Tips & Techniques » Infrared Photography 102: The Next Steps on the Path to IR Imagery
|Foliage is always a striking subject when shooting IR, as the chlorophyll reflects the IR light.|
If you've read my article An Introduction to Infrared Photography, Part 1, you now know about the process that occurs when you shoot IR images with a converted camera or through an IR filter. The infrared photons (IR light) leave the photographic subject (via emission or reflection), enter the camera's lens, are detected by the sensor and stored by the digital camera. It sounds very technical, but it all happens in the DSLR camera after you’ve composed and shot the subject in IR. Now what?
This is Infrared Photography 102.
It’s the creative, artistic process of creating an IR image from the camera sensor data, utilizing your computer and Adobe software.
Software Programs for IR Processing
Whether you are using an external IR filter or an IR converted camera, your images will come out with a reddish cast, because some visible red light (which is next to the near-infrared light on the electromagnetic spectrum) passes though the filter to the sensor.
In fact, many converted IR cameras deliberately allow some visible colored light to reach the sensor, which is therefore part of the image data captured by the camera sensor. There are software programs galore that may be used to optimize your IR images. I use Adobe’s Elements, Lightroom and Photoshop. Life Pixel, who is responsible for converting my IR camera, recommends Nikon’s Capture NX2 software. Life Pixel does not recommend Photoshop, as it does not have the range in the color channels that the camera-specific software (for Canon and Nikon) does. Mostly I use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), a Photoshop plug-in, because I shoot in RAW for its easy adjustments and nondestructive data. You can change white balance, exposure and make twelve additional adjustments, including the conversion to classic black & white images, without leaving ACR.
How to Convert from RAW
If your camera allows you to shoot RAW, do it. If you have ACR, here are the three steps to convert your IR image to black & white and remove any false colors:
To add other creative enhancements and edit further, open the image in Photoshop. If you are not shooting in RAW, Photoshop can convert your IR image to black & white using the Adjustments layers. Choose Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Black & White.
Art or Science?
So, is IR photography an art or a science? C.P. Snow wrote of two cultures, the humanities and science, and “never the twain shall meet.” The famous scientist/philosopher was wrong! IR photography is both art AND science. We’ve covered a bit of the science earlier; now for more focus on the art.
|This image has been converted to B&W, but a creative photographer can add color in post processing.|
The Rules for all Artists
In art there are no rules. You cannot dictate to an artist how to create an image. The artist chooses the media, the shapes and the colors for the image. In IR there is no color; but it may be added by the artist. All of those beautiful and spectacular NASA images of the universe, as captured by Hubble or those giant telescopes, have no color. The color is added later by the Scientist/Artist creating the image.
Of course someone will always make a rule or establish a procedure to be followed. But know that a creative artist will find a way around the rule, or will experiment and discover a new way to create a pleasing or captivating image never considered, or tried, before. There is no consensus among judges and juries for the quality of your IR images.
My advice is to free yourself; explore, discover and enjoy creating IR images with your camera, your software and your imagination. Use all of the tools for creating infrared images to your heart’s content-- for your own pleasure and that of others.
|This image from Yosemite demonstrates how you can take travel photography to a whole new level by shooting IR.|
More IR Photography Information to Come
In IR Photography 103, the final course in the introduction to IR photography, we’ll consider some advanced concepts that may help in the goal of enhancing the visual experience of IR photography. We will address more technical aspects of focusing infrared light, calibrating the lens and camera body for IR photography and developing the IR images with specific goals. I'm just kidding about the upcoming 'final' course. We now know better. Neither the science nor the art of photography have an ending. It’s a journey, not a destination. Get started. Enjoy the trip.
Dr. Patrick Buick has taught Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy and Computer Science in public and private institutions and at nine colleges and universities. Although he is now retired, he cannot give up teaching and his addiction to organizing and presenting scientific knowledge. For Dr. Buick, experimenting with IR photography is a way to satisfy his other addiction—learning. Dr. Buick is a Nikonians gold member and a member of the Venice Camera Club