Shooting infrared landscapes

Love it or hate it, infrared photography makes it possible to see the landscape very differently, plus it’s a great way to inject some creativity into your work. Dylan Nardini shows you how to get started...

Shooting in infrared (IR) makes it possible to explore a world that cannot be seen by the human eye. Colour infrared images appear as fantasy landscapes, while monochrome IR can emphasise shapes, bringing a sense of mystery and intrigue. A Marmite medium in the photography world, it’s loved by some for the unique, surreal perspective it offers, but loathed by others, who consider it gimmicky. Either way, infrared photography opens the door to a landscape that is far different to what we see in our regular work. If ever you feel uninspired – particularly on long, bright summer days – infrared photography can give you that spark of creativity back.

Gett ing kitted out

  • There are a few kit options for shooting infrared landscapes with a DSLR, each with its own pros and cons.
  • Infrared filters on the end of a lens are by far the cheapest and most accessible way to begin shooting. They are very dark red in colour to filter out all but the infrared light, meaning long exposures are necessary, so you’ll usually need to use a tripod. Focusing can be difficult, so it’s best to set up the shot before putting the filter on the lens.
  • Converted IR cameras offer by far the most convenient way to shoot infrared landscapes, with no focus issues, and faster exposures are possible. The downside is the cost : it requires dedicating a camera to IR photography. Many companies will convert a camera; you can do it yourself, but this can be risky.
  • A less expensive and risk free option is to pick up an older, secondhand camera that’s already converted to IR – this is the option I went for, purchasing an IR-converted Nikon D80.

Camera settings

  1.   Set your white balance manually against something green such as grass or foliage, and remember to do this whenever there is a change in the prevailing light conditions. The temperature of light can change the effect , so it’s best to keep on top of it as it warms or cools.
  2.   Use Mono mode when shooting; this will simplify the landscape, allowing you to concentrate on shape, form and contrast . Seeing a glimpse of how the image may look after processing can also inform your image, as it can be hard to imagine the world of infrared through your own eyes.
  3.   The camera’s metering can be fooled by infrared light; to avoid lots of adjustments to exposure compensation, it’s best to shoot in manual mode. Once you have found the correct exposure you won’t need to change the settings much, unless there is a fairly dramatic change in the lighting conditions.
  4.   Shooting in Raw is recommended, as it offers the most flexibility post -capture. White-balance adjustments are necessary when processing IR images, and they also require some channel mixing.

Essential tips

  • Foliage appears white in IR, so try and use shapes such as trees in the landscape. Manmade structures, water or a blue sky will appear much darker, providing contrast.
  • Use walls and winding roads as lead-in lines: stone, tarmac and dirt tracks will be extremely dark, their shape emphasised by the white glow of any surrounding grasses.
  • White fluff y clouds can appear dreamlike in infrared, while high, streaky cirrus clouds can produce useful lines, adding drama to the image.
  • As with regular landscape photography, low angled sunlight can produce powerful images.
  • Long shadows or spots of light through patchy cloud are greatly enhanced in IR, especially in black & white.
  • In harsh summer light, head deep into the forest, where darkness predominates, and look up. The IR effect on backlit leaves can be breathtaking when a composition allows them to be highlighted against a dark sky.
  • Shoot in macro to capture small details of plants or highlighted areas in woodlands; refl ected IR light can enhance the fascinating forms of vegetation for some truly wonderful images.
  • Experiment with processing. There are many blogs online giving guidance and advice on IR image editing.
  • Most of all, have plenty of fun; shooting infrared landscapes is about creativity.

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