I’ve had a fascination with infrared photography for a very long time. Using light beyond the visible spectrum to create pictures often produces unusual results—an ordinary scene can become extraordinary with infrared photography. While I’ve been interested in this type of photography for awhile, I’ve not experimented much with it. Many years ago I shot a roll of IR film, but it didn’t turn out very well; up until these experiments, that was my entire IR experience. I’m an infrared novice.
A little more than a year ago I purchased a Fujifilm X-T1 with the intentions of doing a full-spectrum conversion. Digital camera sensors are sensitive to light beyond the visible spectrum, so manufacturers put a filter over the sensor to block that extra light. There are a couple of companies that will remove the filter, but the process isn’t cheap. I’ve yet to send off my X-T1 to get a full-spectrum conversion, but I still hope to do so someday.
Even though digital cameras have a filter to block infrared light, many cameras are still IR sensitive. You can test your camera by pointing a TV remote (which works via infrared light) at it. When you press a button on the remote, if your camera is IR sensitive, you’ll see the infrared light in the LCD or electronic viewfinder. It turns out that my new Fujifilm X-E4 is indeed IR sensitive!
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on this experiment, so I purchased a Fotga IR720 filter on Amazon for $20. The number corresponds to light wavelength. Visible light falls between 400nm and 700nm. Ultraviolet light is below 400nm, and infrared light is beyond 700nm. The filter number—in this case 720—refers to the light cutoff point. In other words, the IR720 filter blocks light below 720nm, and allows light 720nm and above to pass through. Because this filter blocks visible light, it allows a heck-of-a-lot less light to reach the sensor, which means you will be using larger apertures, higher ISOs, and/or slower shutter speeds—a tripod is helpful tool.
Another consideration is the lens. Many lenses have IR hotspots, which makes them not especially great for infrared photography. Thankfully, there’s a large database that shows which lenses are good and which ones aren’t. It turns out that my Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR is a good lens for IR, so I purchased a 43mm-threaded filter for it.
One thing that I knew going into this project is that digital infrared photography often involves significant editing. Some of the classic infrared looks involve swapping color channels and making large adjustments to the color curves. My photographic philosophy has evolved into: as best you can, get it in-camera. My goal with this experiment was to get good infrared results in-camera without editing, or perhaps minimal editing at most.
What I discovered is that it’s not really possible to get good color IR photographs straight-out-of-camera because the filter puts a strong red color cast on the picture. I set the white balance to 2500K with a shift of -9 Red (and Blue set to anywhere between 0 and +7), but unfortunately that drastic white balance adjustment isn’t strong enough to combat the red. For whatever reason, I liked the Astia and Eterna Bleach Bypass film simulations better than the others. For black-and-white, Acros+R with Highlight and Shadow set to +4 looked good, although I think it’s possible to get similar results without the use of an IR filter.
These are straight-out-of-camera pictures from my Fujifilm X-E4 with a 35mm f/2 lens and IR720 filter:
The black-and-white pictures are good, but the color images aren’t anything great. I wanted to see if the color pictures could be improved by using an app like Snapseed. Maybe a quick edit could make a big improvement. If I couldn’t achieve desired results straight-out-of-camera, perhaps the next best thing would be a simple edit on my phone.
I gave the same exposure two different treatments in Snapseed. Take a look!
The two strategies that I explored in Snapseed were adjusting the White Balance and changing the Color Curves, and these two methods produced much different results. Adjusting the White Balance or messing with the Color Curves in Snapseed can have a big impact on the image; either strategy works, with varying results. Still, using these methods in Snapseed was more involved than I wanted, and delivered mediocre results. Better than straight-out-of-camera? Yes, definitely. But not as good as I would have liked.
I also tried using Capture One to post-process some RAW files, and the results weren’t all that much better than using Snapseed—yet it adds another step and takes extra time. Really, the best software for editing infrared pictures is Lightroom or Photoshop, not Capture One, because you need the ability to swap color channels. You can get alright results editing infrared pictures with Capture One, just keep expectations low. Or maybe there’s a trick that I haven’t discovered.
Overall I was disappointed with my color infrared photographs. It’s not possible to get anything other than a picture with a strong red color cast straight-out-of-camera, which is alright sometimes but certainly not all of the time. I didn’t find any good quick fixes. Maybe there’s a shortcut that I’m missing, but I think good digital infrared photography in general typically requires significant editing, and using the right post-processing program.
The black-and-white photographs look good straight-out-of-camera, but I don’t think that I achieved anything special using the IR filter (compared to what I could have done without it). I’m not sure that it’s worth the hassle of the infrared filter for black-and-white photography, although I might play around with it more; perhaps there’s a potential that I’ve yet to discover.
Not being one to quickly give up, I kept looking for a solid solution to easily achieve good-looking color infrared pictures. I had to think outside-the-box. Was the IR filter necessary? Was a good facsimile possible? I knew it wasn’t possible straight-out-of-camera, but maybe a simple filter in an app could do the trick? That’s when I discovered RNI Aero! The app is free, but requires a $10 annual subscription to unlock its usefulness. RNI also makes an infrared simulation plugin for Lightroom (that’s significantly more expensive than the app). This post isn’t sponsored by them (or anyone), but I have been enjoying this simple solution for simulating infrared photography, so I wanted to share it with you. While I would prefer to do this in-camera (Fujifilm, please make an infrared film simulation), the RNI Aero app is the simplest and quickest way to get infrared-looking pictures without fuss. I’m happy with the results—more happy than using an actual infrared filter on my X-E4.
Below are pictures edited with the RNI Aero app:
I’m not giving up on actual infrared photography. I still hope to someday do a full-spectrum conversion on my X-T1, and attach the Kolari IR Chrome filter to mimic Kodak Aerochrome straight-out-of-camera. That would be a lot of fun! Maybe I’ll discover some other method I’ve overlooked to easily get good results without the need for significant editing. In the meantime, I’ll use the app to get infrared-like results whenever I feel the need for an IR look.
