Infra Red Photography

Infra Red Venice

This post is for anyone who’s seen an infra red picture and wondered how to achieve the effect.

I first saw them in a book in the 1980s,  Michael Wood’s ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’ and really wanted to try to get that spooky, ethereal look. By coincidence the infra red ‘look’ is called the Wood effect after the physicist Robert Wood – nothing to do with Michael Wood who is a UK TV historian and author (and very good too).

U2 also used an infra red shot of the cover of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’.

Infra Red Shot 1 – Modified Fuji F810

So – this is an infra red photo – note the lightness of deciduous foliage. Blue sky is rendered black, as is water. Long exposure times with film also add to the dreamlike effect if there’s movement in the shot.

There are 4 ways I know to get this effect :-

Convert a colour shot to infra red monochrome in Photoshop.  

This is not really that good as the conversion can only see the colours in the image and convert them to an approximate scale of grey, so green is converted to white, blue to black etc. This sounds OK but if that green isn’t deciduous foliage or that blue isn’t sky then it doesn’t look right. As I didn’t like the effect that much, there’s no example – sorry.

Shoot Infra Red Film

This is where it gets interesting! There aren’t many infrared films left in production – only Ilford and Rollei now that Efke (Fotokemica) have stopped production. Kodak used to make the most famous infra red film, but this too is now discontinued.

Infra Red Shot 2- Efke IR film

What makes shooting this film so challenging is :-

  • The need for a tripod – rate the Rollei or Efke film at anywhere between 3 and 12 iso (that’s not a typo), using exposure times of between 1/4 and 10 seconds. As you’re guessing the exposure it’s best to bracket exposures +/- 2 stops so 12 pics on a 36 exposure roll.
  • I’ve used a near opaque Hoya R72 filter so you can’t see through the viewfinder with the filter fitted. A deep red R25 filter doesn’t seem to work that well with the modern IR film, though it was great with the old Kodak film.
  • Infra red light isn’t accurately measured by an exposure meter so there’s some guesswork involved.
  • Infra red is focussed at a different point to visible light, hence the red infra red marks on old lenses. Wide angle lenses with plenty of depth of field, stopped down to f8 or f16 make sure it’s all in focus.
  • At least developing the film is standard – some people insist on a metal developing tank but a plastic one has been fine for me.

So, not something for casual use. My old Olympus OM1 with a cable release is the camera I use as it’s all mechanical.

Shoot Digital with an R72 Filter

Sounds good – but there’s a filter in front of digital sensors which filters out infra red wavelengths, so the effect with the R72 filter is… long exposures again so don’t forget the tripod. Cranking up the iso doesn’t help that much as only the red sensitive pixel elements of the shot will be recording anything so it’s grainy already.

Infrared Shot 3 – Sony R1 with R72 filter

As the exposure is guesswork it’s best to bracket exposures +/- 2 stops and shoot in raw.

Modify a Digital Camera to Remove the IR Filter

Companies can do this for you (at a cost) or you can have a try yourself – only do this on an old camera you can afford to wreck and not worry about it. If you do go ahead make sure the battery is removed before you start. All in all I wouldn’t recommend it as there’s a good chance it just won’t work when you put it all back together.

Infra Red Shot 4 Fuji F810 Modified

Infra Red Shot 4 Fuji F810 Modified

There are plenty of articles on the web about this – each camera is different so the instructions vary. Suffice to say you’ll be dismantling the camera, removing the IR filter in front of the sensor, replacing it with a plain glass one (not always necessary) and reassembling the whole thing. DSLRs are difficult to convert, compact cameras are easier.

Infrared Shot 5 – Modified Fuji F810

My conversion was of a Fuji F810 compact and it went well – though the autofocus gets a bit confused, and sometimes it’s exposures are way off. I didn’t replace the sensor’s IR filter with plain glass, which may have something to do with the poor camera’s confusion.

However once converted, you can hand hold the camera with an R72 filter held in front of the lens and view the scene on the LCD.

IR shot 6 – Surreal Infrared – modified Fuji F810

However you do it, infra red is quite a challenge but the results are very rewarding. The only downside is that they’re not very commercially successful.

Infra red shot7

Added a few more shots – 31/10/2012

Infra Red Beech woodland – Converted Fuji F810



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