Infrared Photography Tips for Beginners

Infrared photography offers a path into a world you’ll never see naturally.

In this infrared photography tutorial for beginners, we are weaving in between the light waves and pushing the limitations of photography.

The aim of this guide is to help you understand how to capture these eye-catching photographs.

What is Infrared Photography

Infrared light sits at the furthest end of the light spectrum. Infrared light waves are longer than visible light which is why we don’t see it naturally. Typical digital camera sensors aren’t designed to be sensitive to this level of light which is why you’ll need specific accessories to try out this effect – unless you want to fake it, which we’ll come on to later.

The look of an infrared photograph changes the colours you would normally to see into something of a winter wonderland. It is certainly a niche area of photography that some landscape photographers dabble in for a challenge – as it certainly demands a lot of patience!

What Camera Equipment to Use

Basically, you’ll need 2 important tools to capture infrared photographs – aside from the camera!

1. What’s the Best IR Filter?

These filters allow infrared light to hit your camera’s sensor, whilst preventing visible light from doing so (totally opposite of what your camera is designed to do!)

Manufacturers offer infrared filters in either screw-on or slide-in systems, depending upon what you prefer. The Hoya R72 is a popular screw-on infrared filter. The R72 refers to the amount and type of infrared light that passes through to your sensor. It’s a good starting filter for beginners we’d say.

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2. Do You Need a Tripod for IR Photos?

As you’ll come to find out shortly, the exposure times for infrared photography can be lengthy so you won’t be able to rely on steady hands. Instead, get yourself a strong and sturdy tripod. If you want to shoot landscapes, make sure you weigh down your tripod to avoid any slight movements during exposure from the wind.

Tip: If you find yourself obsessed with infrared photography after this tutorial, it’s worth noting there is a permanent option to have a dedicated infrared camera body. By experts removing the infrared blocking filter (that resides in front of your DSLR sensor) it will leave your camera exclusively adapted for reading infrared light. It is an expensive option which you’ll never be able to reverse.

If you’ve still got an old 35mm camera knocking around in the attic then consider buying a few roles of infrared film. It’ll give you a nostalgic and vintage finish in comparison to digital versions and you will have to track down a specialist printing lab that can process the infrared film.

Best Camera Settings for Infrared Photos

We would recommend shooting both RAW + JPG. Why?

Well as with any images taken with a DSLR, RAW files give you the most flexibility when editing. As you need to expect that the shot you take won’t look like the final article without a few tweaks in editing.

Having a JPG file allows you to see faster (in Lightroom for example) some of the differences between shots and determine how to adjust your settings. Over time you’ll be able to read those dull pinkish RAW files and figure out which ones will translate into great infrared photographs.

Tip: Bulb setting means when you press the shutter button the exposure starts, and it’s only stopped when you press it again – it gives you control over the length of exposure.

Put your shutter speed down to 30 seconds for your first attempt and hit that shutter. If your shot comes out a little too bright or too dark, then adjust the shutter speed accordingly but leave the other settings alone.

Try These Camera Settings…

Pop your camera on the tripod and make these adjustments, to begin with:

  • Set your ISO between 100-400;  don’t go higher.
  • Set your any Long Exposure noise reduction setting to ON.
  • Double-check you’re shooting at least in RAW mode.
  • Turn the dial to Aperture Priority (A/Av) mode.
  • Change the aperture to around F/7.1-F/8.
  • Set bracketing to +/-1 EV if your camera has this function.
  • Set the colour balance to the something like sunny or daylight.
  • Focus as you normally would on your subject and then switch your lens to MF (manual focus).
  • LAST THING: screw on your infrared filter (as you won’t be able to see much through the viewfinder once you’ve attached it – which is why you can’t refocus after this step).
infrared photography

Image: Original shot no IR filter

infrared photography

Image: Manipulate the colour in editing

infrared photography

Image: It’s fun to create something new!

Best Weather for Infrared Photography

Infrared photographs are similar to B&W images – in that you are dealing with limited tones. To make your shot more eye-catching then compose your shot so dark and light objects are grouped next to each other.

In the instance of landscapes, green foliage and fluffy clouds will always turn out light/white through infrared. Features such as the sky, stones, wood, water and concrete will be darker/black.

infrared photography

Image: Cumulonimbus clouds look amazing infrared

It’s vital to shoot on a sunny day when there is lots of summer green foliage. Dull, cloudy days won’t give you great results, and because living things reflect the most infrared light. If there are cumulonimbus clouds in the sky these can add an element of interest.

infrared photography

Image: Green foliage looks white under infrared and blue skies can go darker

How to Edit Infrared Photos

Finally, once you’ve got your shot it’s time to edit it so it looks like the typical infrared photographs you’ve been seeing. Your RAW image will look a dull pinkish-red.

Here’s how to make the magic happen using colour channel swaps:

To get those blue skies you need to use the channel mixer tool in Photoshop. IMAGE>ADJUSTMENT>CHANNEL MIXER

The following values are ones that we’ve tried before but experiment until you find which one works for you:

Red Channel: Red=0, Green=0 Blue=100

Blue Channel: Red=100 Green=0 Blue=0

Green Channel: Red=0 Green=100 Blue=0

or another option:

Red Channel: Red=0 Green=0 Blue=100

Blue Channel: Red=100 Green=100 Blue=-100

Green Channel: Red=0 Green=0 Blue=100

Infrared Editing Trick in Photoshop

With all this said though, as with modern photography there are sometimes ways to fake an in-camera technique such as infrared using editing tools. Whilst we would love you to be testing your skills as a photographer in the field and going through the process we’ve laid out, it’s not always possible for everyone.

To make this tutorial accessible for everyone here is a guide on how to edit a normal landscape photograph to give it an infrared effect.

Step-by-Step Infrared Editing Guide

1. Open your photograph (remember what we said earlier about contrasting tones and what objects work well in a final infrared image – you’ll still need to remember that when faking it)

2. Set your colour palette to black and white (press D to reset the colours)

3. Duplicate your photo layer (CTRL+J / CMD+J)

4. Invert image (CTRL+I / CMD+I) or IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > INVERT

5. With the inverted layer active, change the blend mode to colour

6. Go to LAYER > NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER > CHANNEL MIXER. Call it ‘Channel Mixer’ and press OK.

7. In the Properties panel, select the Red output channel and set the values to: Red = 0% Green = 0% Blue = 100%

8. Still in the Properties panel, select the Blue output channel and set the values to: Red = 100% Green = 0% Blue = 0%

And there you go! You’ve created your own infrared fake photograph! Who would know?! This artificial version may carry more colour than an in-camera version, but the effect is generally similar.

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