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In this video and article, I’ll show you how to shoot and edit infrared images with your existing DSLR or mirrorless camera. You don’t need to modify your camera to take infrared photos. I’ll cover the equipment you need and the settings to shoot with. Then, I’ll cover multiple ways to edit your infrared images with Lightroom and Photoshop.
Converted vs. Unmodified Camera
Before we get started, let’s cover the difference between shooting infrared with an unmodified camera and a converted camera. On a standard unmodified camera, infrared light is almost entirely blocked by the hot mirror, a filter sitting directly in front of the sensor. An infrared lens filter will act like a neutral density filter on the visible light portion of the spectrum, while allowing infrared light to pass. With the infrared filter blocking visible light to a greater extent than the hot mirror blocks infrared light, the infrared light dominates the image. The downside is the longer exposure times and potentially some noise.
With a converted camera, the internal hot mirror filter is removed. It can be replaced with full-spectrum passing filter or an infrared high-pass filter. Without the hot mirror in place, the exposure times required will be closer to those used in conventional visible light photography. These shorter exposure times reduce or eliminate the need for a tripod and will reduce noise in the image. Converted cameras can produce cleaner images with better color rendition. However, converting a camera is an expensive and permanent alteration. For those who are unwilling or unable to convert a camera, this method provides an alternative.
You will need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Almost any interchangeable-lens digital-camera will work. It needs to shoot raw (optionally shooting in JPG detailed below), and it needs to focus off the sensor, which is the default for mirrorless, and can be done with live-view on DSLRs. The optical-viewfinder focusing systems in DSLRs are calibrated for visible light, and won’t focus properly in infrared. However, live-view focusing works fine.
You’ll need a lens that doesn’t produce hot spots. Hot spots are circles of over-exposure and color shift that can occur in the center of an image when shooting infrared. About half of all lenses will produce hot spots in infrared. Selecting a lens free of hot spots will require some research. In general, primes produce fewer hot spots than zooms. Vintage lenses without modern coatings will produce fewer hot spots than modern lenses. Lower f-stop numbers will produce fainter hot spots.
Here are some resources for researching your lens.
- LifePixel Lens Hot Spot Testing Database - Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Sony
- Kolari Vision Lens Hotspot Database - Canon, Fuji, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Sigma, Samsung, Sony, Tokina, Tamron, Zeiss
- IR Hotspot - Lens Ratings - Canon, Contax, Konica, Minolta, M36, M39, M42, Olympus, Pentax, Nikon, Sony
- Fuji X-Mount Lenses for Infrared - Fuji
Tripod & Trigger
Due to the longer exposures, you will need tripod or stable shooting platform. You will need a way to trigger your shutter without shaking the camera, such as a cable release, remote trigger from a mobile phone app, or the camera self-timer. I use a cable release or 2-second self-timer in camera.
Finally, you will need an infrared filter. I recommend a standard 720 nanometer (nm) filter, which blocks most visible light and allows near-infrared light to pass. Visible light ranges from about 400 nm to 750 nm. Infrared light starts around 750 nm and above. We want a little bit of visible light, but not too much. I’m using a Hoya R72.
Here are some suggested filters.
- Hoya R72 (720 nm)
- Kolari Vision Standard IR (720 nm)
- Life Pixel Standard IR (720 nm)
- Tiffen #87 (740 nm)
Now that you have the right equipment, let’s move on too shooting. Infrared light is the strongest in bright daylight. Daytime is the best time to shoot. Unlike visible light, where the best light may be in the golden hour, after dawn and before dusk, infrared photography prefers harsh sunlight. Shooting infrared in the shade, when it’s overcast, or closer to the golden hour, will result in less contrast. Shoot in bright sunlight.
When you’ve found a composition, setup your tripod and camera. Before you add the infrared filter, compose the shot. Consider that – organic material, such as trees and grass will appear bright white. Skies, in-organic material, and shadows, will appear much darker.
