December 9, 2018
Why Infared is Awesome
Infrared: The other light.
Have you ever wanted to take a peek into a hidden world, another visual universe, or see the unseen? Well… you can with infrared photography.
With infrared photography, you see a spectrum of light just outside what our eyes can detect. It’s not the infrared you see in the movies though; you can’t see in the dark with a camera and not everything will be that cool, Matrix green. Although, with an infrared light source, you actually could see and photograph in total darkness if you wanted.
Infrared photography will allow you to see everything around you in a different light (pun intended)
My first encounter with infrared was with a friend of mine while we walked through the desert. I was shooting color and he was shooting infrared. I looked at the back of his camera and was blown away— It was black and white but new, amazing, and not something I could simply match by converting my images to black and white.
As a result, I quickly converted my Nikon D7000 and took a 3-week road trip to Washington. I expected to “test” the infrared on the trip and shoot with my other gear to capture most of the trip in color. Well, that’s not what happened. Once I started to see the world in infrared, I never looked back. I shot 90% of my trip in infrared (aka 1000s of images). All of those fantastic mountains and lush rainforests—All infrared. Coastal lighthouses, small towns, and bridges—Definitely all infrared. It was amazing for me. I saw something entirely new, and it was exciting to say the least.
Infrared is impressive to me for a couple of different reasons
1. It’s unpredictable
First, I love black and white photography and I think everything looks best monochromatic. I spent countless hours early in my career agitating 35mm film in developer and then many more hours in the darkroom rocking a developer tray—So the monochromatic force is strong in me. Sure, I can convert and tweak a color image to black and white, but it’s normal, and everyone can do the same.
Infrared is different, challenging and unpredictable, Perfect!
For those of you that want more than a monochromatic experience, there is faux-color infrared. Depending on the conversion method and the amount of visual light allowed to hit the sensor, there can be an interesting duo color element to play with.
2. It’s unexpected
Another reason for my love of infrared is that it surprises me. I have been a professional photographer for just over 25 years at the time of writing this, so I’d say I’m good at seeing and using light. Infrared is just different enough that I can’t always predict how someone or something will look.
Although properly handled, infrared can produce some soft and unique skin tones. The real advantage of infrared is landscapes. Infrared changes everything. Skys go dark, trees, water reflections, pretty much everything changes. It’s like an additional layer just under the surface of what we are used to seeing, and for that reason, I LOVE Infrared.
Pro tip: People usually don’t look great, as their eyes go dark and their skin appears pale. It’s great for the Halloween season but not so great for brides and portraits.
How to get started
So, you ask, “what’s so different and how can it be better?” I hear ya. Who wants to take an expensive camera and make modifications? Besides me, that is LOL.
Here’s some examples of what you have to look forward to after taking the step of infared conversion:
But now that you’re convinced, what’s next? It all starts by converting a camera, which can cost between $300-$400. Don’t worry—Your converted camera can always be returned to mundane color, and the cost for converting back is usually much less than the original conversion. I won’t go into the technical details here; you can contact my favorite conversion experts at Spencer’s Camera. They will guide you and answer all of your technical questions. They also have a very informative website full of images and additional articles—Well worth having a look.
Choosing the details
When looking for a body to convert, I’d say a mirrorless camera is best, and my most recent and favorite conversion preference is the 590nm. This conversion allows in additional visual light which will enable me to tweak and play a little more with the colors and conversion to black and white.
A bonus of a mirrorless camera is the active viewfinder, whic makes shooting much easier. Otherwise, use a camera that can shoot and focus via live view to eliminate the need to calibrate a lens.
Keep in mind: Infrared light does not focus properly when being bounced in a DSLR if you don’t have a properly calibrated lens. Everything will be slightly out of focus as a result.
Once you have a converted camera and filled a memory card with infrared amazingness, processing your images will be the next big step. If you shoot RAW (and you do only shoot RAW right?) then your images will be very magenta/red, like this:
A simple conversion to black and white will get you started on your journey to infrared bliss. Keep in mind, though, that there are colors in that image. On elements such as skies or grass, try using the white balance eyedropper in Lightroom, Capture One, Luminar, or whatever raw editor you prefer, before converting to black and white. The white balance can have a pretty dramatic effect.
Now you’re ready to play
Now that you’ve got your infared converted camera and post-processing methods figured out, it’s time to walk outside and point your camera at everything. Pine trees and succulents will glow even in the shade. Oak trees, not so much. Blue skies with clouds are amazing, and water is always a surprise. If you like to photograph people, give it a go and don’t stop playing.
If you would like to see me do some infrared editing, checkout this “Watch Me Work” episode on ThisWeekInPhoto.com
Now that you’re excited and ready to make the leap or perhaps do more research, I have some assistance for you. Check out the fantastic humans at Spencer’s Camera where I do all my conversions and those of all my friends. I’m a longtime customer and am not endorsed by them in any way. I truly recommend them.
When I picked up my recently converted Nikon Z6, I mentioned to them that I wanted to write an infrared post and they gracously offered a coupon code that I could include for all you amazing people.
Use the code spicyjello25 for $25 off anything over $200.
May you have a wonderful time exploring your infrared world!
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