Surreal Effects using an Infrared Camera

Infrared photo with 720nm filter allows a minimal amount of color into the image

SE Asia Trip

I’ve just returned from Southeast Asia with a huge cache of images! I brought my newly repurposed Canon 5D MKII converted to infrared in addition to my Canon 5DS and Canon 5D MKIV cameras. Needless to say, I’ve built up some back muscles carrying all this camera equipment around from Thailand to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam over the past three weeks. Stay tuned as I process my images over the next several weeks and months. As I emerge from PTSS (post travel sleep syndrome) where more sleep is better, I’ve started looking at some of the IR images with enthusiasm. The first thing I’ve had to do is decide how to process the IR images. There are many options which I will explain in this post. But first, let me just explain what an IR converted camera is.

IR Camera Conversions

Infrared light is the the spectrum of invisible light just below the red spectrum. It is characterized by very long light waves and therefore does not focus at the same point as visible light. This causes problems in digital photography because the IR light is visible to the camera sensor. IR light, when mixed with visible light fogs the image with an out of focus blur. Camera manufacturers place an IR filter over the sensor to block IR light from reaching the sensor thereby preventing the degradation of the visible light image. To convert a camera for IR photography, this IR filter must be removed and replaced with a visible light filter which only allows IR light to reach the sensor. Additionally, the auto focus mechanism must be re-calibrated for the IR spectrum. One additional word of caution, check your exposures carefully as the light meter does not measure IR light. The exposure is estimated based on visible light. I found myself regularly setting the exposure to plus 2-3 stops more light than the exposure meter registered.

The classic IR black and white photograph is rendered by desaturating the color IR image.

A true IR camera will only be able to produce black and white images from the IR spectrum; but, innovative options have emerged to blend just a little visible light with the IR spectrum to add color to the IR images. There is a very fine line in determining how much visible light to mix with the IR spectrum. Too much visible light results in a loss of the IR effect as extreme color replaces the traditional IR look. These differences are better explained [here] by Spencer’s Camera Shop who specializes in IR conversions. I chose the 720 nm conversion which mixes in a very small amount of visible light so I can still produce amazing black and white IR photography while dappling with the color capabilities.

Color Processing a Raw IR Image

Color IR image with red and blue channels reversed.

As you will notice from the color image at the top of this post, the sky is red. Most people want to see a blue sky so there is a quick adjustment that helps make our color IR images more appealing. An adjustment layer in Photoshop is is added to reverse the red and blue color channels.

Blue Chanel Settings
Red Channel Settings

Once we have the red and blue channels swapped, we can adjust the saturation, hue, and color temperature to achieve a desired outcome but I wanted to expand the color pallet and alter the mood so I applied filters from Nik Color Efex. For the effect below, I used a cross processing filter which emulates the effect of using the wrong color processing chemicals on color film (ie negative film processing on slide film). These filters allow me to distort the color pallet. Finally, I selectively adjust individual color hues and saturation levels. Most notably here, I boosted the yellows to pop the color of the leaves.

Color IR image with red/blue channels swapped and cross processing color enhancements.

As mentioned at the beginning, I have a huge library of images from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam which I will be editing for quite some time. Stay connected to see the amazing images of Ankor Wat, tribal villages, Buddhist monks, and more.