Sunday, March 25, 2007

IR For Beginners - My DSLR is Not Modded for IR

Can I shoot IR successfully, even tho my camera is not Modified for IR?

This is another common question asked by the ever-increasing numbers of people who have moved up to DSLRs. The investment to make the move to a DSLR can be siginificant, and usually there are just not a lot of $$$ left over to own a second DSLR camera body, and then pay to have it modified for IR. Yet, there is still a strong desire on many photographer's part to explore Infrared Photography.

Well the answer to the above question is an un-qualified YES!

Today, I had the opportunity to meet in the field with a DSLR owner who has that strong desire to make a start in IR, but can only afford one DSLR body. This person's primary shooting is Color Photography, yet he wanted IR bad enough that he had already purchased a Hoya R72 IR Pass Filter for one of his lenses. He was unable to successfully get an exposure thru the IR Pass that he could even see, much less one he could use.

We started out with the basics, reviewing some of the information in the previous posts for Beginners. The Camera has an IR Block Filter inside, and he has the screw on Hoya R72. Sounds like the "Fighting Filters" I described. Yes, so how will any light at all reach the sensor, if you have 2 filters in line to block all the light? Well, the fact is that the internal Block filter is efficent, but if you expose long enough, IR light will get thru it and reach the sensor. The shooter is also interested in getting some of that attractive "False Color" in his yet to be captured images. The Hoya R-72 is efficent at blocking Color light and letting IR Pass thru, but, the fact is that it will allow a certain amount of Color light to pass thru also, enough to be able to post process for False Color.

If you simply put the Hoya R72 on your lens, and attempt to make a shot, as you would in color, you immediately run into a few problems.

You can't see any of the IR light that passes thru the R72, so it's impossible to compose and focus your scene. You see a black scene in your view finder. There's light there, IR light, but as you know, it's light you can't see.

So what to do?

Here's the steps we took.

1. We knew that the exposure was going to be long, much too long to hand hold, so he mounted his camera on his tripod. The remote shutter release that he already had came in really handy, as he did not have to touch the camera to take shots.

2. He selected a scene to shoot with a bit of help from me, that I knew would have some foliage and grass that reflect IR light.

3. In Color (no filter mounted), he composed the scene and focused. He locked focus so that it would not change.

4. He then screwed on the Hoya IR filter to his lens threads.

5. He placed the camera in Manual settings mode.

6. I suggested that he start with an aperture of F8 or even smaller. IR light's wavelenghts are different than those of Color's, so IR does not focus at exactly the same point as Color on the sensor. The DOF of F8 should compensate and give him a reasonable focus. This may have to be adjusted.

7. Having no idea what Shutter Speed would be required for the lighting conditions that we were in, we started with a One Second Exposure, and took the shot.

8. We reviewed the shot on the LCD and looked over the Histogram. Well, there was an exposure there, but it was massively under-exposed.

9. So, wanting to keep the F8 Aperture, we started adjusting the ISO and Shutter Speed. Since we knew that the first attempt was under, we bumped the ISO up, and set a longer shutter speed.

10. After we changed the settings and took another shot, we reviewed the image and histogram on the LCD. We did this 5 or 6 times until we found a setting that should give him a reasonable exposure that he can post process.

I'm not going to quote you setting numbers, as they would not be valid for any attempt you make anyway. To illustrate my point, he decided to turn around and compose on a scene behind us, and although the settings for the first shot were a lot closer, they still required a few iterations of change, shoot, review, to get a decent histogram.

So, as you can see, IR is possible with the standard DSLR and the Screw On Filter.

There are Pros and Cons.

On the Pro side, a relatively inexpensive IR Pass Filter added to your kit, (assuming you have a tripod), gets you started in IR.

This is an update to the original Post: This change in my statement about the inexpensive IR Pass filter may just move the single Pro to the Con side. You must decide for yourself. I have been pricing Hoya R72 IR Pass filters since I started looking into the Sony H9 and realized that it has an odd filter adapter thread size of 74mm. Ok, a stop down to 72mm or a step up to 77mm rings are inexpensive and would solve the problem. But, have you looked at the price of Hoya RM72 and RM90 filters when they get up in size to the 70mm's? They are VERY expensive, especially compared to the 58mm size requirement that I have been personally using in the past (about $40). So, I came to the aditional realization that MANY of the lenses that DSLR owners already have and would want to utilize for their IR are in fact in this larger thread size. The prices of these Pass filters are still lower than the cost of a DSLR mod, but it means the cost effective-ness vs. a professional modification is MUCH more narrow. If you have a lens for your DSLR that takes a thread size closer to the small side, my original statement stands. You should do some price investigation before you decide to buy.

