Thursday, April 23, 2009

IR Photography - The art of capturing the unseen

Man, I'm in love with these technique. I’m sure you’ve seen some IR photos around the web, but maybe you don’t know how to achieve this FX? Well, look no further, Aba'am is here :P..Here’s a guide on how to master that particular technique.

For those who's having problems understanding what I'm talking about, here's a brief explanation; Photography is the art of capturing light, IR (InfraRed) photography on the other hand is the art of capturing unseen light, but the challenge comes with its benefits, IR photographs can be really attention grabbing and jaw-dropping when u get it right.

So ok, 1st thing 1st, you need to have a D-SLR camera with a lens that can use filters. Then you need to purchase an IR-filter, Hoya R72 IR for example. There are quite a few out there and the main difference (assuming we’re looking at the same brand) is the range of wavelengths that the filter lets through.

Another piece of equipment that is really crucial is the tripod. With D-SLR cameras it’s impossible to take IR photographs without proper stabilizer. Sure, I guess you could have your camera placed on a table or a solid rock, but the best way is no doubt to get a good tripod. Since we’re going to be using a slow shutter speed, long exposure, the tripod needs to be very stable. And A remote trigger would come in handy.

So that's that, now what do u want to photograph. First and foremost, you need to understand the concept of capturing invisible light, it is unseen to our naked eyes. The world looks totally different in Infrared, and there are a few things to think about.

A blue sky will appear black, or very dark, while foliage will get a distinct white color. This creates amazing contrast in the image that makes the photo ‘pop’. Due to the long exposure time, portraits and other non-static sceneries can be hard to capture, this is one of the reasons why most IR photographs are landscape shots.

You need to test and see what you can come up with; it can take a long time before you fully grasp the idea of capturing and composing with infrared light.

Now let's rawk. I would like to say something like “and now to the fun part” but i think rawk sounded much cooler :) anyway, it's far from the truth actually because in this case the photoshoot itself can be rather annoying and/or time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, IR photography is fun, but the way you have to shoot when you’re using an unmodified D-SLR camera is far from an optimal solution.

When the filter is attached to the lens you will most likely see nothing in the viewfinder. The filter is designed to block visible light and it does so quite well. This will result in two hassles — you cannot see what’s in frame and what’s not, nor can you see what’s in focus. The best way to solve the first problem is to set up your tripod and find a good composition before attaching the IR filter.

The focus distance is not the same for IR light as it is for visible light, so you will have to re-focus after the IR filter is attached. This can be really troublesome since you won’t see anything in the viewfinder, older lenses might have a special IR focus distance listed, but modern Auto Focus (AF) lenses does not have this. The best solution is to have the camera auto focus with the IR filter on, or step down the aperture enough to get focus the entire distance.

Now you’re set to go, but your cameras exposure meter isn’t working correctly so you will have to use manual exposure. Most IR photographs taken have had an exposure time between 10-30 seconds. With these long exposure times we not only risk getting motion blur but also heavy noise levels. The longer the exposure the more noise will be created, that’s not specific for IR photography but a general rule in photography. Use the lowest ISO setting to try and keep the noise level as low as possible.




Open your IR photo in Photoshop. The first thing we want to do is to use a feature called Channel Mixer. Create a new adjustment layer and select Channel Mixer. You can now control the channels RED, GREEN and BLUE. What we want to do is switch the Red and the Blue channel.

Select Red and drag the Red setting to 0% and drag the Blue setting to 100%
Select Blue and drag the Blue setting to 0% and drag the Red setting to 100%
You can also experiment with changing the Green channel or such as well, find a good mix for every scenery.

You should now have removed that heavily tinted red/magenta color from your photograph, but the current look might not be much better either.

What you want to do now is play around with the Levels and Curve settings, if you’re new to these adjustment tools you can always hit Auto and see if you like the outcome.

This was a very quick guide on how to change that false color in Photoshop, but there isn’t any magic number that works for all photographs — you will have to go thru a lot of trail and error. Then again, that’s basically what IR is all about in the beginning, this is a technique that takes some time getting used to and it will involve a lot of not so perfect shots. So don’t give up just yet. The results can be astonishing!

(I’m by no means talented in IR photography, or anywhere close of being talented. These examples are very basic but hopefully they give you a feel for this style.)