Words and Pictures Barry Robinson
Photographers have struggled to master the techniques of infrared photography for years and many have been put off even trying because of the mystique behind the subject.
With traditional SLR cameras it is as much of an art as it is a technique with much of the settings being pure guesswork. The average light meter cannot read the level of infrared light and even the point of focus shifts due to the wavelength of this invisible light being much longer than visible light. So experience and a lot of hard work in the darkroom is the only way to succeed. Because of this, the average photographer gives up very early or just never bothers. This is a real shame because infrared can make ordinary colour photos a bit more stunning and with the advent of digital cameras and home computers, we have a new set of tools available to explore this fascinating field of photography.
Most digital camera CCDs are sensitive to this near infrared light so when you place an infrared filter in front of the lens the camera simply adjusts itself to accommodate this wavelength. The real beauty of this is you also get to review the shot on an LCD screen to make sure you are getting the photograph you are seeking.
A simple check can be made to see if your camera is capable of infrared photography. All you need is the infrared remote from your TV and aim it at the lens and push a button. If you see the LED emitter as a point of light on you preview screen then you are set. What you will then need to do is find out which filter is best suited for your camera. In most cases it will be a choice of one of the following Wratten filters: 87. 87C. 88A or 89B. You will need to take the camera along to a good camera shop to try them but I have found the 88A works well in most cases.
So with your camera and chosen filter all you need then is a good tripod and your first subject to photograph. Infrared works best with a bright overhead sun and some foliage to bring out the characteristics we have come to expect from the medium like almost white leaves, black or dark grey skies, white clouds and black or mirror-like waters. Photographing people can have interesting results also like strange looking eyes and soft glowing skin.
However don't be afraid to experiment, as it does not cost anything until you come to print it.
The main rules to remember are:
Use a tripod - exposure times are much longer and not really suited for hand held shooting.
Unless your camera has a long exposure times of over five seconds or so available to you, do not try to photograph moving water as it will look out of focus as the smoothing effect of a long exposure will not be there.
If your camera has an aperture-priority mode use this to set a smaller aperture to ensure maximum depth-of-field. Remember the way depth of field works will be slightly different due to the longer wavelength of the light. You will find you will get the best results around the f/5.6 area for most photos. Even on a sunny day the shutter speed can be around 1 or 2 seconds at this setting so you can see why you need the tripod.
Don't be afraid to experiment with other filters along with the infrared filter, but remember coloured filters will not work, as the infrared filter will negate them.
The photo above of the old hulks was shot into a bright low sun so I used a graduated ND filter to tone the sky down and ensure a better exposure of the foreground. Shooting into the sun can be very effective even without filters, especially over water where you will get the effect of the water being both dark and like a mirror when shallow like at a beach edge.
When you take the photo and review it on the camera it may look too dark or flat but do not be tempted to delete it as it may just need a tweak on the computer to bring it out.
The use of infrared can also be effective for certain still-life photos. Photos like the old chain and seaweed etc. washed up on the beach below. This was done in very little sun and with a burst of flash as a fill in. The only other tool was the histogram was equalised in Paint Shop Pro to bring it out.
Some still-life subjects, however, do not fair well such as flowers and fruit as they loose all depth and become very flat in their appearance. This can be useful however if you are trying to create something different and add your own colours etc.
I hope this has inspired you to go out and give infrared photography a try and look forward to seeing some of your portfolios on ePHOTOzine in the future.
Barry will be going into the postproduction side of Infrared using Paint Shop Pro in a following article so you can see how to improve your shots once you have taken them.
About the author
Barry Robinson is an experienced photographer who works at Jessops
East Street Store in Southampton. One of his photographs was selected for their promotional calendar and a portfolio showing some of his excellent digital infrareds can also be found in our gallery section.