My interest in infrared photography goes back a fair few years, having shot my first roll of Kodak High Speed IR film some 20 odd years ago. My results back then were pretty much unpredictable, but today things are quite different. You can, with practice, get a very good indication of how your images are going to turn out, just by looking at the screen on the back of your camera. However, not all cameras are equal! In fact, some are down right useless!
Much has been written over the past few years regarding the suitability of digital cameras for infrared photography. One particular make and model that stands head and shoulders above all others is the Olympus C-2020, which has a Sony a 2.1 mega-pixel sensor. What a lot of photographers don’t realise is that Sony also made the same 2.1 mp sensor for other companies too.
Nikon fitted this same sensor to some of their early digital cameras; notably the Coolpix 700, 800 and 950. Sony also placed this sensor into their S50 too. As you would expect the results from these cameras are pretty much the same. The only difference you’ll find is in the price! Because the C-2020 has risen to world wide acclaim for being the most sensitive digital camera to IR light so too have their price. Expect to pay around £100 for a good working model, but remember, you have to add one the cost of your lens adapter and Infrared filter too.
The shelf life of most digital cameras is around 2-3 years, after which most people either don’t use them any more or they stick ‘em on e-bay! After a fair amount of searching this is where I found my Nikon Coolpix 700. I paid – believe it or not, just £7.20 for it! OK, It came with a busted battery catch, but a phone call to Nikon soon put that right.
The lens on the Coolpix 700 has a filter thread of 24mm, finding an IR filter that small is pretty much impossible so be prepared to improvise! Because I’ve been shooting IR for a long time I have several IR filters in a number of different sizes. The smallest of which is 58mm (750nm) filter, which for my trial shots, I fixed the filter to the camera using 2 small rubber bands! Not the most aesthetic way to approach the matter, but it worked all the same.
I have since made a custom filter holder out of a round plastic bung, the type used for plugging the ends of those round photographic tube mailers. Believe it or not, but he finished item blends seamlessly in with the Coolpix design!
All the images shown here have were taken, hand held, using a Coolpix 700 and a 750nm Infrared filter. The resulting .jpeg files have been processed in Photoshop using auto levels, a medium contrast curve adjustment, followed by some selective dodge and burning.
By using a 750nm filter, instead of the more popular 720nm (R72), almost all normal light-waves have been filtered out, rendering the image, virtually black and white. By adding a touch of grain and/or a small amount of diffused glow the resulting 10” x 8” prints are pretty much indistinguishable from the infrared prints I used to make back in the eighties.
If you like you’re infrared images with a blue sky (channel swapped) I would recommend you use the R72 filter instead as this filter isn’t strong enough to block out all normal light-waves. These jpeg files take on a brownish tinge. By swapping the red and blue channels in Photoshop you end up with a blue sky. However, depending on the amount of Infrared light around at the time you take the shot, more is better; channel swapping can leave your foliage looking slightly magenta! Personally, I like my Infrared to have that authentic moody, grainy – slightly out of focus look about it. In fact, you can process your digital infrared images in any way want, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?
Happy (IR) Snapping . . .
John is the founding member of the Infrared Photographic Society (www.irps.org.uk). The society is free to join and is open to all interested photographers the world over.