August 19, 2011

Seeing in Infrared

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Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

A photograph is usually all about the light – but infrared photography is all about capturing images using invisible light, which is why comparisons to traditional photography are difficult. If you want to create a dramatic image, few things beat a beautiful sunrise that’s photographed in vibrant colors. The same scene photographed in infrared may be disappointing unless there is some great IR reflective subject matter–we’re talking about big trees here–to add interest. That’s because the “Wood Effect” (bright to white reproduction of the chlorophyll layer of deciduous plants in black-and-white IR images) appears strongest at low sun levels. Interestingly, or maybe not, the effect is named after infrared photography pioneer Robert W. Wood (1868-1955) and not after the material wood, which does not strongly reflect infrared.

Here’s one of Farace’s laws about capturing infrared photographs: If the lighting looks great for standard photographs, such as portraits in the shade, or sunrise and sunset, it’s probably not going to work for infrared. But don’t just take my word for it; you need to experiment for yourself because you never know for sure what the results will be when working in the infrared until you try. Shooting an approaching storm often makes a great “standard” photograph but I had a feeling that it would make a dramatic digital infrared image as well. The trees should retain some IR reflectance via heat and the storm clouds should add impact, right? Sometimes when you experiment you get lucky.

Really, there are no ‘official’ subjects for digital IR photography. Sure, summer landscapes with leafy deciduous trees, lots of grass, and puffy clouds often make a great infrared picture. (Tip: Evergreens, like those Ponderosa Pines up here on Daisy Hill, don’t reflect as much infrared. Depending on the invisible light, these trees will reflect some IR light. But don’t confine yourself to landscapes.)

Some of the artists that are profiled in my book, “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography,” like to shoot people in IR but I like to photograph cars, so I made the above picture of two classic Jaguars. To insure sharp focus I set the lens using the hyperfocal distance and moved the (converted) camera’s exposure compensation to plus 1-1/3 stops to make the whites sparkle. Exposure was 1/16 sec at f/16 and ISO 200. Any subject is fair game if you want to produce digital infrared images. My best advice is always to experiment to discover what works. You may be surprised at the variety of subject matter you can find for your IR photographs.

Joe Farace is the author of “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography” (Lark Books) that’s available on


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