Infra Red – The Invisible Light
Take a good look around you and you’ll see
and endless diversity of hues in all the colors of the rainbow: The grass is
green, the sky is blue, the roses are red and the future is bright. Now imagine
that on top of all the colors you can see, there are other ranges that are
normally invisible to us, colors that for us don’t exist but they’re out there
and for some animals they are a part of everyday life. I am talking about the
Infra-Red (IR) spectrum and in this article I will show it to you. By the way,
clicking on the small photos will enlarge them.
can we see it?
does it do?
1. Introduction – To be honest, I
feel a little like a magician revealing a trick. I suppose most of you look at
the photos and think “hmmm… Is it snow? But it can’t be, it was taken in Israel
in the middle of summer, so what is it? Wooow”. In this article you will
understand exactly how the technique works, it is one of the less common forms
of photography and I think one of the more fascinating ones. Enjoy.
2. Infra-Red – The spectrum of
light that is visible to us is only a small portion of an enormous spectrum of
short and long electro-magnetic waves. An example of the short-length waves are
X rays and Gamma rays that are filled with energy and an example of the long
wave-lengths is Microwaves and Radio waves.
Infra-Red light is divided into three groups:
Near Infra-Red (Near IR) which is in the range of 700-1300 nm; Medium IR which
is in the range of 1300-3000 nm and thermal IR which is in the range of
3000-30,000 nm. Thermal Infra-Red light is produced by warm objects while Near
IR and Medium IR are reflected off objects just like visible light, which is
produced by the sun. When it comes to photography, we will be dealing with the
Near IR range.
can you see it?
Well, you can’t. Seriously, unlike some animals, we can’t see Infra-Red light.
But fortunately for us the camera can see it.
film cameras it is best to use a special IR film that is sensitive to that form
of light. These kinds of films are used mainly in a special technique of
capturing light, and most of them are black and white films and require special
digital cameras (like we love) the sensor is, fortunately, sensitive to
Infra-Red light, so what’s the catch? Most cameras and especially the SLR ones
contain a filter that blocks IR light and prevents it from ever reaching the
sensor. The reason for it is to improve the final quality of the photo. How do
I know that my camera is able to capture IR? A wise man taught me a trick: You
take the television remote control, aim it at your camera and take a photo
while pressing one of the remote control’s buttons. If you can see the remote
control’s IR light bulb flash, the camera can capture IR, If not…Well then, I’m
sorry. The most sensitive camera will show a sharp bright spot and the less
sensitive ones will show a blurry smudged spot. The most IR friendly cameras
are Sony’s, Minolta being the most advanced of them, the Nikon D70 (which I am
using), Canon G3, G2 and more.
we have a camera, what now? We add the IR filter, whose purpose is to block all
visible light except IR light, in front of the lens. The filter will look
completely black to our eyes (because we are blind to IR light, remember?). The
filters can be categorized according to the wave lengths of visible light that
they block, for example Hoya R72 allows IR rays longer than 720 nm, the Hoya
R90 (horribly expensive) allows IR rays longer than 900 and so on.
does it do?
Well, so we’ve learned what IR light is, and how we can see it. But what is it
good for? Infra-Red photography creates a very special effect of a dreamy photo
out of this world because the hues that are shown are entirely different than
those we see in reality, the foliage looks snowy white and the sky looks dark
or even black. You can see landscapes that you are used to seeing every day in
a truly “different light”. That is why I, and many others, like this
“Enough with your babbling Roie, just tell us how to take the picture already…”
Oh well, I didn’t know you’re so stressed. So here is how you perform the
technique, step by step:
– Infra-Red hues are more than red (well duh…), they are so red that their
white balance is off the scale of the automatic and preset WB in most cameras.
That is why we need to perform manual white balance with a white piece of
paper, or an 18% gray card to get the more precise colors, or perform the white
balance on a green surface like grass to increase the effect of white foliage.
If you think about it, it is better not to photograph with RAW because even
with most RAW editing programs you can’t reach a white balance less than 2000
Kelvin degrees while the IR’s is much shorter.
