Exposure Tips for Shooting Infrared

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

In our recent podcast, Bary and only briefly touched on the subject of obtaining proper exposure when shooting infrared. For the reader who e-mailed asking me about it, I’ve prepared today’s post…

When learning to see infrared imaging possibilities, the first thing to do is forget everything you know about photography with visible light. That’s because when shooting infrared images everything you know about light is wrong

Exposure meters aren’t sensitive to infrared light, so it’s theoretically any difficult to determine exact exposures but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Your camera’s LCD screen may provide instant feedback but the histogram may be misleading. That’s because subjects that seem equally bright under normal (visible) light might reflect infrared radiation at different rates and exhibit different brightness.

  • Tip #1: The simplest approach is to shoot a series of bracket with three to five different exposures until you find where the best exposure may be. And that may not happen until you get the files home and look at them on your computer. Make some notes for next time. Some cameras an auto bracketing function that makes a specified series of shots at exposures over and under what is considered “normal.” Because every camera’s a little different, read your camera’s manual for specific directions.
  • Tip #2: If your camera doesn’t have bracketing function it should have an Exposure Compensation feature that lets you adjust exposures in one-half or one-third stops while shooting in automatic exposure modes. If all fails, most cameras have a Manual mode. Typically I look through the viewfinder (of an IR converted camera) in Program mode and see the suggested exposure, then transfer that shutter speed and aperture to the camera after it’s set in manual mode and then bracket on the overexposure side until I see the white foliage is clean and bright on the LCD screen
  • Tip #3: Just because you don’t have a converted IR camera doesn’t mean you can’t use all the tips covered here with cameras that are IR capable out of the box. It does mean that when using dark (you can’t see though them) filters you will probably need a tripod because of the long exposure times.
  • Tip #4: When using filters, focus first then put the filter on the camera. Usually I just hold it there with my fingers during the exposure or have somebody else, as Mary is doing here hold it, which is just another reason a tripod comes in handy.IR.book

My book, The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography is currently out-of-print but used copies are available from Amazon for under $6. Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with new copies under $6 and used copies less than five bucks. You can buy’em both for less than $12.