As I suggested in my last post, this one is meant to help you get started in infrared photography. All you need is a smartphone, a low-cost infrared filter, and a basic photo processing application. This post will focus on creating black and white infrared images. I will cover techniques for creating color infrared photos using a DSLR or mirrorless camera to achieve the type of results below in future posts.
Testing Your Smartphone’s Infrared Capability
Most smartphones have very weak infrared blocking filters — designed to keep infrared light from reaching your camera’s sensor. You can test your smartphone’s ability to recognize infrared light by pointing it at your television remote and pressing any of the buttons. If it can detect infrared light, you will see something like the image below.
I also tested my smartphone using an infrared flashlight. This is what I saw with my eyes.
This is what my smartphone recorded.
While these results were not as impressive as those using my infrared-converted Nikon D750 camera from Kolari Vision, they did suggest my smartphone could take infrared photos at a reasonable shutter speed.
Selecting An Infrared Filter
Assuming your smartphone passed the test above, you need to purchase an infrared filter. I would recommend the 720nm, because it will:
- Depict vegetation as white or near-white (once converted into black and white)
- Make black and white conversion easy
- Allow you to capture infrared light at shutter speeds fast enough to ensure sharp photos
Other filters, such as the 550nm, offer more creative color options, but involve more post-processing complexity. The 850nm filter captures pure infrared light, but requires longer exposure times. This makes it infeasible for all but the best lighting conditions.
You can find plenty of infrared filters on Amazon. While I wouldn’t recommend the Green.L 720nm for serious infrared work, it is not a bad choice when paired with a smartphone. One step up is the Hoya R72, perhaps the most popular infrared filter on the market. I used a Kolari Vision 720nm filter for the photos in this article. Buy the smallest filter available, as most manufacturers price them by size.
I suggest experimenting on a bright, sunny day, preferably one with some puffy white clouds that will add bit of character to your photos. There is much more infrared light available on a sunny day, and you will be able to take photos at higher shutter speeds.
If your smartphone has the option to record RAW files, select this option. JPG images represent a compressed image from your camera’s sensor which has been processed using some pre-canned settings or those you selected. RAW files are 4-5X larger than their JPG counterparts, and contain all the data captured by your camera’s sensor without any processing.
Using the RAW file allows you to create better results for infrared processing (or any other editing) because the editing programs have more data to work with. That said, it’s not a requirement. I had to use JPG files for this post, after realizing I had forgotten to turn the RAW mode feature on while setting up my new Samsung S20 FE.
On Android smartphones, your camera settings (gear symbol) will look something like those below:
Put Your Smartphone In Manual Mode
Use your camera’s Manual Mode option — meaning you can choose the shutter speed, ISO, White Balance, etc. — if it is available. A major reason to use Manual Mode is that your camera sensor is designed to judge the exposure of visible light. When all or the majority of light striking the sensor is from the infrared spectrum, it may get confused and not know how to determine the correct exposure. Manual Mode puts you in control of the exposure, minimizing the chance of your camera under/overexposing the image.
Press the camera button and hold the filter over your smartphone lens. It takes a bit of practice to get used to holding the filter over your smartphone’s camera and adjusting these settings. I suggest practicing while standing on your lawn vs. a hard surface, just in case you drop your filter.
The most important setting is the shutter speed. To ensure your images are sharp, try not to go below 1/30th of a second. Of course, this will depend on the lighting conditions. Once you have selected the shutter speed, adjust the ISO until the image looks like the one above.
The sun had disappeared behind some clouds, so I had to choose a lower shutter speed. Because of my smartphone’s vibration reduction capability and the lack of wind, however, I was confident I could take a reasonably sharp image.
What if your camera doesn’t offer a Manual Mode option? As long as you are taking photos on a sunny day, your shutter speed may still be fast enough to take sharp images.
In Camera Processing
After taking the photo, I reduced the saturation to zero, and adjusted the exposure, and contrast controls to find a combination that produced a suitable image. The resulting image was not on par with the images taken from my professional infrared-converted Nikon D750, but it wasn’t too far off. In the examples below, you can see how I improved upon the in-camera processing by using Photoshop.
I did notice a hotspot on the image — an area in the center that appears brighter than the rest of the photo. Hotspots are produced by the way the infrared light interacts with the lens’ housing. For color infrared images, hotspots can be challenging to fix.
If you convert your images to black and white, hotspots are much easier to resolve. You can fix them using most image editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. In this case, I slightly decreased the exposure of the center portion of the image. Alternately, I could have increased the exposure surrounding the hotspot.
A Few More Examples
I processed the images below using Adobe Photoshop CC. I fixed the hotspots, adjusted exposure values, reduced the noise, and sharpened the photos.
Infrared photography, using DSLRs and mirrorless technology, can be expensive and somewhat complicated due to the nature of the post-processing routines. The good news is that you can get started using nothing but your smartphone, a low-cost infrared filter, a basic photo editing application, and some experimentation.
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