You may have noticed that recently I have been posting many pictures that have a surreal, psychedelic, eerie and sometimes creepy look and feel to them. I have received several questions about these pictures in the last couple of weeks so I thought I would try to put it all together in a blog post. These pictures were all taken with my infrared camera, a modified Nikon D70. Infrared (IR) is a spectrum of light that is beyond what our human eyes can see. By using an infrared filter, such as the Hoya R72, or having a camera modified so that the IR blocking filter is removed and replaced with a visible light filter, a whole new set of creative options becomes available to photographers.
In this post I am going to share my knowledge of IR including the differences between using an IR filter and a modified camera and my post-processing flow. But I would like to start off by just showing some of my recent shots, for those not so interested in the technical details :). First, let’s look at what an image looks like straight out of the camera without any processing done. As always, click the files to see in full screen.
And then with a few quick processing steps, the final image looks like this.
The rest of the images we will just be looking at the final product:
As you can see a much more dramatic, contrasty, surreal look than what you get out of a regular file. Some people find it gimmicky or don’t care for the look much, but I think it’s very cool and adds another tool in the toolbox when out in the field.
I first got interested in IR a couple of years ago after seeing a lot of David Keochkerian‘s work. It was like nothing I’d seen before and I had to learn how to do it. So after doing some research, I picked up the Hoya R72 filter. After using that for about a year with some mixed results, I finally bought a modified camera from EBay, the D70 I mentioned above. I am going to quickly compare the two.
Filter vs. Modified Camera
1) Price – advantage filter (~ $50-100 vs. $250+)
2) Portability – advantage filter. Fits easily in pants or bag pocket
3) Image blending – advantage filter. Can take 2 images – one with the filter and one without, and easily blend parts of both images into one final product. The modified body is incapable of taking regular images.
And that’s where the advantages end for the filter. There are two big disadvantages of using the filter. First, it’s very strong (about 8-10 stops), so a tripod is required even in midday shooting. It makes composing difficult and adds the extra element of figuring out exposure times. The modified body, on the other hand, can be used at regular, handhold-able shutter speeds. Much more practical and easier to use in most cases. Of course the dark filter does have the ND filter effect of blurring the clouds and smoothing the water, but it’s the only option. When using a modified camera you can shoot normally or add an ND filter if you like. Big advantage to the modified body, and worth the extra cost in my opinion.
In addition, the filters are more prone to hot spots in my experience. Hot spots are white circular spots that appear in the middle of the image, rendering them unusable (there is nothing that can be done in post-processing to bring them back). Hot spots can be caused for a variety of reasons, the most common of which is the coating on the inside of the lens barrel being reflective in IR light. Although this is mainly a lens issue, I have found that the problem occurs much more frequently with the filter than with the modified body. For a more detailed explanation of hot spots and a list of lenses that are best for IR photography, Hot Spots Explained.
In short, if you can afford to get the modified IR body, I would recommend that for a more pleasant and versatile shooting experience. If you have an old camera lying around that’s not being used, why not send it off to Life Pixel to get it modified? But be warned, once you convert you can’t go back. There are also dozens if not hundreds of bodies that have already been modified for sale on EBay. That’s where I got mine for about 250 bucks. You can get excellent results with the filter as well, but most photographers that I know that have started with the filter eventually end up getting the camera after a few months.
When to Shoot IR
Of course you can shoot infrared any time of year, but spring and summer are typically the best seasons for dramatic results. The infrared filters feed off of the sunlight reflections on the foliage, turning them a bright white or pinkish color. You want to look for scenes with healthy, leafy trees, water, blue skies and white puffy clouds. As you can see in some of the pictures above, IR has a great, deepening effect on water, and the contrast created between the darkened skies and the white clouds is wonderful. One of my favorite things about IR is that it’s best done in the middle of the day, contrary to other forms of landscape photography which are usually better at sunrise and sunset times. The sun is strongest at this time and the reflections on the leaves are best for IR photography. This always gives me something to do in the afternoon when I am out on a shoot for a few days.
I am going to wrap it up here for now, but I am in the process of making a video that shows my post-processing flow as promised above. I will be sharing that shortly, but in the meantime if you have any questions about infrared photography, leave a comment below and I will get back to you soon. Thanks for reading all, and have a nice weekend!