Three Reasons Why I Love Shooting with an IR Filter

Oak Island Pier, North Carolina
by Sean Setters
 
Even though I gravitate toward portraiture, I purchased a Hoya 77mm R72 Infrared Filter late last year. After several months of use, I can honestly say – I love shooting in IR.
 
Why?
 
1. Shooting in IR forces you to be much more deliberate with your image capture.
Digital photography tends to make shutter-bugs out of us all. When shooting with film, there were significant financial consequences involved with every roll of film you used. Today, the incremental cost of each shutter click is low – so low as to be negligible in the scheme of things.
 
The result? We tend to think less about each individual shot and instead rely on the multitude of framings and exposures until we find a shot that plucks that "Hey, I like that!" chord. In short, it's really easy, inexpensive and not very time consuming to shoot a lot of different images.
 
But when shooting with an infrared filter, each shot takes minutes to capture. Even in bright sunlight, I used a shutter speed of 4 1/2 minutes for the image above (f/10, ISO 100). When each click of your shutter takes almost 5 minutes to complete, you spend a lot more time thinking about the image you want before you snap away.
 
2. Bright sunlight (at nearly any time of day) becomes your friend.
As photographers, we know that the best sunlight comes during the golden hour – shortly after sunrise or just before sunset. While the old adage is true in a general sense, it bears less weight when it comes to IR filter photography. That's because in IR filter photography, bright sunlight is your friend.
 
Images taken even in midday sun tend to look very good in IR. In a sense, an IR filter expands your opportunity for capturing eye-catching images during times when a normal daytime view may be less than ideal.
 
3. Long shutter speeds allow you to create unique daytime views.
When there's an abundance of ambient light, it's pretty difficult to use extremely long shutter speeds to blur movement. Even with a 9 or 10-stop filter, you may only be able to achieve a 10-20 second exposure in bright conditions before your scene becomes over-exposed. This means that any movement in your scene may still be captured as ghostly trails. Sometimes that's exactly what you want; many times it's not.
 
The extremely long shutter speeds required mean that [generally] only static things get captured in the image. I've photographed several buildings where cars were consistently traveling in front of my camera. But the time the cars are in front of the camera was very short compared to the overall exposure, so they didn't show up in the final image. This means you can capture images void of distracting elements at times when those distracting elements are almost a certainty. And the things that do show movement blur – like clouds – only add to the image.
 
Drawbacks of shooting with an IR filter
 
Shooting with an IR filter does involve a few drawbacks, though. For one, a tripod is a must. With shutter speeds spanning minutes, your camera must stay stock still for a very long time. A remote timer (wired or wireless) is required as your shutter speed is usually more than 30 seconds.
 
You can't compose your scene through the viewfinder with the filter in place. The filter is completely black (it blocks all visible light). As such, my typical workflow is:

  1. Set up the camera mounted tripod and frame your scene.
  2. Set the camera to Bulb Mode, use manual focus and choose your exposure settings (experience helps you get it in the ballpark).
  3. Add the IR filter to the lens
  4. Use a remote timer to set the shutter speed and activate the shutter.

If shooting with a normal white balance, the image will be very red. I typically shoot in RAW and change my Picture Style to Monochrome because I prefer my IR images to be black & white. Changing the Picture Style in-camera allows me to get a good idea of what the final image will look like after post-processing.
 
To see a few of the IR images I've created, click the image at the top of this post.

Posted: 6/11/2014 8:44:21 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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