Let’s review your camera settings. Set your ISO to lowest available setting on your camera for the best quality, usually ISO 100 or 200.
Set your shutter speed to automatic or use aperture priority. The shutter speed will typically fall between half a second and 10 seconds.
For the aperture, use 1-stop number lower (wider) than you would typically use for landscape photos with your lens. For example, if you typically shoot landscapes at f/8, then use f/5.6. Diffraction has a bigger impact in infrared compared to visible light. If you’re not sure what f-stop to use, use 3-stops lower number (wider apertures) than the largest f-number (narrowest aperture) for the lens. For example, if the largest f-number on your lens is f/22, 3-stops lower would be f/8. You can also use lower f-stops (wider apertures) if you need to avoid hot spots with your lens, but you will have less depth of field.
Once you’ve applied these camera settings, attach your infrared filter to the lens.
Raw and White Balance
I recommend shooting in raw. Raw will give you full control of the white balance while editing, which is important for infrared. If you want to shoot in JPG, you can set a custom white balance in camera using a neutral subject, such as clouds, grass, rocks, or concrete. I find setting a custom white balance while shooting to be a hassle, so I recommend shooting in raw and worrying about white balance later.
You will need to focus after the external infrared filter is attached. This is because infrared light focuses differently than visible light. Autofocus may not work well with the infrared filter attached, so set your focus manually. I recommend using the focus-assist to zoom into your subject and select focus manually. Enabling focus peaking in your camera can help you to verify focus.
Use your cable release, mobile phone app, or set a self-timer in the camera to avoid camera shake. Finally, take the shot! Your image will be very red in camera. This is normal.
For a visual walk-through of editing steps, watch the video above. I will include a quick summary of the steps here.
Black & White in Lightroom only
Our first method for processing infrared photos is to convert to black and white. This can be done easily in Lightroom.
- Go to the Develop module.
- In the Basic panel, open the Profile Browser, expand the B&W group, and select a profile.
- Adjust Basic Tone & Presence settings to taste.
- Add contrast using the Tone Curve to taste.
- Optionally, use the Color Grading panel to colorize your image.
Using DNG Color Profile (DCP) in Lightroom and/or Photoshop
The second method for processing infrared photo involves creating a Digital Negative Color Profile (dcp). This allows you set a better white balance in Lightroom. This method uses Lightroom, Adobe’s free DNG Profile Editor, and Photoshop.
Download: The free Infrared Profile Pack contains color temperature shifting profiles for hundreds of cameras. These profiles allow you to set a good white balance in Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Camera Raw, and other raw editors. Alternatively, you can create your own DNG Camera Profile for your camera.
- Once you have created the profile and placed it in the proper location, close and restart Lightroom or Photoshop.
- Open the image in the Develop module in Lightroom or with Camera Raw in Photoshop.
- Open the Profile Browser and select the profile that you created.
White balance on a neutral subject. For more information on how to white balance, check out Secrets to White Balance in Infrared Photography.
- If you are using Lightroom, right-click on the image and select Open in Adobe Photoshop.
- If you are in Camera Raw, select the Open button.
- Swap colors by adding a Channel Mixer adjustment layer with red set to 0% red and 100% blue and the blue set to 100% red and 0% blue. Alternatively, you can download my Photoshop Actions to automate this process.
- Complete processing in Lightroom or Photoshop to your taste.
Using Enhanced profile (XMP) in Lightroom only
And finally, the third method for processing an infrared photo involves creating an Enhance Profile. The enhanced profile combines the DNG color profile from the last method, with a Channel Mixer adjustment layer from Photoshop. By combining these into an Enhanced Profile, you can swap colors directly in Lightroom, without the need for a roundtrip to Photoshop. Creating an enhanced profile for your camera, involves a number of steps, but can save a lot of time in processing infrared images.
Now you can start shooting and editing in infrared. If you already have a camera and tripod, picking up an infrared filter gives you access to the hidden world of infrared photography.
If you have comments, questions or feedback, use the comment section for this video.