Pat Patterson Hauck


Fine Art Infrared Photography





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Infrared Photography - A Technical Overview

The film or image sensor used in infrared (IR) photography is sensitive to the near-infrared part of the spectrum (700-900 nm) which is invisible to the human eye. An IR filter is used in conjunction with the film or sensor allowing light to pass through the camera while blocking most of the visible light spectrum. This results in extraordinary “in-camera effects” such as false-color or black and white images with a dreamlike, surreal glow.

The surreal “wood effect” as it is called, is mainly caused by foliage strongly reflecting in the same way visible light is reflected from snow. Chlorophyll fluorescence plays a small role in this imagery, but it is mostly the strong reflectance that brings forth the lurid appearance. In addition to the wood effect, IR wavelengths penetrate a few millimeters into the skin resulting in a ethereal milky tone. Note near-infrared’s high reflectance also creates a visual heat – glowing white hot – but it is not technically recording heat sensitivities like far-infrared technologies.

In contrast to its bright reflectance, IR photography cuts through atmospheric haze and ambient light, yielding dark skies, water (reflecting the sky) and shadows. In fact, with the correct exposure, IR enables you to shoot dramatic “night scenes” in broad daylight.

IR film can be used in any manual-capable camera. Results can be difficult to predict thus bracketing and testing is essential to success. The film needs to be kept cool or frozen and MUST be loaded and unloaded in complete darkness. The black and white processing times are long, yielding grainy film which adds to the surreal effect. Kodak has virtually ceased production of IR films, however you may find the film supplied by smaller manufacturers like Hans O Mahn and Co and Fotokemika.

The CCD and CMOS chips used for imaging in digital cameras and camcorders are inherently very sensitive to near infrared, but IR blocking filters are inserted to avoid “contaminating” your color photographs. While you can shoot IR with these cameras, the dark filter needed makes it impractical with long exposure times and difficult focusing. After much experimentation with different cameras I sent a used Nikon D70 to LIFE PIXEL (www.lifepixel.com) to remove the internal IR blocking filter and replace it with a dark IR filter. Yes, this makes my camera exclusively IR—exclusively extraordinary!

Bibliography (research materials used):
Wilkipedia; Infrared Photography
Invisible Light by Andy Finney