Infrared Photography: A Guide To Getting Started & A Brief History Lesson

John Duder has been experimenting with Infrared photography and he's also got a bit of history to share with you on the subject, too.

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IR landscape - fluffy cloud, light and delicate foliage, and dark 'blue' sky.

IR landscape - fluffy cloud, light and delicate foliage, and dark 'blue' sky.


A History Lesson

It started, so legend has it, back during World War Two. Somebody noticed that you can tell the difference between branches on a tree and branches tied on top of a Panzer tank because the former reflects infrared light well, and the latter doesn’t after the first day or two. Consequently, the manufacture of infrared-sensitive film and filters that cut out ordinary light started appearing.

Sometime after the War, somebody else realised that the distorted tonal range looks pretty - the foliage is pale, blue skies black. Possibly the most famous exponent of the art was the late Simon Marsden, who produced spooky shots of haunted castles: my own preference is for the delicate landscapes that Kathy Harcom produced twenty years ago. You may be able to find her monograph, published by Creative Monochrome, or the various issues of CM’s Best of Friends that featured her work.

Kodak’s High-Speed Infra-Red film is the stuff of legends - it is very grainy and lacked an antihalation backing so that highlights spread through the emulsion giving a glow around highlights. I found it was temperamental to use and process.


Various IR films, past and present.

Various IR films, past and present. Some of them must be handled in total darkness, as the cassette light traps don’t stop IR light getting through!


And at one time, Kodak produced an infrared colour film, Aero Ektachrome. It was even harder to use and was designed to be processed in the long-dead E-4 chemical kit. E-6 could be used - but the by-products wrecked the chemistry for E-6 film, so most labs wouldn’t touch it.


And Why?

Infrared is hard work - there’s a real learning curve, with all parts of the workflow. So why might you want to try it, if you haven’t already?

There’s the spooky look that Simon Marsden produced - dark skies, sinister stonework and weird vegetation.

Kathy Harcom’s approach used the delicacy that IR can give for soft and gentle dreams - an English spring at its least threatening, most fairy-like best. Often, she hand-tinted silver prints, for further trance-like quality.

If you like traditional landscapes, with dark blue skies and fluffy white clouds, then the milder IR treatments may well give you the same, hyped-up 150%.

In my own area of portraits and nudes, IR is incredibly kind to the skin: forgiving of wrinkles and imperfections, and giving deep and dark eyes. Again, it’s easy to give a dreamy, and possibly a nightmarish, quality.


Infrared portrait

Portrait shot with an IR-converted camera. Model Kym Williams. Note that an IR-converted camera works handheld even in quite low light - Lumix G3 with Olympus 45mm lens at 800 ISO and f/1.8 @ 1/50.


Finally, if you go for colour, the possibilities are very broad, from delicate tints on top of what monochrome can deliver to a nightmarish quality, like the LSD sequence in Easy Rider.

This is my list, but I’m sure it’s not exhaustive! If you’re the sort of creative photographer who sees something a bit different and uses it as a basis for doing fifteen different and weird things, you are probably going to love IR!


Getting Started

I first tried the Kodak emulsion in 1976, as I recall: it wasn’t something most people had heard of, and anyone who knew Bazz and Barry at Mobile Photo Service in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (there’s one or two out there, I know) will be able to imagine the conversation.

'Can you get me some of that Kodak Infra-Red film, please, and the gelatin filter it needs?'

'Wye ay. And what filter is that, then?'

'The one you can’t see through - it’s very dark indeed.'

'You’re having uz on, like? A filter you canna see through?'

But they ordered it, and I fitted the filter to an old rangefinder camera (because you can’t see through it with the filter on, an SLR or DSLR is a miserable prospect for infrared.) And I got some pictures.


3 Two IR filters, plus the ordinary R25 that works nicely with Rollei 80S film.

Two IR filters, plus the ordinary R25 that works nicely with Rollei 80S film.


Fast forward around 30 years, and Kodak discontinued the film: but there are a couple of suppliers who have filled the gap, with films of very different characteristics, ranging from fast films to very, very slow, and IR effects from the mild to a passable imitation of the old Kodak emulsion. I actually like Rollei 80S, which works well with an ordinary red filter, and gives pale skin and dark skies.


Taking A View

After my first experiments with IR film, I used the stuff off and on. I realised that I could use it in an SLR if I attached a Russian Zorki universal viewfinder to the hot shoe of the camera. That’s now very collectable, but there are other accessory finders available rather cheaper. Avoid, at all costs, a prewar Leitz Vidom viewfinder, because it reverses the image left to right - if you’ve ever used a twin lens reflex, you’ll have some idea - but add the confusion of looking through the viewfinder, not down at it like a TLR, and it really is too much!

You may get a few odd looks with an accessory viewfinder on top of an SLR or DSLR and you will get some odd pictures, as well.


