How to Shoot and Process Infra-red
I have been a big fan of infra-red for quite a while. It can be quite an acquired taste but the results can be breath-taking. Today I am going to explain what you need, how to take the images and what to do with them when you get home. There is a couple of ways you can take infra-red photos. One techniques involves converting your camera. This can be costly and will permanently change you camera for IR. The technique I will be discussing is using a filter.
The image I will be using as an example is “Spring Snow”.
A camera that is capable of capturing Infra-red light – The camera used to take this image was a Panasonic FZ50 but now I use a canon 550d. Search online to see if yours is capable.
Lens – Make sure your lens doesn’t create “hot spots” (over exposed) areas. A good list of these can be found here http://www.kolarivision.com/lenshotspot.html
Tripod – This is a must, IR takes a long exposures to capture light.
Remote shutter – Not a must but you should be aware of camera shake when pressing the shutter. Maybe use 2sec counter if you don’t have a remote.
IR Filter – There are loads to choose from. As with any filter you get what you pay for. I can recommend a Hoya R72 Infra-red filter. They will cost about £30-£50 depending on your filter size. I have recently purchased a cheaper brand and I get some weird colour bleeding in the middle.
Things to be Aware Of
Wind – Infra-red works best with vegetation. Be aware to capture infra-red you will be using shutter speeds of 4+ seconds so if it is windy, vegetation will become blurry. Try and aim for days that are calm.
Sun – Infra-red works best when the sun is at its brightest. Clear summer days at midday will get you the best results but is not a necessity. Experiment and see what works for you.
The first thing you will need to do is set the white balance of the camera. Screw on your filter and set the ISO to 800 – 1600 and the exposure time to a few seconds. (Notice you will not be able to see anything through the eyepiece or live view I will discuss this later. ) Turn off auto focus, find a patch of grass that is in the sun and take a photo of it. You don’t need to focus, you just need to gain the colour that the grass gives you. The image you are looking for should be magenta/red grass (if you don’t get this, change your exposure times until you do). Set this image as your white balance and make sure you have your white balance set to custom!!! (Check your manual if you are unsure on how to set white balance).
As mentioned before you will likely not be able to see anything in your eyepiece or live view so you will need to remove the filter to compose your shot. I normally set the camera to AV or TV mode whilst doing this so manual mode will get the settings I have already entered.
- Place you camera on the tripod and get everything framed.
- Turn on autofocus and focus as you would normally.
- Screw the IR filter back onto your camera
- THEN turn off autofocus, this will stop you turning the focus ring when
- Turn your camera back to Manual mode (if you changed it to AV)
- Have your settings at ISO800 – Aperture F/8 ish – Exposure 6 seconds (This is just a guide, it maybe different for your camera).
- Check everything is in focus and in frame. You are aiming for an image that will look like below:
The colours maybe a little different depending on your white balance but you are aiming to get an image that is nicely exposed. My Panasonic camera used for this image was very sensitive to IR light so I didn’t need 8 second exposures, this is how I got the sheep in shot. If your images are over exposed with the settings I mentioned above, step the ISO etc down.
Hopefully now you have your first infra-red shot. Personally I would try all this in my back garden. As I have mentioned EVERY camera is different so it may take a while to see what works best.
Chances are that your infra-red image won’t be much to look at right now but a few tricks in Photoshop can help you out.
Before you start I would recommend running your image through some noise removal software like Noise Ninja or Neat Image. You can do this in Photoshop but chances are it won’t be as good.
There are loads of different ways to edit IR photos. This is the way I use a lot of the time but don’t forget to experiment!
- Open the image in Photoshop
- Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels
- When the levels box opens select “Auto”. (you can play with the sliders manually if the results are not what you are after)
- Click OK
This is how my image turned out:
Now lets make the magic happen!
- Go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer
- Take the “Red” slider and move it to 0
- Take the “Blue” slider and move it to 100
- In the “Output Channel” drop down box choose “Blue”.
- Move the “red” slider to 100
- Move the “Blue” slider to 0
You will should have an image that is a bit more infra-red ish now. If required you can got to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. Here you can select different colour ranges like cyan for the sky and drag the hue slider to alter the colour. In my final image I completely desaturated the magenta that is in the grass. Again, have a play, there are no rules.
The final step I like to do is resize it for web (say 800px high) then apply a smart sharpen at the following settings:
Hope this has been of some use. Remember experimentation is the best way to learn. Try different settings/ locations and weathers.
Let me know if you found this useful, if you have other ways of processing your images or you just want to show off some pictures. Just fill out the comments below!
Here are a few more of my IR shots to give you an idea of what is possible: