Hints & Tips

Infrared Photography

George Theodore, March 3, 2014

With the ability to convert digital cameras for infrared photography, this art form is enjoying an upsurge in popularity. As photographers upgrade their DSLR’s, many are having their older cameras converted rather than “giving them away” at eBay or Craig’s List especially if that older camera is more than two or three generations old. The conversion replaces the sensor’s low pass filter with one that essentially blocks visible light and passes infrared.

The advantage of conversion over the use of infrared filters is that filters require much longer exposure times. With a converted camera, one shoots at whatever aperture, shutter speed and ISO is required to capture the image.

A few years back, I had Life Pixel convert a Nikon D200. I usually carry two DSLR’s in the field and the D200 made it three. For many trips, that’s a bit much so I had a Canon G11 converted. Finally, I had a Fuji X-E1 converted and that's now my go-to IR camera. With a mirrorless camera you don't have to be concerned about lens focus adjustments (a subject I won't discuss here). Life Pixel came highly recommended and my experience with them has been excellent. In both conversions I opted for their Super Color IR filter. I like false color IR’s (though I do some black & white too) and this filter looked like it was my best choice.

The problem most have is how to post-process the image and the biggest issue lies in proper white balance. To start, set your white balance in-camera according to the filter type; some filters do better with green (just use grass or some other foliage), others with a gray or white card. Fill your frame with the appropriate color making sure it’s in the same light you’ll be shooting, take the picture and use that frame to set your custom white balance. Your camera’s owner’s manual will tell you how to do that. Now go shoot.

Bring your IR images into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (I assume you're shooting RAW). The first thing you'll notice is its red tint. OK, let's try adjusting WB. Can't do it  - it's pegged at 2000K. If you use Nikon’s Capture or Canon’s DPP you can correct white balance but we can't do that in ACR or Lightroom. So, what can we do?

Here’s one method I really like:

Go on-line to Adobe and download and install the free Adobe DNG Profile Editor. Convert one IR RAW image to DNG (in Lightroom right click on the image and select Export/Export to DNG from the drop down menu). Now, open that image in the profile editor software (File/Open DNG Image). Go to the Color Matrices tab, grab the Temperature slider and move it to the left somewhere between -80 and -100. The exact amount isn’t important. Save the new profile – go to File/Export and either use the name provided or rename it something else (like “Infrared”). Exit and restart LR (or Photoshop). Now, when you open an IR image in Lightroom, in the Develop Module choose your new profile under Camera Calibration – Profile. You now have a much better place from which to start your post-processing. How much better? Go to WB and notice you'll have the entire range to the left to add as much blue to your image as you wish.

Once I have my WB where I want it, I go to Photoshop and make layer adjustments in Channel Mixer where I swap red and blue channels. Do this by setting blue to zero and red to 100% in the blue channel and visa versa. Then to Levels where, in the red and blue channels, I match up the black and white point sliders with the edges of the histogram. I might touch up the mid-tone levels as well. Sometimes adjustments in Hue/Saturation and/or Selective Color also help.  I then save the image back to Lightroom for final adjusting until I get a false color image I like.  I’ll also go into Black & White on some images using Lightroom or plug-in software like Perfect B&W in the onOne Suite.

Here's a before/after of a lavender field in Provence taken with the converted Canon G11.

Defore-IR.jpg After-IR.jpg

Infrared is fun to shoot and, properly post-processed, you’ll be amazed at the results whether you shoot landscapes or portraits. And, by the way, while midday high full bright sun might cause you to put your "normal" camera aside, it's perfect for infrared.

Hope this has been helpful.