Trying Infrared photography
I have never really paid much attention to IR photography before. I have seen some black-and-white work with IR cameras but I never liked it all that much, especially when compared to film. Black and white film is just way better in my opinion, but I did see some color work by a Korean photographer recently that piqued my interest. He was shooting cityscapes and using a converted IR camera to turn his images into an anime-type images, with pink foliage and blue skies. (See his Instagram link below) I did some research and found some photography videos online, showing the different types of IR photography, which is basically broken down into color and black-and-white shots.
I also watched a few videos by Thomas Heaton with his Fujifilm XT3 which he converted into IR for black and white, and while the video was interesting, I didn’t really enjoy the black-and-white images. But I did get interested in converted IR cameras and I started to search for some converted cameras online.
When purchasing an IR-converted camera, I had no real idea what I was looking for, all I knew was that it had to be a Nikon, as most of my glass is for Nikon, and I wanted a camera converted to the 520 or 680 spectra as that was the most common used spectrums for color infrared photography. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any full-frame Nikon cameras that had been converted so I ordered an old Nikon D70s camera that had been converted to the 620 spectra. Ideally, I would have loved to find a Nikon D700 that had been converted but there were none available online at that time.
There is so much information that you have to learn when shooting infrared photography, and one of the things that first made my life really difficult in the beginning was autofocus. To do the IR conversion on the camera, a technician has to remove the camera’s basic IR filter that is situated above the sensor. (I watched some videos of people doing it on Youtube and it is not an easy procedure. You need to remove the sensor from the camera to do it.) The technician removes IR glass filters that would normally block out Infrared light and usually replaces it with a filter that would let through a certain Infrared spectrum for the sensor to read. In most cases, this filter is not the same thickness as the original IR cameras filter so the focusing is no longer accurate on wider aperture as the sensor plan has slightly changed. I found this out the hard way. My first outing with the converted camera ended up in complete failure as nearly all my shots were out of focus. Turns out that shooting a lens wide open on a converted Nikon camera is not a good thing. This only affects some DLSRs and not mirrorless cameras as mirrorless cameras focus directly off the sensor. On my second attempt, I stopped down my lens to f4 or higher, which cured the focus issues I was having.
But it turns out that shooting infrared photography is not that easy because trying to pre-visualize an image in your head, and how the colors will work is really difficult. I shot a lot of scenes like the one below and they usually would work in normal color photography but they were terrible in infrared as the infrared light coming off the plants tended to overpower everything.
The above image is a perfect example of what I am trying to describe. With a normal color camera, or even in black-and-white film photography, I would have shot the image with the pathway leading the eye up into the image. Not a great shot, but a normal routine shot that I would take while walking around. But, with the infrared image, it really doesn’t work and it is a terrible shot. The pink infrared light just overpowers everything and the infrared light leaks over into the other colors as well, So the first lesson that I learned when shooting color infrared images, you have to keep the plant life down to a minimum in the shot or it will overpower the image. The second lesson was that infrared photography needs a lot of direct sunlight or the colors become very muted.
In the direct harsh light, the type of light most photographers hate, infrared photography really comes alive. But during early morning or later into the afternoon, just before golden hour starts, a lot of the colors you would usually get from Infrared fades away. So strong sunlight is a must for shooting infrared photos. This could turn out to be a really good thing though, as I usually only shoot in the mornings and late afternoons because the midday light is so strong here in China, so I might be able to slot in infrared photography during my daytime and it will not get in the way of my normal shooting.
The two shots above were all shot just as golden hour was about to begin. The colors are very muted compared to the images that I got early in the day. I also noticed that shooting directly into the sun with infrared photography also completely washes out the image. So I guess with infrared photography, it is best to keep the sun at your back when shooting. I usually enjoy shooting into the sun but every single image I shot into the sun was washed out.
I have so much to learn about infrared photography right now. I did read up on hot spots with some lenses, but no one seems to be talking about flaring. I was really surprised by the amount of flaring I was getting from my lenses. Lenses that would never flair when shooting color, were now throwing some really nasty flares across the frame. I have no idea why this is happening though. Maybe lens coatings don’t stop IR light from flaring and the lenses rely on the IR Filter in the camera to take care of the infrared light spectrum. I will need to do some digging and see if anyone has really looked into this, but I am finding it more and more difficult to do any kind of research on photography on the internet lately. Google just seems to point to the same websites all the time and finding any useful information has become so difficult. I am positive that if I google “Shooting a rubber duck in a bathtub”, Ken Rockwell’s website would come up in the results.
I have enjoyed tackling a new aspect of photography that I know absolutely nothing about. Learning new things is always fun, and experimenting will only increase your own knowledge about photography in general but there is still so much that I need to learn. From my first few times out with the camera, I have learned the following things
- Shoot outdoors in bright sunlight to get the most out of the colors.
- Avoid shadows or afternoon light as it will make the colors very muted.
- Don’t shoot directly into the sun as it washes out the colors.
- Stop down the lenses to at least F4 to ensure you have enough field depth to cover any focusing issues the camera may have. So a longer lens would need to be stopped down more as it compresses the image and you have less depth of field to work with..
- Lens flare is a real issue, you have to be very careful with this, and you may need to do a lot of chimping to make sure you don’t have any lens flare in the image.
As I type down the things that I have learned so far about infrared photography, I realize that a lot of these problems would be solved with a mirrorless camera. Perhaps that is the way to go and I might need to buy another camera as I did run into some problems with the Nikon D70s which really upset me and there was nothing that I could do about it. See the image below.
On some of the shots with the Nikon D70s, the raw file is not editable. You can read the jpeg preview data from the Raw file but you cannot edit the file as it is damaged. You can extract the jpeg image using image recovery software but that is no good as you need to convert the raw file in Photoshop so you can flip the color channels to get the infrared look. The error seems to happen at random on the Nikon D70s and it could be caused by the CF card I was using. The smallest CF card that I own is a 16GB card and that is an old work card so it has been used a lot over the years and could be causing a lot of the problems I am facing with the camera. All my other CF cards are too big and don’t work in the Nikon D70s. So I might have to shop around for an older CF card and try that card and see if the problem persists or I might have to purchase another camera as there is nothing worse than going out to shoot, coming home, and not being able to use the images that you took. I will see what I can do during the next week or two. If I can find a new CF card, and if the weather is good(no covid issues), then I will go do some more shooting with the infrared camera and see what I can learn and produce with the camera.