Even after a year of shooting with my infrared cameras 99% of the time, I continue to be surprised as I explore digital infrared photography. Surprised? Yes.

As humans, we are built to see objects in visible light, and so are your cameras and lenses. When you start down the rabbit hole of IR, you will quickly discover a couple things: not all your lenses will work as you think they should (some create dead-center fuzzy Q-Tips called hot spots), your auto-focus may not be accurate, your exposures might need to be one, two or even three stops overexposed by your light meter reading to get a proper histogram, and visible light colors render differently than what you might expect from a color image that gets converted to a black and white.

In the beginning (for about ten minutes), I experimented using a circular IR filter on a lens only to discover that using this special filter required a very long exposure. Don’t get me wrong. I love long exposures but that particular day while the clouds were puffy and the sky was blue, the wind was also ever so slightly blowing. Once the multiple-minute exposure was over, well, the result of my experiment was one big out-of-focus blurry mess and the clouds were oblong, over-exposed blobs. I’ve spent years trying to learn how to take images that are in focus (traversing the morass of depth of field) so I sighed heavily when I peeked at the resulting capture on the back of the camera. I wasn’t sure about this whole IR experiment.

That experience led me to take my then four-year-old Nikon D800 and send it out to Life Pixel Infrared to convert the sensor to no longer shoot “color” and only shoot in infrared. I chose the 720nm conversion (there are many different types of conversions available and Life Pixel has a lot of good information on their website to help you make a decision) as this “standard” conversion is the replication of infrared film.

By using a camera that has been converted, you will return to shooting as you always have but compensating by overexposing (shutter speed adjustment) and shooting until you get a proper histogram (don’t block up the left or right edges).

I happily use my neutral density filters for long exposures of sky or water with my IR cameras but again, you cannot marry yourself to your phone apps for exposure times. As with anything else in life, once you practice enough, eventually you arrive at a closer starting point for capture. It took me several attempts at the Truro Lighthouse on Cape Cod before I got a good histogram.


Nikon D800 (720nm), Nikkor 16-35mm f4, 10-stop Singh-Ray ND filter, 30 sec exposure

You will also find surprises in the foliage when you shoot in infrared. Green leaves on trees take on a whiter tone and so does most grass. I was surprised when I shot the sea grass marshes at low tide on Cape Cod that appears to be in their autumn dormant stage (dry and brown). Unseen to my eye (in the visible light) clearly there were still “green” grasses that presented in the capture as white. Surprise!

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Nikon D800 (720nm), Nikkor 16-35mm f4

Become comfortable experimenting with your IR cameras. I offer a suggestion that applies to your visible light cameras as well: slow down. Take time to test subjects to understand how IR sees color (red, green, and blue are very surprising). The surprise of the lead image of this post was how IR rendered the American flags. Notice what happened to the red and white stripes. I should not have been surprised, but I was. The more I work with IR, the more I will automatically “see,” for example, that the color red will render white at the point of capture.

Nothing wrong with going out to shoot, forsaking the fine art shot you always manage to bring home, and just see what happens.