Congratulations on your IR camera conversion and welcome to the wonderful world of infrared photography!
We wrote this guide to help you become familiar with the main differences of shooting infrared light with a modified digital camera. At first glance it may look a bit overwhelming but rest assured the concepts and differences are quite easy to understand and will soon become second nature to you.
Please take your time to read this guide, watch the suggested videos on our website and apply the recommended techniques.
Since IR light is captured predominantly in the red channel your images will be mostly red no matter which standard white balance setting you use. For properly white balanced images you need to set your camera to preset (custom) white balance. Then you will need to save a custom white balance measurement either by taking a picture in the measurement mode or choose a specific photo on your memory card to use as the white balance measurement. Some cameras allow either method while others only use one, you will need to refer to your camera manual for camera specific instructions.
White balance targets
We recommend using the following objects as your WB targets based on your IR filter:
Deep BW IR filter*: Green (alive) grass or foliage
Standard IR filter: Green (alive) grass or foliage
Enhanced IR filter: Grey/white card
Super Color IR filter: Grey/white card
Super Blue IR filter: Grey/white card
Make sure your WB target is illuminated with the same light as your subject (e.g., if shooting in direct sun then make sure your WB target is also in direct sun). For most accurate white balance we recommend you set a new WB reading each time your lighting situation changes (e.g., moving from direct sun to shade).
*If you camera has a built in BW mode you can bypass the need for setting & resetting WB with the Deep BW IR filter by shooting in monochrome mode.
Camera White Balance Issues
Some converted IR cameras are unable to properly set an in camera custom white balance. If your model is one of these then you will need to shoot in RAW and then use your camera manufacturer’s own RAW conversion software such as Canon DPP or Nikon NX2 to properly white balance your images. You can watch the video tutorial “Infrared RAW file white balance issues & solutions” on our website at: www.lifepixel.com/tutorials/infrared-photoshop-videos
RAW File White Balance Issues
Lightroom and Photoshop cannot properly interpret IR custom white balance and simply do not have enough adjustment latitude to neutralize IR images. This is why we say above that you will need to use Canon DPP (Digital Photo Professional) or Nikon Capture NX2 in place of LR or PS for IR RAW developing. Watch the video mentioned above for a more detailed explanation and instructions.
First, digital cameras have an internal light meter sensor that is designed to only “see” visible light. Second, there is also a difference in amount of available IR light compared to visible light depending on the light source or time of day/year in case of the sun. Third, each IR filter only passes a certain range of light frequencies and therefore a different quantity of total light.
For these reasons you may need to dial in some exposure compensation, whether positive or negative and how much would depend on the above factors. Using your image preview screen may help you determine the proper exposure compensation, provided your camera preview screen is brightness calibrated to match your monitor. For instructions on how to adjust the brightness of your camera’s preview monitor please refer to your camera user’s manual.
Focusing IR Light
IR light is longer in wavelength than visible light and focuses differently. Regular photographic lenses are made for visible light photography without any regard to what happens when photographing “out of band” light like IR. Therefore each lens design and focal length, even each focal length within a zoom lens will focus IR light differently. To complicate things further, DSLR AF sensors (and our eyes as well) only “see” visible light and focus only on visible light. For these reasons we calibrate converted digital cameras to help attain proper focus. For a detailed explanation please watch the video bellow:
IR Front Focus/Back Focus
Without proper IR focus calibration you may experience front or back focus due to IR focus shift explained above. Here’s an illustration:
Even with calibration, there are some options and limitations as described below:
To standardize our process we calibrate digital cameras for proper IR focus to these lenses only:
Canon DSLRs – Canon 50mm 1.8 lens
Nikon DSLRs – Nikkor 18-70DX lens
With the custom lens calibration option we would calibrate your camera to the lens you supply. If a zoom is sent then unless specified otherwise the calibration will be optimized for the wide end of the zoom range. (Remember, IR light focuses differently at each focal length, even in a zoom lens.) This means that even after calibration of your camera to your zoom lens the telephoto end could still have a focus shift. There are some exceptions though, the Nikkor AF-S 18-70DX and AF-S VR 18-200DX lenses as well as the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens focus consistently through the entire zoom range.
Using any other lens than what we calibrated your camera to will most likely result in a certain amount of front/back focus shift or even infinity shift (inability to focus at infinity). How much shift and in which direction will depend on the lens we calibrated to and which lens you are attempting to use instead of the calibration lens.
With the advent of the Live View feature and recently, Live View Auto Focus, we can calibrate IR cameras to focus with most lenses. This is possible because in Live View mode the mirror is raised, shutter is open and your camera actually shows you a live view of what your imaging sensor “sees” when taking a photograph. In the case of IR conversion, the imaging sensor “sees” infrared light.
With this calibration despite the camera being IR converted, we calibrate the focus back to the visible range. This does sound strange and actually quite difficult to perform (how can you calibrate on visible light when the camera can only “see” infrared light?), but we have devised a method for doing just that.
We believe this is the best and most versatile method when shooting IR with modified DSLRs that have the Live View feature. Even if you have strong feelings against Live View we highly recommend using this method for IR photography.
Universal calibration can be used in these three ways:
Live View With Auto Focus (best method)
Since in live view the imaging sensor “sees” the IR image through the lens it can also auto focus it, provided your camera has the ability to auto focus in live view mode. Some cameras have more than one AF mode in Live View, be sure your camera set to use the direct (also called Live) focus mode (slower but accurate in IR) instead of the predictive (also called “Quick”) mode (faster but inaccurate in IR).
