You don’t need to have your DSLR modified to produce “real” infrared images. But it helps.
I began infrared with Kodak HIE film (no longer made) and a Leica M3 rangefinder. I used that for a very long time, and I have to admit, it was my favorite in terms of results, but using it could be a real pain because of how sensitive that film was to light. Maybe it was just me, but I found that I needed to load and remove the film in a film changing bag. Then I read about how you could take a digital camera and have it modified to capture infrared images.
Then I had an early digital Rebel modified for me, which I liked a lot. The big thing with a modified infrared digital dslr is that you can really see what you’re doing and you get a nice bright image to work with. You don’t need any special filters.
But if you don’t have the money, or don’t want to get your DSLR modified, it is quite possible to do infrared with an unmodified digital camera. You’ll need to choose the infrared filter of your choice.
In a nutshell you can choose from the following infrared filters:
Hoya R72 Filter (Wratten 89b, B+W 092 equivalent)
The Hoya R72 was my personal favorite. It lets in some visible light and is probably going to need an adjustment of six or more stops depending on the subject and the lighting. If you were shooting foliage (which emits infrared light) and the normal exposure for a sunlit day was f8 and 1/1000th of a second shutter speed, you’d need to open up to about f2.0 and 1/60th (or some combination that gave you about 8 more stops of light). But with a digital camera it’s so easy (compared to film) because you’ll be able to immediately check the exposure on the back of the camera.
And then there’s the let’s cut out all visible light filters.
The Wratten 87 and 87c Filters
Assuming that you are using a DSLR, both filters are tricky to use because once they are on the lens, you really can’t see much since you are looking directly through the lens.
But you can buy a filter that has a larger diameter than your shooting lens, because you are going to want to hold it up against the shooting lens, rather than screwing it on and off for each shot. Or I suppose you can you a rig of your own making – but the idea is that when you are using a DSLR, since you’re looking through the lens, and hence the filter – if the filter is opaque it will be tricky to line up the shot. (Note: If you are using a Point and Shoot with an optical viewfinder, this doesn’t apply. You can hold the filter in front of the lens and still see perfectly well through the viewfinder).
So I put the camera on a tripod. Setup the shot. Custom set the color temp. of the camera so that I could pick up as much infrared light as I could (this depends on the subjects); and put the filter on, shot with a cable release, and just did a lot of experimenting until I got the right shutter speed / f-stop combination.
The trick is in post-production. And this is what it is – the DNG PROFILER which is free, from Adobe. You see, the problem is this. Even though you are of course shooting in RAW mode, when you import the file into Lightroom, or Photoshop, those programs just don’t pick up the exposure that is in the infrared range. I know that seems odd, but they don’t. The profiler allows you dig out the part of the exposure which is in the infrared part of the spectrum. In fact, when Adobe describes the profiler, they list infrared photography as one of it’s major purposes.
The workflow goes something like this:
Short list: Set camera on tripod and setup your shot without the red filter. When you’ve got it all set, stick the red filter on, I hand hold it a much larger filter than the lens takes; and let the camera figure out the exposure, and do a bunch of exposures until you get something.
Take the RAW FILE and turn it into a DNG file that you can use with DNG PROFILER. Learn what DNG PROFILER is all about, and how to integrate it into your workflow, in my case I have it show up in Lightroom under calibrate.
Use it under calibrate… and then go through your normal workflow, filters, lightroom, etc. What you’ve done is bypass the color temp. that is cut off in Lightroom and Photoshop and gotten them to use a temp. that works with infrared.
Here are the steps ins a nutshell for using an unmodified DSLR to produce Infrared Images. Remember, you will need a tripod, and this is a more difficult way to work than with a digital camera which has been modified for infrared. But it also gives you a chance to put your toe in the water so to speak before splurging on a camera to modify:
IN THE FIELD
1: PICK THE FILTER TO USE FOR YOUR INFRARED IMAGE AND HOLD IT IN FRONT OF LENS WHILE TAKING SHOT. IT WILL BE A LONG EXPOSURE.
2. EXPERIMENT WITH YOUR CAMERAS COLOR TEMPERATURE SO THAT YOU GET THE BEST HISTOGRAM YOU CAN.
BACK TO THE COMPUTER
3. CREATE A DNG FILE (IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY) FOR CALIBRATING THIS FILE IN ADOBE DNG
4. FOR POST PROCESSING, IN LIGHTROOM, PHOTOSHOP, OR ANY PROGRAM THAT ALLOWS YOU TO SET CALIBRATION, USE THE NEW DNG PROFILE YOU CREATED.
5. USE YOUR NORMAL MEANS FOR CONVERTING TO B&W, IF THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE AFTER, OR DO A CHANNEL SWAP IN PHOTOSHOP, IF YOU WANT TO WORK IN COLOR.