Sunday, March 21, 2010

IR Photography with a R72 filter

Thanks to my wife's Uncle Jon, I am hopelessly addicted to IR Photography, both B&W and Color versions of this great medium. The whole idea of capturing what is invisible light and making it visible again is really intriguing to me. We as humans can't see IR light but with the right camera equipment we can photograph a scene and reveal the IR light.

The first piece of equipment you need to have is a camera, preferrably a DSLR but you can use a Rail Camera or a Point and Shoot if you have the ability to screw on a filter onto the lens. The second piece of equipment you need is a lens. This is where it gets a bit tricky if you are going to use a filter. Many lenses out there suffer from hot spotting when they are used with an IR filter like the Hoya R72 (this is the filter I use). For a list of lenses that will and won't work , check out this site word of warning though, this is the most complete list I could find but it's by no means the complete list. Please make sure you research the lens you want to buy the IR Filter for before you purchase the filter, these filters are fairly expensive. I made the mistake of purchasing a filter for my Tokina 12-24mm F4 lens only to find out that it suffers from extreme hot spotting when using an IR filter. Luckily I was able to buy some adapters to go from a 77mm filter down to a 52mm (my Nikon 18-55mm lens uses a 52mm filter size). You're also going to need to use a tripod and a cable release (although you can get away with using your mirror up option on your camera or the self timer and not have to have a cable release). Just a note, these filters block all visible light and only allow the IR light through, they are really really dark and require long exposures even in broad daylight, make sure you have a tripod with you, you aren't going to be hand holding 8 + second exposures.

So, you have all of your equipment with you and you're ready start shooting some really cool IR Color and IR B&W scenes. First step, white balance. Most cameras will allow you to manually set your white balance as a preset. Without the filter on the camera, head over to really well lit patch of green grass, the greener the better and use that as your target to set your white balance on your camera and save it to a preset you can recall. I understand that a lot of you shoot in RAW, I shoot in RAW too and I understand you can use Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom to adjust the white balance after the fact, I can't explain why but it doesn't work well with Color IR photography, take the extra time to get it right in camera, trust me, it's worth the effort.

Ok, we're ready to create a visually stimulating scene in IR. Setup your tripod and connect your camera and the shutter release cable. With the filter OFF of the camera, compose your scene (once you put that filter on, you can't see anything through the viewfinder, yes it's that dark). Make sure you have your auto focus set to auto focus, press your shutter release down halfway and get a good focus lock, now switch the camera from auto focus to manual so you can screw on the filter. What's that, you're worried about metering the scene? Don't be, I'm going to give you some guide lines to start with, your camera won't be able to meter the scene with the filter on. Ok, the filter is screwed onto the lens, the camera is setup in manual focus, we're ready to start taking some photos. I've found that in using my Hoya R72 filter, that I get t he best results shooting at F8 -F14. You're going to have to experiment some to see what range you'll get the best results in with your camera and lens. Now, at F14 ISO 400 in broad daylight, I can usually get a good exposure at 8 seconds or 15 seconds. I start at 8 seconds and see what it looks like in camera, then I adjust from there. This is an example of what you will see when you look at the back of your camera.

I know, I made you spend all this time to get a crappy looking red white and black photo. No worries, all IR photos look like this out of the camera when using the filter. It's easier to fix than you think so hang in there.

Alright, let's process this one so you can see the steps involved. It's really not that bad.

First step, adjust the white balance. Open the image up in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) and select the white balance adjustment tool. It's the eye dropper next to the hand , top left of the window. Now click on something that should be green, in this image I'm going to click on some of the bamboo leaves. This what the image should look like now.

As you can see, I ended up using a 15 second exposure for this photo. It was taken around 3pm in the afternoon on a bright sunny day in March 2010. You're basically done in ACR unless you want to adjust the contrast and black levels some, you can of course do all that in Photoshop as well. So go ahead and click "Open Image".

Once I have the image open in Photoshop, I usually do a Shift+CRTL+L for auto levels , this gives me a decent looking image to start working with. The first order of business is going to be to swtich the red and blue channels around, this will give us our blue sky again. Go ahead and copy your background layer and then select New Adjustment Layer> Channel Mixer.

channel mixer

Ok, now where it says OUTPUT Channel Red, take the red slider and make it ZERO then take the blue slider and make it +100 . Don't worry about what your image looks like, we have another step. Now click on the OUTPUT Channel drop down and select BLUE. Make the Blue slider ZERO and the RED Slider +100. You image should look like this now.

After reversing the red and blue channels

Now you have an image you can work your own wonders with, one of the beauties of Color IR photography, there's no right or wrong once you get to this stage, be as creative as you want to be. This is also where I do my Black and White conversion using the Black and White Adjustment Layer. Play around, have fun and be creative. :)

Almost forgot to mention that sometimes you will end up with an image that has a blueish color cast to it. There's a multitude of methods to get rid of this but the easiest one I have found is to merge the background copy layer and the channel mixer layer together then go to Image>Adjustments>Match Color and click on the Neutralize Box , this will normally get rid of the color cast issues.

Here's a few things to remember.

1) Do some homework on your lenses and find the one that can handle IR best (head to this site to start your research , then purchase a filter for that lens unless of course you want to send your camera out to and have it converted. (Keep in mind though, once it's converted, it's an IR camera, you can't go back to shooting regular color photos with so you might want to do this with a spare camera body).

2) If you are using a filter, you're going to have to really long exposure times. Keep this in mind when composing your photos. If you want something tack sharp and it's a breezy day, come back and shoot it when the wind isn't blowing. Don't frustrate yourself, photography is a fun activity , trying to get a tack sharp image of a leaf blowing in the wind with an 8+ second shutter time isn't going to happen so don't force it.

3) Be creative and have fun :) Remember, whatever is normally green is going to end up with a whitish look to it, keep that in mind when looking for a scene to try Color or B&W IR with.

Here are a few more examples of my IR work and the link to Uncle Jon's site. <---- Uncle Jon's site

Mine Cart IR B/W

Heritage Village Color IR 1

Florida Botanical Gardens Couryard Color IR 1

Lake Meade, NV BW IR 1

Nelson, Nevada

Life is a highway Color IR

Thank you for reading my blog, you can find my work at , if you have any questions either reply to this blog or you can email me at

Warm regards,

Michael White

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About Me

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My name is Michael White and I'm a Fine Art Photographer based out of the Tampa Bay area.   I enjoy photographing various landscapes and wild life that can be found in the US.  I am also the creator of a new process called High Key HDR. 
You can find my website at and I can also be followed on Twitter at @rorymadstudios .