AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

Unlock A Hidden World Of Invisible Light With Digital Infrared Photography

Digital infrared photography has been developed and evolved from infrared photography. It has been around for a long time, but traditionally has been both expensive and difficult to master.

Very sensitive and advanced equipment was needed such as Kodak's special black and white film. You also had to contend with loading the films in total darkness. Some other things also had to be taken into consideration such as exposure bracketing and special developing. The whole process was a little bit hit-or-miss!

Today, digital infrared photography is much easier to get right and much less expensive to master than the traditional infrared shooting. This is very good news, because with this kind of photography you can make some fantastically dramatic and unique works.

You have probably seen these types of photographs before and you may have wondered how they were made. Tree leaves that are white or nearly so, extremely dark skies, the absence of shadow where it should be, water that looks like it's a smooth mirror, glowing skin or people with monster eyes are among the tell-tale effects and stunning beauty of digital infrared photography.

Being able to achieve this kind of photographic work can add an entire new dimension to your portfolio, whether you do it just for yourself or professionally.

Can Your Camera Be Used For Digital Infrared Photography?

Quality digital cameras are widely available and affordable these days. Most come with the ability to shoot infrared photography.

To test whether your camera has this ability, use a remote control, such as the one your television uses.

When you look at the remote control through your camera and press a button on it, you should see a light flashing on the remote control through the preview screen on your camera. If you can see this, then your camera is ready to take infrared photography pictures.

If you've got an DSLR camera such as a Canon or Nikon, you may have to actually take a photograph of the remote control as you press a button. Afterwards look at the picture to see if there is a light. The short film below explains how to do this.

What Equipment Do I Need?

The first thing you need will be an infrared filter. It's recommended that you get one of the Wratten filters, which include 87, 87C, 88A, and 89B. You can buy them online at a reasonable price from Adorama, Amazon, etc.

Some photographers recommend the Cokin filter system, especially for DSLR cameras. These are expensive and unless you are a professional photographer, you can get Hoya filters from Amazon which are a lot cheaper and do a similar job.

If you need help choosing which one is best for your camera, go along to your local camera shop and they can help you find and fit the best one for your camera.

If you have a point-and-shoot digital camera, you'll want an adapter tube and a step-up ring so that the infrared filter can be used . DSLR cameras do not need these adapters.

The IR filter will block out visible light but allows the infrared wavelength of light to penetrate into your camera's sensor. When you look through it with the naked eye you can see next to nothing except the very brightest objects.

In addition to your infrared filter equipment, it's highly recommended that you use a tripod. The tripod is needed to keep your camera as still as possible, during a longer than usual shutter-speed, so that your photos don't come out blurry.

How Do I Take An IR Photograph?

It tends to be the case that infrared photographs come out best when you have a very bright overhead sun. If you are new to digital infrared photography, you should probably start off with taking shots that contain a lot of foliage, so you can get a feel for how to produce certain desired effects.

There are lots of ways for obtaining different effects. Once the IR filter is on your camera, you'll not be able to see an image. The best way to approach the shot is to set everything up and compose the picture. Just before you are ready to take the shot, screw the infrared filter onto the lens. The video below explains how to take great black and white infrared photos.

Some experienced photographers recommend that you shoot in RAW (adjusting beforehand for contrast, sharpness, white balance, saturation, etc). This will produce a very fine image (assuming an ISO setting of 100 or 200) that can be manipulated more than JPEG.

If you would like to go for an old black and white, grainy photographic image, it's recommended that you alter the photograph in Photoshop. When taking your shot, ISO settings can be fooled around with by you to achieve different effects; but you'll have to experiment to see what you get.

Many digital infrared photographers just like to leave their ISO setting at 200 so that they don't ever worry about getting out-of-balance shots.

Remember that the lower your ISO setting (100), the less sensitivity to light that you get, and the finer the grain of the photograph. Too much light sensitivity results in fuzzy imagery.

White balance is also extremely important in your pre-shoot settings, as you are using a filter that blocks visible light.

Foliage and grass reflect a huge amount of white, so the best way to calibrate your white balance is to do it manually using previews of these objects as your guide. Manually setting it also gives you greater control. Follow your particular camera's manual for how to manually set white balance.

To further enhance your digital infrared photography after the fact of the shooting, you can use color space technology to alter them prior to publishing them. It is recommended that you use Adobe RGB for doing this. Ghostly and pastel color effects can be achieved with this technique.

As you practice more with digital infrared photography, you'll learn more tricks and more subtle techniques. It's a magnificent form of art and can provide you with deep self-satisfaction.

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David Coote
Wedding Photographer
Northern Ireland