Photo Notes: Digital Infrared Photography

B&W Infrared picture taken on a sunny day.

I’ve mentioned this here and there in my check-ins and progress reports, but I thought I’d go into a bit more depth about this because I absolutely love it. In fact, it’s what got me off my ass to actively pursue photography again after a long hiatus.

So here’s the story. I learned b&w infrared while in college. And fell in love with it. If you’re not familiar with it, b&w infrared film gives photos a neat glow. Anything green turns white, and the sky, even if it’s broad daylight and blue, looks like night time. It is beautiful. And there are special procedures with infrared film, so it’s a bit tricky to use but SO worth it.

I’ve only tried it a second time since college and got mediocre results. The film is so expensive, so I kinda put that on hold until very recently. And then I discovered digital infrared. ZOMG. I couldn’t even believe it. But it exists!

Photo from the same shoot, taken on a sunny day. See how everything glows?
Photo from the same shoot, taken on a sunny day. See how everything glows?

A bit of an explanation: normally with a DSLR (digital SLR camera, the fancy kind) there’s a filter that blocks the infrared spectrum. But there are people out there who can remove that filter so the infrared spectrum isn’t blocked anymore, and you get an effect similar to b&w infrared. (You can also use a special filter on a regular DSLR but I wanted to go all in with this.) So I was able to find a converted-to-infrared DSLR for pretty cheap. In fact, it’s the predecessor to the insanely expensive one I bought in 2006.

Now my original DSLR has the option to shoot in b&w but the new one does not, so I’m getting color infrared which is pretty neat on its own. But I’ve decided to do it right and ditch the color in Photoshop. I am in love with the b&w infrared effect. But hey, color’s cool, too.

I’m a huge fan of experimental stuff with photography. In some ways, I’m more into that than anything. I am getting ready to re-open my darkroom. I need to shoot a test roll of b&w film because I have no idea if my chemicals are any good, and I don’t want to waste them or the money to buy new if they still work (and according to my research, some of them should still work). So that’s the plan.

Digital infrared picture from a recent camping trip. This is in color; has not been converted to b&w yet.
Digital infrared picture from a recent camping trip. This is in color; has not been converted to b&w yet.

I also purchased a camera body for my old automatic 35mm camera because my original one is borked. I happened to find a cheap one on eBay (really, really cheap!). The weird part is that it’s actually in better shape than my original one, and I took good care of it! Wild!

So that’s what this digital infrared thing is all about. I hope to share more soon!

The road in front of our campsite. Raw image, no post-processing has been done.
The road in front of our campsite. Raw image, no post-processing has been done.

5 thoughts on “Photo Notes: Digital Infrared Photography

  1. Erin, this is truly fascinating stuff! I’ve always been intrigued by the mystery of darkrooms. The closest I’ve come was in my early 20s. when I worked for a vet and helped to take and develop X-ray images.

    I’m so glad you shared this, and gave us all a window into another of your passions. I’m sharing it forward, too!

  2. Thank you, Shan! My college sweetheart (who I got engaged to but never married) was a photographer and taught me a lot before I started studying it in college. He is the main reason why I’m the photographer I am today.

    Darkroom is awesome! The part that fascinates me is you start out with a blank sheet of photo paper and you can watch the image appear while it’s developing. It is truly amazing. And there’s something about doing it all yourself — shooting, developing the film, and printing the pictures that’s so satisfying (and yeah, I am a bit of a control freak, so there’s that).

    I’ve never developed X Rays but I imagine it’s similar to developing film.

    Thank you for sharing this! I hope to have a regular feature where I talk about photography. It is second only to writing, and it has changed my life. 🙂

  3. I started shooting film again a few months ago (after over a decade of digital), and I feel like I’ve rediscovered photography. So much fun. And knowing you can’t just shoot a zillion pictures and then review them immediately makes me much more thoughtful about composition.

    I send the film out for processing right now, but thinking about in-home developing. I haven’t been in a darkroom in over 15 years. I miss it.

  4. I miss my darkroom, too. I don’t think I’ve been in there in about…5 years? (!!). Health issues mostly. Developing your own stuff is much more satisfying IMO.

    I’m just glad film is still around. When I was in college (1997-1998ish especially), darkroom was a dying art back then. And Kodak discontinued my favorite infrared film, HIE, and my favorite paper, Lustre. I hope they don’t discontinue TMAX b&w film!

    So cool that you’re shooting film and rediscovering the joy. It really is the best. 🙂

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