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Digital Infrared Photography
by Paul Pappas


With the somewhat recent passing of infrared film into the great photographic graveyard, we have been faced with the problem of how to obtain good quality infrared images with a digital camera. I’ve checked into several options for converting my digital camera for Infrared photography, but they are all a bit too much for the average pocketbook. Plus the fact that once your DSLR is converted, there’s no going back and it can’t be used for anything but infrared images. So I’m suggesting that if you follow my simple guidelines, you’ll be able to get some great looking infrared images without too much effort or expense.

Here’s the equipment you’ll need:
DSLR Camera
Hoya Infrared Filter R72
Very Sturdy Tripod
Cable Release (not necessary, but nice to have)

Choose the scene you’ll photograph carefully. Ideal conditions include full, bright sunlight and an area with lots of green foliage for the most dramatic effect. Texture, especially in the foliage, is another consideration when choosing what to photograph. Be aware that evergreens don’t reflect Infrared light well and will not produce desirable results. Also, water tends to go much darker than what we see with the naked eye. This is true of great bodies of water such as a river or lake, or even just an area where sprinklers have recently been used. The sky will usually be a bit darker as well.

• First, with your camera mounted on a sturdy tripod, you’ll need to set up the composition of your scene as you want it to look in the finished photograph. Keep in mind that it’s easier to shoot with a wide-angle lens since the wave length of infrared light is longer and focuses at a different point than visible light. At this point, you’ll need to set up your scene without the filter on the lens so you can easily see what you’re doing.
• Set your camera on manual focus. Even if you choose to prepare for your photo in the autofocus mode, you’ll definitely need to switch to manual before you take the shot. The infrared filter you’ll be using will completely interfere with the auto focus mode. Actually, the filter will act like a lens cap by preventing any visible light into the camera. Thus, manual focusing is a must!
• If your camera has the ability to shoot in B&W mode, this would be ideal as it will save time in post processing.
• Also, try bumping up the contrast setting in your camera.
• If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW, this will also be a big help to you later on. Of course, you’ll need the appropriate software to convert the RAW images to a JPG or Tiff file to edit later with your photo editing software.

The exposure aspect of this project is a bit tricky and will vary according to whatever camera you are using, but here’s where you can experiment and learn and have some fun!

• Now that you’re all set up, you’ll need to put the infrared filter on your camera and attach the cable release if you have one. No cable release? Then just use the self-timer on your camera. With the long exposure you’ll want to do everything you can to avoid any camera shake, even at the beginning of the exposure.
• You’ll want to start at the lowest ISO with your aperture set around f/11 or f/16. Keep in mind that your average exposure time will be anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds. You might want to bracket your exposure times to determine what the best exposure is for your camera and the scene you are photographing.
• Because of the long exposure time, your camera will create more “noise”, which shows up on the final image as annoying little fuzzy spots that were never really there. Therefore, if you have a Noise Reduction Mode (for long exposures) on your camera you’ll want to turn it on. The cool thing about the noise reduction mode is that your camera will take the first exposure, and then immediately take another “blank’ exposure with the shutter closed to serve as a reference. Then, amazingly, your camera will compare the two noise patterns to determine what noise it actually created and remove that noise from the image so you don’t have to do it in post processing!

Extra Tips
• Using a Hoodman LCD Loupe on your camera will make the entire process a bit easier since you’ll be photographing and viewing the LED screen on your camera in bright sunlight conditions.
• Some post processing may be necessary to perfect your image to your liking. Almost any image enhancing software will do. I shot my images in RAW and used Adobe Elements 7 and had great success with making a few minor changes.
• For the most success in post-processing, it is ideal if your computer monitor and/or printer that have been correctly calibrated. Software tools such as X-Rite ColorMunki or Datacolor Spyder will be immensely helpful for accuracy in all of your photographic projects. Personally, I use the Eye-One Display 2 by X-Rite.

Click here to download a printable version of "Digital Infrared Photography" Tips.

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