Why We Photograph in Infrared: Look. See. Imagine. Create

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If you are looking for a unique and creative way to make photos, you ought to look into converting one of your digital cameras to infrared.  Using digital infrared “negatives” can create startling black and white, as well as color, photos.  Here is how:

There are two ways to make infrared negatives in your camera.  The easiest and fastest way is to buy an infrared filter.  Here is the one from Singh Ray.  The downside here is that you have to compose and focus before you add the filter (as it is nearly black).  Finally, exposure times are long and have to be accurately achieved with trial and error.  I have one of these filters and it can be fun to use, but takes time and patience.  If you only want to carry one camera, this is a good solution.

The other way to create infrared photos is by changing the filter on your digital sensor.  Mary and I have converted four of our cameras – 2 Canon Rebels, a Canon G12, and a Canon 5D Mark II.  When you get a new camera, consider converting your old one.  That is what we have done.  We used LifePixel and they have been great consultants and have given us great results.

Now, when you shoot infrared, your processed “negative” will give you interesting effects.  The two most interesting effects are that green foliage will be white and a blue sky will become black.  You also will get much more contrast between white and other colors.  This is especially powerful with light clouds that you barely see in a color photo, but that pop in a black and white converted from infrared.

Here is a favorite Oregon subject.  This is the barn at the Colene Clemens winery near Dundee, OR.

Here is a nice color photo.


Here is a color image converted to black and white.


This is what the infrared negative looked like right out of the camera.

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Here is an infrared converted to black and white.  Notice the whiteness of the foliage, the black skies, and the contrasty clouds.

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Here is one of Mary’s infrared photos where she brought back in a little color.  This can be done in processing.  To get more information, see her blog, Workflow for Processing Infrared Photographs.

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Here are a few tips:

Obviously, the best light for color images is the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.  Infrared works best in bright sunshine, so this is the right tool for mid-day shooting.  Similarly, if it is overcast with flat light, infrared photos will not be as good.  The more the contrast, the better for infrared.

It is best to set a custom white balance each time you go out.  Depending on your choice during infrared conversion, you will either need to focus through Live View, or through the viewfinder for the specific lens you chose to calibrate focus against.

Furthermore, exposure is different with infrared cameras.  I shoot in Manual Mode and check the histogram.  I recently had a problem photographing a CA mission in infrared on a bright sunny day because the white mission was blowing out.  I adjusted the exposure manually.

Finally, you do need some kind of software to convert your infrared negatives to black and white.  We mostly use Nik’s SilverEffects Pro and Topaz BW Effects 2.

If you have any questions about infrared, let us know.  See Mary’s blog on infrared workflow.

To see more of our infrared and black and white photos, please go to www.pamphotography.com.

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