How to create a true Infrared (IR) image?

In Tutorial by Andrew TjahyadiLeave a Comment

After experimenting for quite a while with Infrared, I think I finally found the answer on how to create great IR images. Infrared (IR) image looks different and somewhat gives you the cold, chillin’ effect. There is a misconception that you need a professional camera (SLR/DSLR) to create IR images. Most current prosumer cameras (e.g: Panasonic DMC-FZ8) will be able to take IR images just fine.

All SLR/DSLR cameras will have an IR-cutoff filter, this means that all IR spectrum is blocked by this filter. Usually this filter is placed right before the sensor and in order to remove this filter, it will need modifications on the sensor (you will need to take it to a professional). Once it is modified for IR, it won’t be able to take normal images anymore. To this date, Sigma is the only manufacturer which came up with a nice solution for this IR dillema. All sigma SLR/DSLR have a removable IR-cutoff filter, so you don’t need to modify your sensor. All you need to do is take out the removable IR cutoff filter if you want to take IR images, and put it back in if you want to take normal images.

This is how a black & white IR should look like (Sigma SD14)
Black & white infrared

This is an IR image with false color (Panasonic DMC-FZ8)
IR false color

To get started with IR, you will need the following:

  1. An InfraRed (IR) sensitive camera. If your camera has a live view/video mode, go get a remote, press any button, and point it to the camera then check out the camera screen. If the TV remote shows bright light in that means your camera is IR sensitive and can be used for IR photo/video.
    Remote is showing purple light
    Picture was taken using Panasonic DMC-FZ8 camera.
  2. An IR filter. IR filter varies depending on their number, the most common IR filter is Hoya R72, it passes InfraRed light above 720nm to your camera. You can also get Massa 720nm, it does the job for a lot less price. If you want to go really cheap (However, it is not recommended), get a floppy disc or undelevoped film and put it in front of your camera lens.
    Hoya R72 IR filter
  3. Photoshop is required if you do not have RAW capable camera. If your camera is not RAW capable, your camera will need to have custom WB function in order to process IR image. False color IR requires much more processing than the B&W IR. For this example, I am using Adobe Photoshop CS4.

Your image will come out reddish unless you have a custom White Balance and point it to green. if your camera cannot use custom WB, you can do it in Photoshop. You can click on the 2 images below for better view.
reddish IR image

If you set your camera custom WB to something green (e.g: grass), your as “as shot” WB will look like below, so you don’t need to set it using Photoshop. If your image from your camera looks reddish, set the Temperature and Tint to minimum (you can see the temperature has been adjusted to 2000 and tint has been adjusted to -150).

IMPORTANT: After adjusting Temperature and Tint, make sure you click Auto (right below the tint value, this is auto levels) and it is crucial to create a great IR picture.
Adjusted IR image

After modiying your WB (White Balance), go to the the “Image” tab in Photoshop, then “Adjustments”, and then “Channel Mixer” (Image -> Adjustments -> Channel Mixer). After clicking on the Channel Mixer, the following windows should come up.
Channel Mixer Red Channel before modification

Now change the Source Channels: RED (from +100 to 0) and BLUE (from 0 to +100) and make sure that Output Channel is RED. You will see the modified value on the image below.
Channel Mixer Red Channel after modification

After you are done with the RED Output Channel, change the Output Channel to BLUE.
Channel Mixer Blue Channel before modification

Change the Source Channels: BLUE (from +100 to 0) and RED (from 0 to +100) and make sure that Output Channel is BLUE. You will see the modified value on the image below.
Channel Mixer Blue Channel after modification

We are almost there. This step depends on your taste of IR, you can adjust it to your liking. The standard of IR for False color is that the sky should appear bluish. You have to adjust the HUE, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation. Initially the HUE was 0, but I changed it to +30.
HUE Modification

After modification, this is the last result. As you can see, there is a slight blue tint on the sky. However, this is not a good example of false color IR because the sky is too dark.
IR false color

This is an example of a good false color IR
False Color IR image

I hope this tutorial helps you taking great IR pictures. Have fun and enjoy IR photography!