Zorki universal viewfinder on top of a Contax

Zorki universal viewfinder on top of a Contax - if you can’t see through the viewfinder, it’s a handy piece of kit!



If you look at older manual focus lenses, you’ll often see a red line next to the focus index. This is the IR focus mark because lenses bring IR light to a focus at a different distance from visible light. The advice always used to be to use this and to stop down to around f/8 or f/11 to cover any inaccuracies in focussing. Either gauge the distance without the filter on the lens, and reset the focus with the IR mark against the distance, or measure independently of the camera. Note that if you have a rangefinder camera, you can make use of both viewfinder and rangefinder - but you still need to reset from the usual focus index to the IR mark.

Autofocus lenses often don’t have these marks, and they are rare on zoom lenses, though some have a curved line (because the difference between visible and IR focus alters with different focal lengths). Beware AF in any case, though - there probably isn’t going to be enough light for it to operate reliably, though you may want to focus without the filter on the lens, switch to manual focus, shift focus to compensate for the IR difference, and then put the filter on.


Manual focus lens

IR focus mark (red line) on an older manual focus lens.


Really, it’s easier with a manual lens.

The situation changes, yet again, with a mirrorless camera, or in Live View. With either of these, you’re back to being able to trust your eyes, though AF may still be dodgy: after all, we’re talking half a second at f/1.8 and 3200 ISO in daylight.

With a converted DSLR, part of the workshop process is to recalibrate the focus module, so that the AF gives precise focus. This should allow wider apertures and differential focus, should you want to try either.


Digital Developments

And then, there’s digital. The good news is that you can slap an IR filter on any digital camera, and you will probably get a result. But it may not be terribly useful, as the camera contains a filter that doesn’t allow any significant amount of IR light through.

That may be OK for landscapes and architecture, but it’s not much use for anything else. And there are further problems: even this may need wide apertures and higher ISO settings than you really want to use for optimum quality.

There are various workarounds that are necessary, much as they are with film. But the simplest way to shoot IR is to get an old camera body converted. I had a secondhand Lumix body converted around four years ago, and the results are excellent. Though there is some irony in spending over £300 on converting a camera that cost £180 with a standard zoom on it, and you may choose to have your previous-generation camera converted, or even buy a secondhand body.

Various firms offer the service: I will only mention the one that I used, Advanced Camera Services Ltd in Norfolk. The work took around a week and included setting up the camera with a custom white balance profile. Though this is just the start of the journey to false colour images...



For the sake of this article, I decided to experiment with putting filters onto an ordinary camera, and bought a set of four Neewer 67mm filters which give different cutoff wavelengths 720nm, 760nm, 850nm and 950nm). If you decide to use a filter on an ordinary camera, I suggest that you buy a single filter, with a 720nm cut off - unless you want to live with incredibly long exposure times, and an inability to see anything in the viewfinder that takes you back to the auxiliary rangefinder camera viewfinder. 720nm is best for colour pictures if you want to try that - the other filter options are only really suitable for extreme monochrome work.


IR image shot with an unconverted Alpha 7 and Neewer 720nm IR filter. Note the exposure - six seconds at f/5.6 and 3200 ISO in full daylight.

IR image shot with an unconverted Alpha 7 and Neewer 720nm IR filter. Note the exposure - six seconds at f/5.6 and 3200 ISO in full daylight.


If you have a camera converted, you get the option of having the standard IR-blocking filter replaced with various cutoffs, or even no filter, so that you can choose any of the possible options, including going entirely the opposite way and taking pictures by UV light.

If you have a specifically IR conversion done on your camera, you won’t need to use a filter at all - it all happens on the sensor, and you will also have entirely normal exposure times that you can use handheld with no difficulty at all.


Channel Swapping

The attraction of colour images in IR is that the colours are false: weird and wonderful, or disgusting, depending on the treatment, and your own tastes. A really popular technique is called channel swapping, and it leads to delicate and rather lovely colours.

Clive R Hayes FRPS offers a download plugin for channel swapping on his website, and I found that this makes far more sense than most of the YouTube videos I tried to follow. As he asks a modest £1.99 for the download, you may wish to follow my example and pay for a really useful digital extra, unless you really love playing with Photoshop!


A channel-swapped image of Lydia looking across to Rugeley power station.

A channel-swapped image of Lydia looking across to Rugeley power station.


There’s a great deal more on Mr Hayes’ website about IR, and if you want to go into the subject in detail, I suggest reading as much as you can there, all round the subject. I should add that I don’t know Mr Hayes, and have never met him, but he clearly knows his stuff.



You always have to remember that what you see is definitely not what you get with infrared, barring a converted camera and an electronic viewfinder. With film or an unconverted DSLR, this meant that you needed to rely on experience, plenty of bracketing, and exposure tables rather than any meter. Where there is visible light, there may or may not be similar quantities of IR radiation. Always check what you’re getting on the first few shots before you embark on a full shoot. Manual exposure is probably the right way to go - things may be a little easier with a mirrorless camera.

