Best way to start Infrared photography

Take a look at these 2 completely different approaches to infrared photography. Try both ways for different effects.

In a nutshell, you can use an infrared filter on the end of your lens. This will result in a really slow shutter speed and show movement. Or, you can remove the sensor that blocks infrared light and shoot hand held at normal shutter speeds.

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Option 1, using an Infrared filter

Similar to a UV or circular polarizing filter, it screws onto the front of your camera lens. The infrared filter then prevents visible light from passing through while only allowing IR light to strike your camera’s sensor. These filters will vary in price depending on the size of the filter and the specific portion of the IR spectrum they address and are widely available on ebay. The main difference between the filters is how colours are rendered, but this is primarily a matter of taste. Spending more money on a filter that focuses on a different part of the IR spectrum doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will like the results more than an IR filter costing much less.

Choose a circular filter, rather than a square type.

I have nothing against the square Cokin filters, as i use them myself, it’s just that gap between the filter holder and the end of your lens where light may get in. A circular filter, iliminates any other light source by screwing onto your lens.

The common one and, in my view, the best one to start with, is the Hoya R-72 filter. This filter lets through a tiny amount of red light but the full range of infrared. Your R-72 filter goes on the lens and thus stops you from seeing through the viewfinder, in the case of an SLR. In many compact cameras the Live View on the LCD will still work and display the scene. With dSLRs with Live View you would expect this to work, but in practice it does not. The only company’s camera that has Live View that works with an IR filter attached is Olympus. With their cameras you will get a darkish but quite workable monochrome view, but you must turn on Live View Boost from the menus.

Infrared image of one of my most beloved places to visit.  Cape Flatterly, Wa

What can you expect to “see” with an infrared filter?

Reflected IR light produces a fascinating array of surreal effects. Vegetation appears white or near white. Skin takes on a very milky, smooth texture, although veins close to the skin surface can be accentuated and take on a rather ghoulish appearance. Eyes can appear a bit ghostly with the irises registering very dark tones and the whites of the eye taking on a grayish hue. Black clothing can appear gray or white depending on the fabric. IR light can pass through sunglasses that, to the eye, appear extremely dark or mirror-like. Blue skies take on a much more dramatic appearance as well.

Down side of using infrared filters

The primary issue is motion blur. If your intention is to create motion blur, then this is perfect. With up to 30 second exposures, any moving water will have a dreamy effect. The long exposures inherent to using a normal digital camera for IR produce a beauty of their own. Trees and grass blur in a breeze or wind, water smoothes out and people disappear from city streets.

Since your DSLR has an IR blocking filter in front of it, very little, if any, IR light reaches it. The IR filter allows only IR light to reach your sensor while filtering out the visible light. The combination of the IR blocking filter and the IR filter on the front of your lens requires very long exposure times. Since the IR filter is very dark, you also have to focus before attaching the infrared filter to your lens. Before you attach the filter, focus on your subject, then switch your autofocus to manual. This will stop the camera trying to re-focus

Infrared, or “IR” photography, offers photographers of all abilities and budgets the opportunity to explore a new world – the world of the unseen. Why “unseen”? Because our eyes literally cannot see infrared light, as it lies just beyond what is classified as the “visible” spectrum – that which human eyesight can detect. When we take photographs using infrared-equipped film or cameras, we are exposed to the world that can often look very different from that we are accustomed to seeing. Colors, textures, leaves and plants, human skin, and all other manner of objects can reflect IR light in unique and interesting ways, ones that cannot be mimicked with tools such as Photoshop. Like any form of photography or art however, it is a matter of taste. I would strongly urge people to explore the world of IR, as your skills develop, so will your style and this could be your niche.

Infrared Image of Dalmore Beach, Isle of Lewis, Hebrides, Scotland, UK Photographic Print by Nadia Isakova at

Option 2. Converting a camera for infrared

Taking out the infrared blocking filter has the huge advantage of allowing you to see through the viewfinder of a dSLR whilst still shooting only in the infrared. The disadvantage is that you can no longer use the camera for normal, visible light photography. So, great excuse to go on the hunt for another camera body, cheap as chips on ebay. The other plus, is that you can use any lens, you don’t have to keep buying IR filters for all lenses. You use normal shutter speeds and keep the noise down with a lower ISO. Images will be ultimately sharper.

Conversion involves removing the IR blocking filter and replacing it with one of your choice, or a clear glass substitute. A careful choice must be made here depending on the camera you are getting converted. Removing the IR blocking filter exposes the actual sensor and its full range of sensitivity and i will strongly recommend you have this done by an expert. If your D.I.Y. skills are anything like mine, you will end up with a bodged job.

White balance for infrared

Follow the instructions for your camera for setting a custom white balance. And of course if you have a camera that doesn’t let you , you can still fix it in Photoshop or Silkypix. But you will experience working with a custom white balance when shooting gives a much better idea from the camera LCD of what the eventual result will look like. With the heavily colored images, this can be a bit harder to visualise. Have a play with tungsten.

These infrared photographs taken by France-based photographer David Keochkerian look like bizarre, saturated landscapes created from a Dr. Seuss illustration


Every digital camera is slightly different so there is no defined examples to use. You will have to experiment, there are no 2 ways about this. Aim to get an exposure less than 30 seconds, starting with a 10 second exposure at F=8. Increase your exposure time until you start to get an image. If you don’t see an image at 30 seconds exposure, either open up the lens aperture, or crank up the ISO and work from there.

This video explains my tips on infrared photography

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