Infra red photography creates an unusual and surreal view of the world that can also be very beautiful. You can do it in black and white or colour, but the techniques used today with digital cameras are rather different to those used with film.
Infra red film photography is relatively straightforward – you simply use film sensitised to the infra red part of the spectrum. This is longer-wavelength light invisible to the naked eye and, in fact, to most camera sensors. This is no accident – camera sensors have infra red filters to block this infra red light and so that they only ‘see’ the same visible light that we do.
It is possible to have the infra red filter removed from the sensors on some cameras, but once the camera is converted in this way it’s restricted to infra red photography from then on.
Or you could simply imitate the infra red ‘look’ using software, which is what’s been done here. Black and white infra red is characterised by bright white vegetation (which is very bright in the infra red spectrum) and dark, almost black skies). Colour infra red is less easy to pin down because it depends heavily on the way images are processed. The example used here is just one infra red ‘look’.
But first, here’s the start shot, a perfectly ordinary colour image.
To create the infra red effect, I’m using Color Efex Pro, part of the Nik Collection. This is now free, but no longer under development, so you should download the Google Nik Collection while you can! I’ve used two of Color Efex Pro’s filters here and the annotation below has the details.
01: This is a classic colour infrared look, though different photographers produce many different variations. The sky is a deep, intense blue and the foliage is very bright, almost white, with a soft and luminous look.
02: Most of the work has been done by Color Efex Pro’s Infrared Film filter. This offers a choice of black and white and colour ‘methods’ and this effect is Method 5. There are a few sliders underneath which can be useful. I don’t need the Lighten Highlights slider here, but I have reduced the Brightness and increased the Contrast. Underneath are Shadows and Highlights sliders. You can use these to pull back any extreme shadow or highlight detail that’s been clipped by your other adjustments.
03: I’ve also added Color Efex Pro’s Classical Soft Focus filter – to ability to ‘stack’ filters in Color Efex Pro is one of its best features. This adds the soft glow to the highlights that I always associate with infra red effects. It’s not essential, but without it an infra red shot can look just a little too hard and sharp.
And here’s the finished image!