How to Take Infra Red Photos

July 21, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

I'm on a campsite in Provence. Under an azure blue sky I'm seeking shade to look on the laptop at some Raw files I shot today of a village perche high in the Alpes Maritimes under the harsh light of early afternoon. They're all red and flat as a pancake. Doesn't sound promising, does it?

Take one perfectly good digital SLR camera and modify it so it's not receptive to visible light. Then go out into the field and endeavour to make stunning and perceptive landscapes using light you can't see. Then try and explain why and how to friends and family. It's not, it has to be said, a seemingly entirely logical thing to do. Welcome to the world of infra red photography.

Now I'll bet my last stale croissant that most of you reading this know at least a bit about infra red photography, it's been a technique that's been around for yonks, it's nothing new. Scientists in white lab coats have long been doing it for strange and nefarious reasons, and Wildlife Wallahs love exposing frolicking lions at night using infra red sensitive cameras with long lenses. For us arty landscape types that infra red look to monochrome imagery is well known, it graced many an album cover in the 80's. Back in the 90's I had quite an infra red phase to my life, most notably with a Parisian project involving much meandering along the banks of the Seine with a Nikon loaded with Kodak's quirky infra red monochrome emulsion.

How to Take Infra Red Photos

It was great fun and now a decade or so later, I'm back in infra red mode. Why? Well it pays to keep experimenting and evolving, otherwise I feel all my pictures would start to look the same. And now, with the ability to shoot IR digitally, things have moved on. Its even more fun, gives a unique look, and now in the digital age the potential for IR imagery has expanded massively. But I have to tell you it's not easy; it requires a whole new way of thinking and looking at this mostly blue and green world around us.

So let's go back to basics and consider just what infra red photography is all about. Now answer me this, just how much science does a photographer need to know? Not much? It's true some photographers know bugger all about the physics of it all, they just use the camera, know what works for them and create great pictures. But, but, but…. I reckon if a photographer has a working knowledge of what is happening when the shutter is released it is an asset. It helps to analyse what's gone wrong when pictures don't work, and it's useful to understand what is and isn't possible. Would Michael Schumacher have been quite so successful if he didn't have a thorough understanding of his car over and above his innate talent and feel for driving red cars fast? First and foremost I think it's crucial for a photographer to understand light.

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