My very first attempts with a DSLR, some years back, were thoroughly unsuccessful, and I am not sure if that’s related to the sensitivity of older sensors, or the filters fitted to the cameras. I, therefore, can’t offer advice on how to expose with a DSLR, other than to experiment, a lot.

With an electronic viewfinder, it becomes much simpler, and not just with exposure. Instead of using a separate mechanism for assessing exposure and focus (not to mention for giving a viewfinder image), an EVF camera uses the sensor for all the hard work, and gives (at least partially) the WYSIWYG experience, though if the sensor is unconverted, the image may be dark and grainy. Typically, though, you will have to use an exposure of several seconds, even in bright light. Looking at my test pictures with a standard Alpha 7r and filters, I’d suggest that you should use a tripod as a matter of course, and also that you are likely to need to adjust exposure, and possibly use increased ISO. I found that 3200 and a 720nm filter gave me 1/15 @ f/1.8 in bright sun.


Shot with unconverted Alpha 7 and Neewer 950nm filter: 30 seconds @ f/5.6 and 3200 ISO.

Shot with unconverted Alpha 7 and Neewer 950nm filter: 30 seconds @ f/5.6 and 3200 ISO.


Using the 950nm filter at f/5.6, the exposure was 30 seconds on my standard Alpha 7, and the ability to focus with the viewfinder or screen was minimal: AF was useless. This underlines my view that it’s not worth playing with filters like this unless you have distinctly specialist needs.

The game changes utterly with a converted camera - exposures are in the same sort of region they are with ordinary pictures, so shooting handheld as a matter, of course, is fine. I found that my converted Lumix allows me to use the 950nm filter and get results with sensible handheld settings.


Infrared post box

Classic black-sky IR landscape in monochrome.



  • Shoot on a tripod if you aren’t using an IR converted camera.
  • Adjust the focus to allow for the way that infrared and visible light do not come to focus at the same distance.
  • Stop down the lens to cover possible focus errors.
  • If you like the results you get, consider borrowing an IR-converted body, or even having a conversion done on one of your own cameras.


Infrared gives characteristically smooth skin tones and dark eyes. Model Black Beauty.

Infrared gives characteristically smooth skin tones and dark eyes. Model Black Beauty.


More From John Duder

Take a look at some of John's other interesting features which range from shooting with smartphones to using props in portraits (NSFW). Or how about an interesting read n why it took 50 years for John to own a camera he's always wanted. 


About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an amateur photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17.

Over the last year and a half, he’s been writing articles for ePHOTOzine, as well as being a member of the Critique Team. He also runs lighting workshops and provides one-to-one photographic tuition.

He remains addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.

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dudler Plus
16 993 1551 England
31 Jul 2019 4:30PM
All ideas welcome!

As well as links to your own IR images on here.

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dudler Plus
16 993 1551 England
1 Aug 2019 8:05AM
And belatedly, I've realised that i didn't mention one of my oldest EPZ friends, kaybee, in the article.

Roy was well ahead of me in having an IR conversion done, and makes consistently good use of his Lumix - so it may be worth popping over to his page HERE to seek out some interesting IR work...
GeorgeP Plus
12 57 24 United States
1 Aug 2019 3:27PM
Great article. Converting an old digital camera to IR adds a new life to it. Regarding channel swapping. I use that useful program, exiftool to make the change. The little DOS batch file below makes the change and writes the changed file and original files with different names. I then import both files into Lightroom for “development”.
The changed CFA pattern {2 1 1 0} is for my old Pentax K10D. Just change this to the Bayer patter for your camera. Also, I convert my files to DNG format in the camera. I haven’t tried this on original RAW files. Lightroom initially reads the original thumbnail in the changed file but updates and stores a new swapped thumbnail when creating the previews.

## Comment - Call EXIFTOOL to make the change. Write the changed file with the original name
## Comment - into directory C:\00Exif
## Comment - Exiftool keeps and renames the original by changing the extension

C:\Data_files\Software\Exiftool\exiftool.exe -exif:cfapattern2="2 1 1 0" C:\00Exif -ext dng
cd \00Exif

## Comment - Rename the original file back to a DNG so that both can be read into Lightroom
rename *.dng_original A_*.DNG
## Comment - All done . . wait for a keystroke
dudler Plus
16 993 1551 England
1 Aug 2019 3:37PM
George - that looks an interesting recipe, and it takes me back to the late Seventies and Filetab interrogations of computer records...

