IRritating but worth it?

Why Infrared (IR) photography?

Well what can you really say about this discipline? It’s not easy, it has mixed results, very few people understand it or will even like the final results but if you get it right it can make for some truly etherial and other worldly images.

If you want to take IR pictures, you can do this one of two ways. The 1st is by butchering an old camera body and the second by screwing an almost pitch-black (red) filter to the front of your lens and then adjusting your focus using only guess work and anger (more on this later). If this sounds fun to you, then you, like me, are at least interested enough to try and take some of these types of photos. Standing out in the midday sun (mad dogs and English men).

Taken In Wimbledon Commen down by Queensmere Pond →

Just to say, this isn’t intended to be a full run though of IR photography. If you are looking for this, click HERE for a fully comprehensive run though of the capture process and HERE  for an equally as detailed explanation of the post production process. Chris Swarbick has spent a lot of time putting it together and for me to attempt to do the same would be at best incomplete and worst plagiarism.

So why would you even bother? 

Here are some IR feeds with some better images than I can produce.




Or just a google search

If like me you’re just as keen to reproduce some of the results you have seen above, then you’ll jump fully in, taking literally no time at looking into which filters and lenses are any good.…


You’re still reading this so I’m guessing you’re at least interested in getting it right the first time.

I recently asked my wonderful girlfriend what she thought of this picture, she was like, “Err, it’s weird with that blue bit, not sure I like it myself”              → 


I kind of thought it was one of my better pictures, but what do I know, right? And that there is the problem with IR photography. Some just don’t like it, others think they looking at something strange and but some people may in fact like it.

My Process

So, to start, you will need a camera body to butcher and irreparably change so it will only take IR photos. Then you will need a lens and have it calibrated to account for the new camera setup (assuming you’re changing an old SLR or an interchangeable lens camera). You can do this yourself by the way but, if like me, this video (by Evan @ Creative Tuts) scares the shit out of you, you’ll want to spend the money to send it off to be done professionally but it can be quite expensive and quite irreversible.

So, you’re saying you want to do it on the cheap like me and you’d prefer not to destroy a camera?
Well, you can, but not too cheaply sadly, as you will need to get a few things before you can start.
To help you decide, I have listed the gear I use for IR pictures.


Canon 5d mark iii

Canon Remote Control RC-06

Manfrotto 190 Carbon Fibre 4 Section Tripod

Manfrotto XPRO Magnesium Ball Head with Top Lock plate

Set 18pcs Step Up + Step Down Ring Filter Stepping

Black out eyepiece or some way of covering it (cloth)

Canon EF 40 mm f/2.8 STM 

Hoya 77mm Infrared R72 Screw in Filter
Don’t get me wrong I already had the a lot of the items listed  above, so it wasn’t a massive expense to get the 40mm lens and the Hoya filter.



I did originally buy the ZOMEI 77mm thread IR720 720nm because it was only £15, and not the Hoya 77mm Infrared R72 because it was £80. Using my most beloved Sigma 35mm, when on a trip to Helsinki I took the following picture, and was completely unprepared for the results.

As you can see it turned out crap to be honest…. I decided to return the filter as I was sure I should have bought the Hoya and shelled out the extra money.  I received the Hoya replacement, and although the quality of the image was better the same thing was still happening which I wasn’t really pleased about.

Note the bright spot in the middle.
I was under some misconception they would be great, and therein lies the issue. I hadn’t done my research. I hadn’t known about the issue of hotspots and whats a hotspot not? Well it’s not good and you don’t want it.
After some actual research I discovered from Chris’s page (linked above) that you can’t use some lenses with these filters. This LINK is a good site to explain what hotspots are and how they can completely screw up your pictures.
So assuming you have now read the article and you have bought a compatible IR lens from the list and you have your IR filter ready to go you can begin.
I opted for the 40mm pancake lens which was the cheapest, widest lens I could find on the list.
As all of my screw in filters have a diameter of 77mm and the 40mm lens has a 56mm diameter screw thread, I would have to use the step up ring converter to be able to use this size filter on my lens (if you don’t know about them click HERE to save yourself a lot of money).

Focusing issues

Your first IR pictures will be a challenge but what will annoy you more is trying to nail the focus. You will notice setting your lens to manual focus and then screwing in the filter doesn’t mean your shot will still in focus.
Anyone who’s used to using ND filters will assume it’s the same process, sadly not. It took a few shots to realise that adding these filters to the front of the lens puts the focus out considerably. Knowing this will save you a fair bit of frustration in the long run.

When taking these pictures and using these filters, you will need a bright day, normally you only shoot IR pictures on sunny days.

The filter is dark enough to act like an 8 stop ND filter. The only way I found to do this correctly was to turn on live view with the IR filter attached to the front of the lens. So you see the brighter the day the better: more light can enter the lens allowing you to see more which will help with focusing.

So, if you’re still interested in doing IR photography I wish you good luck. I don’t pretend to have become competent at taking these types of pictures in any way. I need a lot of practice and still don’t think I’ve completely understood the post production side of it but I’m still having fun with the process of learning.

Honestly check out Chris’ article before you buy anything.


Share this: