filter. This results in the need for VERY long exposures; something in the 3-5 minute range depending on how strong that sensor IR blocking filter is.

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Things to keep in mind when taking your IR photograph:

  • Compose and focus your shot with no IR filter over the lens. This is required because as soon as you place the filter over the lens you will not be able to see anything.
  • If your camera has liveview, you may be able to compose and focus with the IR filter on the lens, if there is enough light.
  • Using higher iso’s will allow for more reasonable exposure times, although you will introduce more noise. It’s really a trade off on what is more important to you.
  • You will probably have to use bulb mode, as most cameras don’t allow exposure times higher than 30 seconds without it.
  • Use a cabled shutter release to avoid camera shake.
  • Shoot in very bright sunny conditions.
  • You want the vegetation to be your white point with regard to white balance. To achieve this, take a shot of grass in full sun that fills the frame. Use this frame to set your custom white balance.
  • If your shooting in raw and import into lightroom, you will have problems setting the white balance cool enough, as it doesn’t have enough range. To get around this, use the software that came with camera, such as ‘canon digital photo professional’. You will be able to correctly set the white point in this software and then export into a tiff, that you can import into lightroom.

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If super long exposures sound tedious, there is a solution. That IR blocking filter over the sensor can be switched for something similar to what you would put over your lens. This will turn your camera into an IR ONLY camera though; so it’s best to do this to an older spare body. Now you can shoot IR like you would any other photograph. I recently had this done to an older camera of mine and so far am loving the results. I had the work done through lifepixel.com.

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I Just took the camera out for the first time over this past weekend and took some photos around the town of Canmore. IR phorographs will result in very dark skies, and almost glowing white vegetation.

Shot with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens at 28mm, f/11, 1/250s, ISO 400 on an IR modified Canon 5D Mk II.

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