I have to admit sharing a prejudice - expressed in a private message earlier today - towards monochrome. Colour IR film was messy, and I find the digital version the same...
mistere Plus
6 4 3 England
1 Aug 2019 4:19PM
Excellent article John. You certainly crammed a lot of information into it. Although aware of IR photography
I really haven't taken much notice up to now, so obviously didn't appreciate the dificulties and complexity
associated with it. Having read the article through I was convinced that it would be more trouble than it's worth.
Then i went and looked at Simon Marstons work, in the Marsden Archive and Kathy Harcoms infrared gallery.
Also some work by David Keochkerian, Richard Mosse, and Deborah Sandidge who is Creative Director for the League
of Creative Infrared Photographers (and a Nikon ambassador Smile )..
Well, it took a while, (not for me to change my mind, just to look at all those images). But i get it now. Fascinating
and beautiful work, especially the portraits and landscape images. It actually is worth the effort. And then some.

altitude50 15 16.8k United Kingdom
7 Aug 2019 11:43AM
I started in Infrared photography about 4 years ago. At the time I had a Sigma SD15 DSLR and found that the infrared blocking filter was just behind the lens and could easily be removed. I then bought a selection of cheap IR filters (Zomei) of different strengths and put them (one at a time!) in front of the lens. I could not see what I was framing or reviewing and 'hosepiped' around a landscape scene and set the focusing to just under infinity. Eventually I used a Yashica clip-on viewfinder.
Overall I was pleased with some of the images, all b/w - I would say that a few were quite acceptable and the Foveon sensor gave a slight grainy film-like result.
Eventually I wanted more mp and to see what I was focusing on and framing and I found a Panasonic Lumix GX7 body that had been recently already converted with a 830 Nm filter, which was a bit more than I was used to, but the price was right, from a well known internet auction site.
I started off with a Lumix 14-42 lens, then a 14mm f2.5 prime which is good. I now have a Lumix 12-32 G Vario f3.5-5.6 which I find gives great results and is on my camera 95% of the time.I leave focusing to AF. The 14-42 was sold. I have a 25mm Lumix but haven't used it much yet.
I find IR very satisfying and one of the advantages is that I can go to old & well known locations again at noon in bright conditions and get new or different results.
I have not yet the expertise to change my results to colour, I am still fascinated by bw.
I think that it should be mentioned that not all lenses are good with IR, even some modern ones and there is plenty of information elsewhere on 'hotspots'.
I recommend to anyone intererested, that a Micro 4/3 converted camera is a good start, images are an acceptable size and lenses relatively affordable.
Having said that, with my Sigma I was using a Sigma zoom lens that was on the unsuitable side of Kolarivision's list for hotspots for most of my pictures and it didn't give any obvious problems.
altitude50 15 16.8k United Kingdom
7 Aug 2019 2:36PM
What I meant to add is:-
With my Lumix GX7 I have tried various settings on the camera. After a lot of experimentation I now use the top dial set on 'artistic filter' with Dynamic Monochrome as first choice also with raw recording.
I find that the in-camera result in b/w is very good plus what I normally do is edit the raw image to a result as well. This might not work with other camerasGrin
So what I see in the viewfinder gives a good idea of what I can expect.............
Any (polite) constructive remarks on my choice of settings will be considered!
altitude50 15 16.8k United Kingdom
7 Aug 2019 7:16PM

This is an example from my GX7 from a couple of weeks ago handheld & dynamic monochrome engaged. This is the Jpeg from the camera untouched.
I have twice edited the raw image (in Elements.) and have changed it in different ways but I do not think that the tinkering has actually improved it. (A matter of luck, I think because in 80% of cases I have to change things, sometimes quite a lot.)

(In my opinion, generally the angle of the sun onto foliage makes a lot of difference to the clarity.)
dudler Plus
16 993 1551 England
8 Aug 2019 6:48PM
That's all both useful and interesting.

I ahve noticed a bit of tendency to a central area of brightness. I hadn't heard of the Kolarivision list - I suspect that wil lbe a useful resource for everyone who's interested. The list is HERE - I notice that my preferred portrait lens for MFT, the 45mm Olympus, is on the naughty step...
altitude50 15 16.8k United Kingdom
3 Sep 2019 11:32AM
I have just invested in a Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 15mm f 1.7 for my GX 7 results so far, well worth it. The 12-32 is still in my opinion a very good zoom for my purposes.
altitude50 15 16.8k United Kingdom
5 Sep 2019 4:20PM
I find that there are good IR images that are nearly right straight out of the camera or needing a little encouragement in raw or just after. I often go into Elements and tweak them with 'Enhance - auto levels'. The secret of IR seems to be finding the right balance of exposure and contrast, without putting in loads of clarity.
Having had a bit more experience I am now going over some of last years images an treating them in different ways, hopefully improving them.
This one was taken in July 2018 and was a bit flat and the sky was terrible. I have given it the 'NIK' treatment.


dudler Plus
16 993 1551 England
5 Sep 2019 5:18PM
And it works nicely...

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