Live View With Manual Focus (for cameras that don’t have AF in Live View)
Since you see the actual IR view your imaging sensor “sees” you can manually focus IR light in Live View mode and end up with accurately focused IR images. Some cameras allow you to zoom in on an area of the live view to allow you to see greater detail and help you focus more accurately.
Lens IR Focus Marks (for cameras without Live View)
This would be the method of last resort as using Live View is faster and more accurate but for cameras that simply don’t have the Live View feature one can use the IR focus marks on lenses. Basically you’d first focus manually or with AF on your subject through the viewfinder (like you’d do with an unmodified camera). Then shift the focus collar to line up with the IR mark and shoot. Keep in mind though that lens IR focus marks are approximate.
Full Spectrum Conversion Calibration
For full spectrum conversions we calibrate the camera to focus accurately on visible light and this is our only option for this service. This is basically the same as our Universal calibration for IR conversions but is easier to perform since the camera can “see” visible light and so we include it as part of the service.
When shooting visible light with an external hot mirror filter there is no need for any special focus considerations as the camera behaves as a stock model.
When shooting IR with your full spectrum camera you can follow the Universal calibration focus instructions outlined above.
When shooting UV light the focus may or may not be off depending on the lens you use. If you use the Coastal Optics 60mm UV-Vis-IR lens then it will have the same focus in UV as well as visible and IR light.
Point & Shoot Calibration
Since point & shoot cameras come with a lens built into the camera we calibrate the camera to focus accurately with this lens only (obviously).
For full spectrum conversions with point & shoot cameras we follow our DSLR full spectrum calibration and calibrate to visible light as well. Shooting IR or UV may require to manually focus with models that allow this or simply stop down to allow focus to fall within the depth of field.
Hybrid Camera Calibration
Because of their unique design these cameras stand apart in their ease of use both as IR only and as full spectrum converted cameras. Since they are mirrorless they rely completely on the imaging sensor for all aspects of the image capture process, including focus and metering. Because of this they are able to “see” the IR focus shift real time and adjust for this on the fly while focusing. This allows you the freedom to use pretty much any micro four thirds lenses and still achieve sharp images.
All mirroless cameras like the Panasonic Lumix G series and Olympus PEN E-P series are calibrated specifically to take advantage of this unique capability.
Normal lenses are made for normal (visible light) photography and have anti-reflection coatings that work only in visible light. Therefore you will need to be a bit more careful when shooting to avoid lens flare in infrared images as lenses will be more susceptible to flare in IR.
Lens Hot spots
Some lenses have a coating on the inside of the lens barrel that is reflective (white) in infrared light and tends to create a center hot spot. This usually looks like a circle (sometimes in the shape of aperture leaves) exactly in the center of your image that is visibly lighter (sometimes with a color shift) than the rest of the image.
There are other reasons why a hot spot might be present as well, such as interaction between the lens elements or coatings within a lens or even between the lens and the sensor.
If you find that one of your lenses has this issue it would be best to use another lens as repairing each photograph is just too time consuming.
Some cameras incorporate image stabilization (IS) within the camera body instead of each lens. This feature will continue to function normally after conversion.
As a general rule the dust reduction feature will no longer be functional after conversion. This is because the ultrasonic piezoelectric element that vibrates dust off the sensor is built into the filter that also blocks IR light. As part of the conversion process we remove the IR blocking filter and since the dust reduction element is built onto this filter, it is removed as well. For a detailed explanation please watch the video “Why the dust reduction feature is disabled after conversion” on our website at: www.lifepixel.com/tutorials/infrared-photoshop-videos
Some cameras don’t use an ultrasonic piezoelectric element for dust reduction and instead use the in-camera image stabilization mechanism. In this case the dust reduction will still function.
Camera Error Messages
As stated above in most cameras the dust reduction feature will be inoperable. Some cameras (usually Canon) can detect that the dust reduction feature is “malfunctioning” and display an error message. To prevent this message from being displayed you will need to disable this feature in your camera settings. Keep in mind that if you reset your camera this feature will need to be disabled again as it is active by default. The video “Why the dust reduction feature is disabled after conversion” referenced above covers this as well.
Cleaning Your Sensor
Your imaging sensor will be susceptible to dust accumulation just like a stock camera and you may need to clean it periodically. You can do this with the usual accepted sensor cleaning techniques without harm. For a list of approved methods please refer to your camera user’s manual.
If you are not comfortable doing this yourself you may send it to us as we do provide this service for a reasonable fee. Please visit our online store for details and pricing information at shop.lifepixel.com
Basic Photoshop Adjustments
For basic techniques on working with IR images in Photoshop like flipping channels to create a blue sky, BW conversion, simulating film IR look, etc please watch the videos “Filter selection guide” and “Infrared film glow” on our website at: www.lifepixel.com/tutorials/infrared-photoshop-videos
In Depth Study
If you would like to dive deeper and learn more about IR or UV photography be sure to visit our website as we have a wealth of information there and keep adding more all the time. One recent addition is our IR primer at over 50 pages long is quite informative and detailed.
If after reading this guide and watching the videos on our website you still have unanswered questions please feel free to email or call us and we would be happy to help.
We hope this guide has helped you get well on your way in your infrared photography adventure. We thank you very much for entrusting us with your camera conversion and kindly ask that you spread the word to your friends about us and what we have to offer.
From all of us at Life Pixel, Happy shooting and best of success!