About InFra Red and Me

For the longest time, the creation of infraRed images has been a bit of a misunderstood art. Reserved mostly for the more technical followers of photography, its popularity was slow to grow. In the pre-digital days, obtaining a useable IR image required persistence and dedication. Images had to be shot on special infrared sensitive film. The process for shooting and handling IR was particularly laborious. In the camera, film had to be loaded and unloaded  in complete darkness.  Special filters had to be used to block out portions of the visible spectrum. Camera meters were calibrated for visible light not infrared. Alternative methods for finding the correct exposure had to be examined. Bracketing was commonplace. Exposures were long and a tripod was essential. Most labs didn’t process infrared film so IR shooters had to be comfortable with developing their own film. Then the more important questions…which developer? at what temperature? for how many minutes?

Wow, how I don’t miss those days.  Would I change any of it?    Not a chance!   Those days taught me what that effect looks like. What to strive for…that wonderfully eerie, mystical, unworldly result that defines how an Infrared Image looks.

Today, anybody shooting InfraRed is probably using a digital camera.  The problem is that digital capture alone won’t produce the total effect.  The glow from the lack of an anti-halation film backing?  Not there. The soft(or hard) grain of the film emulsion? Not there. The contrast? The wood effect???? Also not there. These are important features of the IR look that are just not there with digital capture alone.

To achieve the look, requires 2 separate steps. The 1st being the acquisition of a raw digital image from a properly converted IR camera. The second step involves the post processing stage with Photoshop. The omission of step one is the reason why filters which try to emulate the IR look just do not work. I’ve tried most of them including recipes for Lightroom and Photoshop. If you don’t start with a properly acquired Digital IR image, the translation is incomplete… Having said that, the importance of step 2 cannot be overemphasized.

Where the darkroom has gone away, post processing in Photoshop has become paramount in producing quality images. Whether you are into IR or are just shooting standard color images, basic knowledge of photoshop is necessary to achieve maximum image optimization. For the more advanced user, photoshop does a great job of enhancing IR images to emulate that classic IR look. The missing elements can be created in various ways and applied to the image in the post processing stage. There are even 3rd party filters that do help when applied at this stage.  In addition, High Dynamic Range (HDR) offers some interesting possibilities when applied to IR. Mixing conventional color capture with IR  also shows promise. New possibilities are abundant and I look forward to discussing some of these processes in future posts on this site.

When digital came along, I was one of those nay sayers who vowed  I would never change. I was happy developing film in my darkroom and manipulating images by hand. I would jump thru so many hoops in hopes of maybe acquiring a few promising negatives.

We live in some great times and the changes we’ve seen happen in photography in the last 10 years alone have been amazing. I feel fortunate to have experienced this transformation. The digital age has blown the creativity possibilities wide open!

Still, I look back gratefully at those pre digital days….It was in those days that my love for InfraRed was born.





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