infrared photos with a compact camera

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Want to take infrared photos with your compact camera? Here is how. The camera used in this demonstration is a Panasonic Lumix FX01, about 3 years old.

Test if your camera is infrared sensitive

It is easy to see if your camera is sensitive to infrared. If you have a ‘live view’ screen, turn the camera on and point a TV remote control at it, pressing any of the buttons. If your camera is sensitive, you will see a red or purple glow. If you do not have live view (eg for some DSLR cameras) then repeat the process above, but take a couple of pictures of the remote control as you press the buttons. Again, you are looking for purple or red light from the business end of the remote.

Attach an infrared filter

So if your camera is sensitive, you will need to reduce the amount of normal light it senses. You can do this with an infrared filter. You can get round glass and square plastic infrared filters. All the major filter manufacturers will sell an infrared filter, or you can buy cheaper ones from eBay that are just as useful. If you do not want to buy a filter, you could also use a piece of unexposed and processed slide film (ie a ‘black’ slide) or even the plastic film from inside an old floppy disk. You can see the results from using a unexposed and processed slide film below, note that my experiments with the floppy disk film were not successful, it caused a red tinge, but it was not an infrared effect.

Attach the filter to the front of your lens. In the example, I am attaching a snapped off corner of a Cokin infrared filter using blutack. Sealing around the whole of the front lens element will help prevent light leaking in. Light leaking in will cause blotches or patches on the image. This happened in the example with the sunflowers and the slide film below. The light leaking in the edge of the slide caused the light patch in the right hand of the image.

You may need a camera support

Infrared filters block a lot of light, so the shutter speed may be too slow to hand hold. If this is the case, increase the ISO (making the camera more sensitive to light, but with reduced image quality) use a tripod or other support. Using the self timer when using a tripod will also help to prevent shake as you press the shutter.

Set the white balance on your camera

Infrared filters also cause a red or purple colour cast in photos. You can compensate for this by setting the ‘white balance’ manually. This tells the camera that the light coming in needs to be adjusted. Automatic white balance might work for candle light or incandescent light, but it will not compensate for an infrared filter. In your camera menu see if you can find the white balance setting (consult the manual or the manufacturers website if you are not sure). With the filter on the lens, go to the option to set the manual white balance. In the illustration it is at the bottom of the white balance menu. In this case you set the manual white balance by pointing the camera at a neutral item and then press the menu button to set. In infrared, grass or foliage is actually white, so you can set the manual white balance against that. If you have live view, you should immediately see the improvement in the clarity of the scene with the white balance set correctly.

Now all that you need to do is get out there and get creative! Here are some tips.

  • Infrared will be pretty much black and white (although see the note about using the slide film filter below).
  • Foliage will appear white, the sky will be black or dark. Clouds are white, so nice and dramatic.
  • Results will be better in sunlight, but do not expect temperature or heat images.
  • Lens flare (the blotches you see when you take a photo into the sun) may be more difficult to control and dust on the lens or filter is likely to appear as light blotches.

Other filters

Using unexposed slide film will give different effects. They do not block so much ‘normal’ light, so you will get a mix of visible and infrared colours. Compare the photos with the slide film filter to the traditional infrared filter above.

Using blank slide film as filter