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The standard method of adjusting white balance for infrared is to use the ‘custom’ setting; taking a picture of something white through the IR filter and ‘telling’ the camera “this is white”. I don’t know if your Fuji has this option though.
I tried with grey, not a white object. I will give that a try. But I don’t think custom WB goes any colder than 2500K, so I’m thinking that it won’t work. Worth trying just in case. I appreciate the suggestion!
Nice article 🙂
Fuji cameras are more sensitive to IR light than other cameras, not by much but that still counts.
I had some success with my D750 full spectrum by setting the white balance in-camera by pointing at some foliage.
But overall using a 740nm filter will require some minimal editing after anyway. This is probably the wavelength I dislike the moat but also the one I find the more useful to test lenses, filters, etc… If you like the Aerochrome look,, which is using a mix of visible and IR wavelengths, maybe you will like the Super Color (590nm) and Hyper Color filters too. The Aerochrome look can be simulated also by starting with a 590nm filter.
There are so many other usages of a full spectrum camera too:
– planet / moon photography with an IR filter (740nm or more) – to get more sharpness
– stars (using a Luminence filter to get the same light transmission as an H-alpha modified camera)
I appreciate he input and suggestions! I might try the 590 filter next. It sounds like it will be better for what I’d like to accomplish. Thank you!
Yes! But be careful: it is only suited with converted cameras because in a standard camera, the transmission graph decreases progressively from ~ 500nm to 700nm. A full spectrum camera (sensors) are usually sensitive from 400nm to 1,000nm so a 590nm filter will let the wavelengths from 590nm up to 1,000nm into the sensor, whereas put on a normal camera, it will only let some yellow/orange/reddish colors but IR light will be reduced by the default hot mirrors on the sensor.
Good point! I will likely still try and see what happens. I appreciate it!
Hello, Nice article! Here another infrared interested guy, I made a Lut for it, first for Rawtherapee and Darktable, later also a conversion for Adobe. In the Cube format I have two versions, the most extensive can be found here, free to use : https://marcrphoto.wordpress.com/2021/01/29/new-picturefx-film-simulations-now-also-for- adobe luminar
Awesome! That’s really cool. Thank you for sharing!
Great post! The fuji 15-45 XC zoom lens is also a good (cheap) option for IR photos, although I have experienced some occasional hot spots when using it, mostly at f8. The 720nm filter as you’ve already found is great for black and white infrared but not so great for colour. The 590nm (goldie) filter is great for colour but I’ve only ever used it on a converted camera. You can buy a cheap XA3 or XA5 camera on ebay that has already been converted for infrared or full spectrum cheaper than the cost of having your camera converted (at least you can in the UK). No viewfinder, but a nice little Fuji camera otherwise!
Thanks for the tip! I did read that the 15-45mm is a good option for IR, and that’s a great budget zoom, so that’s a win for IR shooters for sure. I hope to try some one or two of the lower numbered filters, and maybe I can get good results without converting the camera. I still intend to convert my X-T1 at some point, I just don’t know when. I appreciate the comment!
I shoot with a converted Fuji for infrared and you need to convert the file first to then be able to set a white balance in Lightroom or photoshop. Then you can edit and have fun. Rob Shea Photography on YouTube has tutorials on infrared and does use Fuji. He even just gave away free profiles to import into Lightroom/ photoshop so you don’t need to do that set up yourself.
That’s great information! I don’t currently have Lightroom or Photoshop, which is definitely what is needed for this type of photography, but I’m stubborn and will try to figure out good alternative methods. I appreciate the comment!
A full spectrum converted X100T fitted with a 720nm IR filter is indeed capable of creating an acceptable straight-out-of-camera image, Martian approved. With a decent white balance, I’ve been able to create warm neutral images with hints of blue, colors all very subdued. Perhaps best described as a very nice day on Mars. That’s pretty much it, SOOC.
Taking this image into Snapseed to make basic adjustments (curves, contrast, etc.) produces a more pleasing completed image, but still a nice day on Mars.
Now for the fun: Taking this SOOC jpeg image into RAW Power ($10) on an iPhone enables all kinds of creative ability, including channel mixing. A simple 100% swap of R/B will give that nice day on Mars a lovely blue sky. No need for a desktop computer.
My recipe for a LifePixel 720nm filter on a converted X100T
ISO: Auto up to 3200
Dynamic Range: 200
Film Simulation: Pro Neg. Std
White Balance: Incandescent (~3100K), -9 Red & -6 Blue
Highlight Tone: 0
Shadow Tone: -2
Noise Reduction: -2
Exposure Compensation: +2/3 to +1 1/3
For an unconverted X100V w/ 720nm filter, try a white balance of K2500 with Red -9 & Blue -7, and soften color down to -4. This will cool the image a bit more towards what you get with the converted X100T.
Example exposures: 720nm filter
X100T (converted): 1/150th, f/8, ISO400, EV +1
X100V (stock): 0.5s, f/8, ISO3200, EV +1
Here is a bench guide I’ve just finished for the full spectrum converted X100T with sample photos: https://specialeditionartproject.com/the-special-edition-art/making-of-the-arts/fuji-x100t-uvir-full-spectr.html
I love it! I want to get a camera converted. Hopefully this is the year. RAW Power is a highly underrated software. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I’m working with them on some future stuff, which hopefully you’ll get to see later this year. Thanks for the comment and for sharing your article!
Easiest white balance solutions: set white balance on healthy grass. And create a custom camera profile for Lightroom. That allows you to double the red reduction.
Thank you for the tip!