What is Infrared Photography?

May 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

By Susanna Euston

The Visitor You may have seen infrared landscape photographs—ones in which you see the familiar forms of a landscape, but which have an other-worldly, surreal appearance. They are usually more black and white or sepia in appearance and leave one with the question of How in the world did the photographer get it to look like that? 

Yes, there are presets that claim to create an infrared effect. But, really? Presets and plug-ins can do a lot, but they can’t simulate true infrared.

Sir Frederick William Hershel Infrared (IR) light — light that humans can't see, with wavelengths longer than those of visible light — was first discovered by Sir Frederick William Herschel, an astronomer, in 1800. (image: Sir Frederick William Hershel)

Not to be confused with Far Infrared, or what we commonly see in X-Rays (thermal imaging), in photography the lightwave lengths we use are called Near Infrared, and range from 680nm (or nanometers, the metric used to measure light) to 900nm.

The first Infrared photographs were taken in 1910 by Robert Williams Wood using photographic plates. Beginning in the 1930s film became available. 

The digital cameras of today must have the light-blocking internal filter, located in front of the sensor (or digital "film"), converted to allow Infrared light to pass through. This allows the camera to capture the infrared light radiating off a subject. 

When  Fern Dance converting a camera, study the range of options that are available. At the lower end, some color will appear and from there, at the high end, all color will be eliminated and the image will appear as black & white. The images with this article were captured with infrared cameras set to 720nm, with just a hint of color. I usually convert the images to black & white, but not always. I have seen some incredibly creative work done with a camera converted to 680nm. That will be my next conversion.

Smoky Mountain Stream In the images you’ll see that in nature leaves or grass, which are throwing off radiation, appear white (Fern Dance); while pine trees or tree trunks, both cool in temperature, appear as one would expect, more true to life, as in the Smoky Mountain Stream or Spanish Moss Tree images. 

Spanish Moss Tree It's a fascinating photographic genre that if you like to range into more abstract image creation, you will enjoy. If 

Here are some resources to explore:

http://www.lifepixel.com — LifePixel is the leader in the industry. They have extensive information on their website about infrared, and offer conversions for a wide of cameras.

https://kolarivision.com — As with LifePixel, Kolari Vision offers a range of Infrared services including glass filters for full-spectrum. They have limited tutorials.


If you're interested in learning more about Infrared Photography, check out my workshop being held July 13-14-15, 2018!

Beyond the Visible: 
An Intensive in Infrared Landscape Photography
at Mountain Lens Retreat, Hendersonville, NC

The “magic hours” of early morning or late evening are often preferred by landscape photographers. Between these times many pack their cameras away until the next round. But, once the sun is up, and Infrared radiation — or “light beyond the visible” — reflects from surfaces, one may switch to an Infrared-converted camera and shoot all day! 

For details of this workshop, go to http://www.susannaeustonphotography.com/artistry-workshops



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