– Light Metering should be performed with the camera in an evaluative metering
mode, and don’t worry too much, in most cases the metering will turn out fine.
You should watch out for burnt areas because in IR they turn out blue the more
you get near them. If it’s necessary, you should apply some negative exposure
compensation and then adjust levels in photoshop, but most importantly avoid
burnt areas. It is highly recommended to switch to manual mode (M) to get the
most accurate exposures with the best control.
c. Focus – You should perform
the focus before adding the IR filter to make sure that you focus correctly and
switch to manual mode to maintain the focus. If you are lazy, you can use
manual focus and estimate the distance (in that case automatic is better).
d. Aperture – It’s recommended
to photograph with relatively small apertures and avoid open ones. This is
because we lose a little sharpness in IR photography and shutting the aperture
helps a lot in that way. In compact cameras an aperture of F/5.6 and in DSLRs
and aperture of F/11 should do the trick.
e. Shutter – Due to two
reasons, a small aperture and low IR sensitivity, we are forced to use slow
shutter speeds, for better and for worst. Why better? Because a special effect
is produced over water and clouds in very long exposures. Why worse? Because
you need a tripod and it’s difficult to capture moving objects (people, animals
– Sometimes it’s better to photograph with an ND filter that reduces the amount
of light entering the camera even more in order to achieve longer exposures and
improve the effect.
g. Location – It’s best to shoot
from a shaded place. First and foremost, because it's hot to stand in the sun,
and second because the camera loves shooting from shaded places. In addition, I
would recommend blocking the viewfinder in DSLR to prevent light for leaking
into the system.
6. Compositions – It’s possible to
achieve very special images, but we can also use special compositions to get
better effects. The following rules are only additions to the known laws of
– the sky turns out dark and the clouds turn out bright. This creates an
excellent and dramatic contrast that can contribute greatly to the photo.
– we should attempt to capture special structures of foliage that can be
interesting when we should keep in mind that all foliage will turn out
– because of the long exposure water will appear with a very unique silky
texture. This can be used and improved with reflection games.
– It’s very nice to photograph familiar structures with foliage around them and
create a very dramatic photo that people will be awe-struck when viewing it for
the first time.
– It’s pretty hard to incorporate people in the photo, and if you do try and
photo them, it’s better not to show faces (unless the purpose is to spook). If
you incorporate people or animals, then you should open the aperture a bit to
shorten the exposure time.
After taking the photo, the job is far from over. We shall now switch to Photoshop
to see how we improve the frame to a special and appealing look. I take it that
you are familiar with the basics of Photoshop.
channels – When first opening the photo, we will see a photo like in the
example attached, in brownish-red hues (depending on what type of white balance
we used). This photo can be useful, but I also want to show you a result that
is more soothing to the eye. We open the Image menu > Adjustments >
Channel mixer and choose the later. A window will open like in the attached
example. Under the red channel you should reduce the red from 100% to 0% and
increase the blue from 0% to 100%, and on the blue channel do the opposite –
decrease blue from 100% to 0% and increase red to 100%. There you have it, the channels
are switched (as simple as with the TV…). (It is recommended to click on the
images to enlarge them)
Levels – It might be that the photo is still not with the hues that we desire
it to have and that is why we will adjust the levels properly (Ctrl+L) and
adjust the color balance (Ctrl+B) to achieve colors that are more suitable to
us, in the shadows, midtones and highlights.
– Because there is a certain degree of fuzziness, it is recommended to perform
sharpening with Unsharp mask as necessary (reminder – Filter > Sharpen >
Unsharp mask). I used the following parameters: Threshhold: 1, Radius: 2.0,
the processing is done you should have a result similar to this. But of course
you can perform different processings including the incorporation of a regular
photo and an IR photo in two layers etc.etc. The sky’s the limit.
it's possible to present the photo in black and white with all the techniques
of turning it black and white and not in color. The results are very
interesting as well.
As we see, Infra-Red isn’t a very simple
technique but despite that any one can use it (with the right equipment). I
personally love this technique and I know that you can undoubtedly reach
incredible results with it. I hope that this guide was clear and I hope you
learned something new and enjoyed it.
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