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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