But, (there's always a But). I meant to bring this up in a subsequent discourse here in the series, but I have to raise it now. Your lens collection likely includes glass that has a number of different thread sizes. So, you already realize that you will need to pick one or two of them from your collection to buy an appropriately sized IR Pass for. Step rings may of course adapt some more of them for you. Here's the But! Some of the lenses of all brands have the annoying habit of producing a "Hot Spot" in the center of the image. So, it goes without saying that you need to investigate your lens collection to see if any of them are reported to Hot Spot before you decide to buy an expensive Pass Filter for it. Google for the subject and you will find lists on the internet. Look at my Useful Links, the Yahoo Infrared Group has compiled a list of lenses known to have this Hot Spot problem in IR.

I will dedicate a Post to the Hot Spot issue at a later date, and go into the issue in more depth. In the mean time realize that you will have to look into this issue before you purchase a filter.

Back to the original Post:

The Con side is a little bit longer.

Depending you your own camera/lens/sensor/IR Blocker, your exposure times will be rather long, and really cannot be predicted without experimentation. After you get some shooting under your belt, you will doubtless be able to somewhat predict what settings you will need for the conditions you see before you.

Long exposure times means you will be limited to static scenes where your subject does not move, or, you will need to incorporate motion blur into your creative process. A very common IR subject often includes trees and other foliage. If there is any wind at all, motion blur is going to prevent you from getting a sharply in focus image. A mountain scene with snow would hardly move at all, so if you choose wisely, you will be able to find scenes that are static enough for your IR.

Contrasty white clouds on a clear black sky are an IR Shooter's Delight. If you are shooting multi-second exposures, those clouds will move a maddenly long distance in your scene while the shutter is open.

Shooting Handheld will likely be difficult, if not impossible.

Experimentation to obtain exposure or bracketing will require patience on your part.

Shooting any scenes with human or animal subjects moving about may not result in an image that you will be pleased with.

If you are creative enough, these Cons can be avoided or even turned to your advantage. It's up to you to be innovative and clever, turning the negatives to positives. (pun intended).

Do not be discouraged. Start with the equipment that you have, and upgrade as you gain experience and knowledge in the basics of IR Shooting.

-=- Jerry -=-


Anonymous said...

Jerry let me congratulate you on the perfect explanation for shooting with a non-converted IR camera. You couldn't have said it
any better. Great job you're doing
with your blog.

Anonymous said...

Very good, Jerry. I like to lenghten exposure time rather than mess with the ISO.

A benefit of lengthier shutter times with IR can be found here:



Bruce said...


I would like to recommend to your Blog readers an eBay seller of IR filters which are much less expensive than the Hoya brand:

According to one satisfied user (lulalake) who knows his IR stuff, "The quality is far better than Hoyas, they use actual threaded retaining rings instead of those chintzy spring retaining rings that Hoya uses. HIGHLY recommended."

Infrared Photography Buzz said...

Thanks everyone,

and Thanks Bruce for the information. This could make a great difference to those whose lenses have the larger thread sizes.

Excellent information!

-=- Jerry -=-

Michael said...

Do you recommend any way of editing the resulting infrared pictures without Photoshop (to get the results along the lines of pictures featured on the front of your site) for a camera like the D80?

Your site is a great resource by the way!

Infrared Photography Buzz said...


Please email me about your question.

Look in the "Welcome" post in the Beginner's Section for my email policy.


-=- Jerry -=-

SB said...

Hi Jerry,

Just like to check do I need to set custom white balance to take IR photos?

Or i can use the default white balance and then follow your steps?


Infrared Photography Buzz said...


It's your choice, and I would advise you to experiment to see which WB you like best.

Lots of people like to use custom WB set off green grass, or other things, even Dirt! ;^)

Default is fine, as are all of the other WB settings your camera offers.

Give them all a try, shooting the exact same scene, and do some comparisons on your PC.

-=- Jerry -=-

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort to explain this in full. It's also refreshing to see a professional who's secure enough to be intellectually curious and revise opinions as necessary.

Most "experts" simply say "convert your camera" without giving a sufficient explanation.

Top Rated Cameras said...

I'm totally new to photography and I am very confused with how these IR photography is being done aside from having a good dslr camera with IR filter. But this post got lots of very useful and educational information for those who are just starting with photography either as a hobby or a career.

Thanks for the very well written article about IR photography. I hope I can get a shot on trying this out for real.