Why I Shoot Infrared Photographs

Different interpretation of commonly seen scenery

Using my infrared camera is like tapping into a wormhole of a parallel universe – one where the foliage can be white, yellow, or pink depending on the light, and the skies can be a rich unique blue or even black.  The first time I had my infrared camera was on a recent trip to Oregon, where I intentionally took every photo with both my color camera and my infrared camera to learn more about it’s application.  I found (and still do) that I prefer my infrared images more – they are just really different.

It’s unexpected….almost surprising

It’s the difference that makes them surprising, unexpected, and attention grabbing.  I think they make you pause and ask “what’s really going on here”.  Take these images of the Chinese Garden at the Huntington.  I think we have all seen something similar in our common experience, and perhaps have seen some creative color interpretations like the one I have below.  But the infrared version really causes me to pause.  It almost looks like it’s snowed….but not quite.  Or look at the photo of my very patient friend.  I had no idea of the superman like tendencies to see through things until after I took this image – you can see her eyes right through her glasses.

Opens up new avenues for creativity in terms of capture and processing

Peter knows that I’m a software junkie.  I love playing around with special effects, and creative interpretations of my images.  I recently purchased Topaz Lab’s Black and White software.  It has some color functionality which works well with my infrared images.  It allows me to pick up some of the unusual colors captured with my enhanced infrared camera (my latest infrared camera picks up some of the color spectrum in addition to the infrared light).  I can spend hours playing with my images, blending a black and white copy with a color copy to get an interesting toning scheme as seen in the image of the egret on the lake; or really pushing the effect by re-introducing some color as seen in the abstract of an oil drop floating on water.

Rich black and whites

All the creative playing aside, infrared images provide a richer transformation into pure black and white.  Clouds are more vibrant, blacks are richer, and textures are more pronounced.  Green foliage becomes white in infrared black and white photographs, which is unexpected and adds additional contrast.

I can actually be a middle of the day nature photographer and get respectable results

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to sleep.  Getting up before sunrise is grueling, running around all day and staying up well after sunset…….well, I just get cranky.  Our good friend Jack Graham always teases me about building a niche and being a nature photographer that only shoots between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm (for those of you who shoot, the light can be fairly harsh during those hours).  I found that this is prime time for infrared photography.  I can pick up shadows and contrast better.  Overcast days tend to lead toward bland results, and the soft light of pre-dawn or post-sunset isn’t really done justice (or at least I haven’t found a way yet).

If you’re interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts of infrared (conversion, techniques, processing, etc) just let me know and I’ll write a follow-up.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Shoot Infrared Photographs

  1. Yes, please tell us more!!! I am very interested in Infrared Photography. This is probably beyond a basic question, but is it something that is still restricted to film cameras only or has the digital world opened up to its application? (ie – is it all post processing these days or can it be done in camera) I’ve heard of people taking old cameras and changing them to Infrared ones (which I don’t quite understand). Anything you can share about how to simply get started would be much appreciated.

    • Hi Tonya – converting a camera to infrared is an interesting process. Digital cameras have a filter in front of the sensor that blocks infrared light. When you convert a camera they remove this filter, and replace it with another that will let in infrared light – and some color depending on what filter you choose. I found the results I get from my converted cameras are much better than trying to replicate the effect in post- processing. I used Life Pixel to convert both my cameras. The first one I converted was the enhanced color filter which picked up some color when I switched the channel mixer in Photoshop. My most recent conversion was to a super enhanced color filter which I really like. I called Life Pixel and spent at least 30 minutes with one of their folks talking about the camera I wanted to convert and the options that were most suitable. I would highly recommend talking to them, and checking out their website. They have an assortment of short videos which I have found really informative – and one of them will compare the effects of their different filter options. Right now I think they are having a sale. If you decide to do this – let me know, I have some post-processing tips that I can share. I’ve learned a lot the hard way, and still have a ways to go.

  2. Wow, these are great, and what a good write up. I love my different lenses for how they enable me to see the world differently (particularly my macro lens), and boy, an infrared camera would be so much fun. In your experience, how much post processing is involved? I’d rather shoot something and get a good result than have to work in Photoshop for it.

    This is wonderful work here. Love it! 🙂

    • Hi Katie – thanks for the kind words. You do have to process infrared images (they resemble film negatives with the odd inversed tones). I do find it a lot easier to process infrared rather than color. At a minimum I adjust white balance (which is almost always necessary if you’re shooting raw); exposure (they are usually dark); contrast; and lastly convert to black and white if I am not doing something special with the color that was picked up. I’ve been thinking about posting a step-by- step processing guide…..

  3. Pingback: Photographing the Las Vegas Strip « pamphotography

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