Infrared Landscape Photography

Infrared Landscape Photography

This photograph is of the Porthill Bridge over the River Severn in Shrewsbury. Infrared Landscape Photography is something I’m new to. I had an old Canon 550D lying around unused in the studio and a little bit of spare cash so I decided to take the plunge and have the camera converted for Infrared. This is the research I carried out before I sent the camera off.

What is Infrared Photography?

Infrared light is normally filtered out by modern cameras. It is not visible to the naked eye and so it is deemed of little use to the camera’s processor. If you want to take a photograph in the infrared spectrum you have to filter out all the other light so that only the infrared gets through. In the spectrum, Infrared light starts at a wavelength around 700nm and goes up to 1mm.

How Infrared Photography is Done

Infrared Photography can be done in two ways, by using a filter or by converting the camera to infrared by removing the existing filter and replacing them with an infrared filter. The advantage of using a detachable filter is that you can use the camera for ordinary photography as well. Converting the camera is a one-way trip. The disadvantage of using a detachable filter is that because the light is passing through both the detachable filter and the internal filters built into the camera, you need a substantially longer exposure. With a converted camera, you can use it as normal.

Most people agree that the best detachable filter is the Hoya R72 Infrared Filter. It blocks visible light up to 720nm and costs around £130 at this time.

Converting the camera to infrared is a specialist job. I sent my camera off to Protech Photographic to be converted with a 720nm filter. They did a fantastic job, and guarantee their work for 12 months. They also set a custom white balance for the camera before it leaves the workshop. This is necessary as with infrared photography you want green foliage to show up as white. You can do this yourself and many people feel that you should set the white balance on the day as lighting conditions change but you can also change it in post-processing which for my money is a better option.

Post-Processing Infrared Photographs

Straight out of the camera, an infrared photograph looks very… well, red.

Infrared Photograph Untreated

In Adobe Lightroom, you can’t get rid of the red cast as there isn’t enough bandwidth on the colour temperature slider. To get around this you need to create a custom colour profile. This can be done with the Adobe DNG Profile Editor (which hasn’t been updated since 2012, so be aware) by exporting your raw file to DNG from lightroom and then opening it in the Profile Editor. In the colour matrices tab take the white balance all the way down to -100 and export the profile as something like IR Profile. This should go automatically to the place in the file system that Adobe Lightroom looks for profiles.

Restart Adobe Lightroom.

Import your infrared photograph and open the profile browser (just above the colour temperature slider) scroll down to Profiles and you should see your newly created profile. Apply that profile.

Your picture will now look like this

Infrared Photograph Custom Profile

You can see in the Lightroom controls that you now have ample room to play around with the white balance. However, you won’t be able to get blue skies without another piece of trickery, this time in Photoshop.

First, make sure your picture is showing all the darks and all the highlights – nudge up the white slider until it peaks, then back off a touch. Same with the Blacks. Then choose “Edit in Photoshop” and in the next pane “With Lightroom Adjustments”.

Here you go to the Channel Mixer and reverse the red for blue. In the red panel change red to 0 and blue to 100. In the blue panel change blue to 0 and red to 100.


Your photo should now look like this

Infrared Photograph Channel Swap

I cropped the image a little at this stage, and for the final picture, removed the top of the plant in the foreground. Other than that not very much processing at all.

When to do Infrared Landscape Photography

Here’s the thing – clouds do a great job of filtering infrared light, so you need some clear blue sky for that light to get down to earth. To get the best out of infrared photography, the best light is mid-summer, midday. The golden hour will work, the blue hour won’t.

Clouds, Trees and Water make excellent subjects, as in the image here. The reason is that green foliage shows up as white in infrared – to make a pleasing image, you should try to mix it up so that the image looks natural, but off-kilter. So making the skies blue gives an edge of realism to an otherwise surreal scene.

I’ve added another post with more detail on Infrared Photography Processing.

Check out my project: Shrewsbury in Infrared – pictures of Shrewsbury taken in the twelve-month period after the first Covid-19 Lockdown.

I’m going to have a lot of fun with this technique – hopefully you will too!


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