Sunday, September 6, 2009

Infrared Photography

Warning - somewhat technical information ahead...

I've been interested in infrared (IR) photography for over 40 years starting first with film then progressing to digital. Film while a major PIA was slightly easier to use after it was loaded into the camera in complete darkness than digital and a IR filter attached to the lens. I've been using an IR filter for many years and there were many drawbacks to this method; namely very slow shutter speeds and the inability to set the shot up with out removing the lens first. I've also found that a normal IR filter is a dust magnet no matter how careful I was in handling the filter I nevertheless still missed spots when replacing the filter after I had the shot setup.

A normal IR filter that goes on the front of the lens is opaque red; holding it up to the eye in even bright light won't help you see through it. With the inability to see through the lens as you normally would to set the shot you lose auto focus as well as all other functions thru the lens; and shutter speeds are considered fast if you shoot 30 seconds. You can also forget about any handheld shot.

The world looks different in black and white IR and there are a few things to consider. A blue sky will appear black or very dark and foliage will get a distinct white color. Using a filter you'll experience long exposure times and the absolute need of a tripod.

IR photography is unlike thermal imagery. When I first started getting interested in IR I had heard the old story that I could go to a parking lot after a hot day and capture the thermal images of the cars that had been parked there. Not so. If you take an image in the dark you'll get a black image. In IR the object must be illuminated by an IR source like the sun. This is why IR is so great for landscape work.

Like I've said I've been tinkering with IR capture using various lens filters for many years. I am a landscape photographer who in the past couple years moved my capture system completely to medium format and now use a Cambo WRS1000 and Phase One P45+ digital back. The camera I had been using was a Canon 1DsII that I kept for capturing lightning and shooting the occasional wildlife. That is till a friend of mine, Jack Flesher ( posted a comment that he was looking for a camera body to convert to fulltime IR and that got me thinking. I've got a perfectly good camera body that is sitting around collecting dust as I'm just not shooting wildlife so why not have it converted?

I've toyed around with the idea of a converted camera for the past couple years however never did it. I did a search and while there are many companies offering conversions I liked what I found with Precision Camera. One of the things I like most was that they strongly suggested sending the lens I'd be using along with the camera body so they could calibrate the focus; this was something no one else recommended. They offer 2 types of IR filters, the 715nm and 665nm. The 715nm filter is the typical IR filter and is a true IR filter used primarily for B&W photos. The 665nm is a specialized IR filter as it blocks Wavelengths shorter than 665nm and is well suited for color IR while still allowing for B&W in post processing. I opted for the 665nm conversion using my 1DsII and 24-105 lens.

The conversion to fulltime IR allows the shooter to use the camera as if it hadn't been converted. In other words I can now capture IR with fast shutter speeds using the cameras auto focus ability and other functions and while I routinely use a tripod in my landscape work it isn't necessary with a converted camera.

As many of you know Sandy and I just returned from northern Arizona after visiting the Monument Valley area and later Marble Canyon. I sent the camera and lens to Precision Camera on a Monday and I got it back the following Wednesday. I'm still in a learning stage with the most difficult problem (now behind me) being creating a custom white balance. Who would of thought I'd need to find grass to shoot a white balance; and try finding grass living in a desert environment.

There's more to this story which I plan on sharing later on however here's more samples of the images I've been able to capture so far.

I want to take the time here and thank my good friend Chris Lawery at Capture Integration for getting a smoking hot deal on the 24-105 lens and Mike Soares of Precision Camera for putting up with my endless supply of questions and sending me the Photoshop action. Thanks guys!

Thanks for allowing me to share and I look forward to any comments.



  1. Wow so cool!! Would love to try IR photography out! You take some amazing photos with it :O