If you don’t see photography as art, if you think your cell phone is the only camera you’ll ever need, then infrared photography 1s probably not for you. It’s not for you as a photographer that is. You can still enjoy and appreciate the amazing images that result from infrared photography.
When it comes down to it, photography is the art of catching light and infrared photography is the art of capturing invisible light. Capturing invisible light sounds rather improbable but just because we can’t see it with our eyes does not mean it doesn’t exist.
The light we can’t see
Every type of light can be identified with a wavelength. For example the human eye can see reflected light in the 400 to 700 nm range. But just like there are sounds that we can’t hear but our pet dog can, there is light that has a higher wavelength that we can’t see but still exists. Light in the 700 – 1200 nm is referred to as near infrared or NIR.
Fortunately we have found a way to capture this light with a method of photography. The results are simply stunning. Familiar objects seen through an invisible light take on an almost unearthly beauty. Skies are much darker; clouds are much crisper, some images pop out of the photograph while others have translucent auras. It all depends on how objects reflect near infrared light.
IR photography – love it or hate it
Infrared photography has been around for decades but because of the difficulty in taking the pictures it has never been though of as mainstream photography. As one professional IP photographer put it “People either absolutely love infrared photography or they just don’t get it.” I the “not getting it” that has turned many people off from producing IR photos.
Fortunately digital cameras have made the process a bit more manageable not to mention affordable. As it turns out, the guts of a digital camera makes it well suited as an infrared camera. Unlike film cameras the silicone based sensors in digital camera are quite sensitive to NIR. In fact they are too sensitive and need to have infrared filters attached so that they don’t corrupt visible light images that most people will want to use the camera for.
The infrared “snapshot” – shooting blind
Actually there is no such thing as an infrared snapshot because the process of setting up a shot and actually taking it can be a comparatively long time. In order to get good infrared photographs using a digital camera you’re going to need an infrared filter for the lens and a tripod to hold the camera steady during the exposure time. Exposure times can run as short as a couple of seconds to as long as 30 seconds depending on the light.
The first step is to set up shot without the filter. To do this set up your tripod, mount the camera and then frame the shot the way you want it. The next step is to screw on the filter. With the filter in place no visible light enters the camera. Consequently no image will appear on the LED screen and you are literally shooting blind. Set your f stop for midrange focus and then play with different exposures. You’ll want several shots so you’ll have options when you process the image in Photoshop.
Infrared photos need post production work done in Adobe Raw and Photoshop before you have an image that you are really happy with. The final results can be amazing but the need for this Photoshop work is another reason that infrared is not a mainstream form of photography.
However, if you gut it out all of the way through the process you will be hooked. Infrared brings out the best of your creative talents and gives you a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
A surfing mom of three, Melissa Cameron works as a bookkeeper for a medical practice full time but loves spending her free time exploring the possibilities of infrared photography. Hooked on the latest IR technology, Melissa is always looking for ways to create even more powerful IR images.