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Sunday Read: Infrared Photography

04 September 2022

Sunday Read: Infrared Photography

 

Sunday Reads

Alex Parker 
4th September 2022

The weird and wonderful

In the spirit of something a bit different, we thought we’d take a look at a more niche shooting genre – infrared photography – if only for an excuse to post some weird and wonderful images.

Infrared photography dates back to the 1910s, when physicist and inventor Robert Williams Wood began experimenting with ways to block out visible light in favour of ultraviolet and infrared. This light exists beyond the threshold of light waves we can see with the naked eye, so capturing it with a camera is very much like lifting a veil. The filter Wood created, known as Wood’s Glass, is still used in blacklights today – and even helped the Allies win World War 1 by letting them send hidden messages only visible using certain bulbs.

Shooting the invisible

For decades, infrared images were achieved using a special type of extended film sensitive to invisible light, coupled with a lens filter to block out visible light. These days, there are two main ways to shoot infrared: screw on filters, and camera conversions.

Light is measured by wavelength in nanometers (a billionth of a meter), with visible light existing somewhere between 400-700nm. Filters like the Hoya R72 are designed to block all light before 720nm so that only infrared light is allowed through. You’ll need to carefully frame up before attaching the filter though – there’ll be nothing to look at once it’s screwed on, and your exposure will need to be quite long to allow enough light to reach your sensor!

You can only use one of these if your camera is sensitive to infrared light to begin with – and unfortunately in this instance at least, manufacturers have got better and better at blocking IR from reaching your sensor, so older DSLRs tend to be the best bet here. To find out if your camera can capture IR, point a tv remote at your lens and push buttons on it whilst looking at the LCD screen – if you can see the light, your camera has the potential to capture IR.

If you’re want to go all in...

A more drastic method is a full camera conversion, where you send your camera off to an expert, who removes the existing IR filter and replaces it with an alternative, depending on what light you want to block or allow through. This is most viable with mirrorless cameras, as the camera takes all its AF and exposure info from the image displayed on the EVF/viewscreen. This means following the conversion, everything should just work – unlike on a DSLR, where meters, focus and settings would no longer be correct. Do bear in mind this is a permanent solution - you wouldn’t want to do it to your main camera!

Fix in post

A lot of infrared images look pretty awful out of camera, so editing is a pretty labour-intensive process that requires a heavy hand. Think major balance adjustments and maybe even colour channel swapping. For those who fret over the integrity of a heavily edited image, just remember that you’re dealing exclusively with a type of photography that is traditionally invisible, and has no discernable colour – so the world is your mollusc.

It’s fun to explore different shooting styles every once in a while, especially when the results can be so eye-poppingly different. If you’re an infrared shooter with pictures to share, give us a tag on social media.

Just don’t convert our cameras!

 

Image credits - Wolfgang Hassleman, Andrey Ganzevy, Renee Zernitsky, Taryn Kaahanui

The weird and wonderful

In the spirit of something a bit different, we thought we’d take a look at a more niche shooting genre – infrared photography – if only for an excuse to post some weird and wonderful images.

Infrared photography dates back to the 1910s, when physicist and inventor Robert Williams Wood began experimenting with ways to block out visible light in favour of ultraviolet and infrared. This light exists beyond the threshold of light waves we can see with the naked eye, so capturing it with a camera is very much like lifting a veil. The filter Wood created, known as Wood’s Glass, is still used in blacklights today – and even helped the allies win World War 1 by letting them send hidden messages only visible using certain bulbs.

Shooting the invisible

For decades, infrared images were achieved using a special type of extended film sensitive to invisible light, coupled with a lens filter to block out visible light. These days, there are two main ways to shoot infrared: screw on filters, and camera conversions. Light is measured by wavelength in nanometers (a billionth of a meter), with visible light existing somewhere between 400-700nm. Filters like the Hoya R72 are designed to block all light before 720nm so that only infrared light is captured. You’ll need to carefully frame up before attaching the filter though – there’ll be nothing to look at once it’s screwed on, and your exposure will need to be quite long to allow enough light to reach your sensor!

You can only use one of these if your camera is sensitive to infrared light to begin with – and unfortunately in this instance at least, manufacturers have got better and better at blocking IR from reaching your sensor, so older DSLRs tend to be the best bet here. To find out if your camera can capture IR, point a tv remote at your lens and push buttons on it whilst looking at the LCD screen – if you can see the light, your camera has the potential to capture IR!

If you really want to go all in...

A more drastic method is a full camera conversion, where an expert removes the existing IR filter and replaces it with an alternative, depending on what light you want to block or allow through. This is most viable with mirrorless cameras, as the camera takes all its AF and exposure info from the image displayed on the EVF/viewscreen. This means following the conversion, everything should just work – unlike on a DSLR, where meters, focus and settings would no longer be correct. This is a permanent solution, and as such, you wouldn’t want to do it to your main camera!

Fix in post

A lot of infrared images look pretty awful out of camera, so editing is a pretty labour-intensive process that requires a heavy hand. Think major balance adjustments and maybe even colour channel swapping. For those who fret over the integrity of a heavily edited image, just remember that you’re dealing exclusively with a type of photography that is traditionally invisible, and has no discernable colour – so the world is your mollusc.

It’s fun to explore different shooting styles every once in a while, especially when the results can be so eye-poppingly different. If you’re an infrared shooter with pictures to share, give us a tag on social media. Just don’t convert our cameras!

Alex Parker - 4th September 2022

Image credits - Wolfgang Hassleman, Andrey Ganzevy, Renee Zernitsky, Taryn Kaahanui