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Infrared Photography basic knowledge for newbies (and professionals alike...)

Reviewed this time using Hoya Filter: R72 INFRARED

Level: Beginners, Enthusiasts, and Professionals

That is a story about snakes, some kinds of frogs and other animals. They all exploit some ability or natural/additional sense of retrieving some light wavelengths. So, no, this is not going to actually be one of those David Attenborough stories about real animals, but essentially on that lower part of the colour spectrum that our eyes are unable to retrieve, namely – InfraRed. For obvious laziness reasons, I am going to simply name it in this article as “IR”.

Let's kick off with some easy stuff:

I mentioned above the fact that the IR is in the LOWER part of the colour spectrum, but for some people, this may sound or read as Gibberish. Therefore, I will try to harness my Master’s degree knowledge in electromagnetic radiation, and to explain some misconceptions or unknown issues related to IR. And please allow me to describe it in a way that is not necessarily using a full academic language. My aim is not to make you sleep. (to mention, all photos here were taken through the Hoya R72 Infrared filter, and post-processed to gain the colours).

IR is a type of radiation. Regular light is also a type of radiation. Believe it or not, even your radio (if you guys and ladies still have such a device/receiver at home) uses a different type of radiation. The connection to all of the above is that all of them are radiations which can be emitted or received, or even seen by different sort of tools/devices. By and large, ALL of the above radiations are part of a complex that is called ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM (do you remember? Laziness, etc.? So let’s call it from now on as “ES”).

Infrared photography yields a whole different result than the regular visible light. Shine on with your own interpretation of colours

Now we understand that the ES contains different types of radiation, and those types are so-called "organized" in layers, one over the others and one close to another. Each layer of the ES has different frequencies at which they are emitted. The vast majority of the ES layer (or the ES radiation) can actually NOT be seen at all. And to make it even simpler, most of the radiation cannot be felt by our senses. But the radiation is indeed all around us. Mixed levels of radiation are emitted at us at different times of the day, the year, and it is even important to say that differences in the altitude (height above ground level) are important in order to apprehend what radiation is strong and what is weaker.

Why is it important to know about the ES?

Well, I admit that for the laypeople-photographers this may not even mean a thing. But for those who are going to shoot some special photos that require unseen light wavelengths – this is truly important. Understanding what IR is, will ease your way to build the composition and allow you to get plan the shooting day and hours, and, in return, yield better shots.

So, at about the “middle” layers of the ES, we have:

  • the visible light (meaning, anything that we can see through our own eyes and any colour that is part of that light)

  • the IR radiation

  • the Microwave radiation (yes, the same radiation that is emitted by your home’s microwave oven)

Since the IR is located in between the visible light and the microwave radiation, it might cross our minds that there is a sort of connection between the light and heat. This assumption is indeed correct. The IR is seen on the objects (through capable devices or tools) much better where there are hotter objects or surfaces.

This is why I do my IR photography during the hottest hours of the day, which are usually the midday hours. If, one day, you decide to skip your lunch and get out under the sun, do not forget to shoot IR. Otherwise, I am not sure why to suffer being underneath the heat of that hot fire star...

IR photography

Photography means, generally speaking, “writing the light”. Most of us shoot with cameras that do not have the capability to “see” (to receive in their sensors) that IR radiation. One option that is available for us is to convert your camera sensor to an IR capable sensor. Here, you sacrifice your camera and send it to a special company that actually touches and alters the heart of the camera body - the sensor - and adjusting it (I will not get into their technical details here) to IR camera.

This is obviously not going to cost just a little bit, so prepare to pay some good money off your pocket, sometimes, in certain cameras, even a few hundreds of dollars for that "pleasure". Another issue is that the camera that you sacrifice for the process will not be going to be able to “see” regular, visible light anymore. Only IR photography.

If you already know how the photography niche goes and are serious about IR photography and conversion of camera sensors, then you can actually purchase another camera and convert it to an IR capable one, while you still keep another camera for the “regular” visible light shooting. So conversion is an option provided you really do not mind to spend hundreds of dollars on the conversion service and the purchase of a new camera body for that matter.

However, there is another way to do IR photography. No, you do not have to convert your camera in this case. You simply need to buy the right filter. Now, filters are sometimes a pain in that area of your body where you sit on, especially when those filters are large enough. The larger the filter is – the more expensive it may be. How expensive? Well, that depends on the quality you look after. But this will not reach the hefty prices of converting a dedicated camera body only for IR photography. Simple as that!

Just remember, since we talk about photography, and as a type of art, you will absolutely want to shoot with trusted products that do their job in the best and cleanest quality. Here we speak about Optical glasses versus plastics. I would not touch the latter. Period! Yes, in the beginning, these plastic ones are clean and nice, but over time (and it is more likely to be faster than you thought,) the quality of the plastic deteriorates and, accordingly, so the quality of the photographs you take through those filters.

Optical glass is obviously the real deal here. Like the optical glass that we all have in our camera lenses, some are cleaner, some are toucher, some are better, while the others are just not as good. Mentioning good, the Hoya IR filter is one of them. For those who do not know Hoya, then their glass is of the most refined you probably ever find. They supply their splendid optical glass not only for professional camera lens filters but also for eyeglasses. And they really shine in what they do!

Hoya IR filter

I use a 72mm Hoya filter on my Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 lens (you can read my review on that lens here). I have to admit that on my trusty Nikon D810, for some reason (and perhaps it is something that is related to the specific D810 piece that I have), the combination of the lens and that specific filter do no work very well. The hot-spot is way too large and despite the ability to retouch and get rid of the hot-spots, I prefer to do my IR shooting through D500 or D7200 bodies.

The shoot of the IR on those bodies is impeccable, even enjoyable. The Hoya filter is quite dark, which means that the exposure level goes down in a few stops, and hence adjusting the exposure settings in your camera is required. Every camera body, let alone every lens has different capabilities and hence I cannot genuinely touch on that part in this article. Playing with your camera-body + lens + Hoya IR filter for a few minutes will give you the best indication regarding the easy exposure settings changes. Not something to die from…

Would I recommend the filter to novice photographers?

Why not?! Yes, this is a lens filter we talk about here and I understand that sometimes novice photographers are a bit hesitant. But overall, I reckon that this filter is not a huge amount of money one pays for, and experiencing such a unique filter can be a great way to spice up your way up in photography. Indeed, this will require you to use some good knowledge in photo editing software, but when you make your masterpiece landscape photo out of this filter, you will really be proud of yourself!

Back in time, when I had been a novice artist and photographer, I remember that I always wanted to try on some new stuff. I challenged myself and bought, for example, that special lens, or this special gadget, or those lights, etc., and always played with my purchases until I mastered them!

Would I recommend this filter to enthusiast and professional photographers?

ABSOLUTELY! If you have been in the business for quite a while, I do not see any reason why you would not do IR photography. Either as a hobby or as a real artwork that you sell to your client, in my perspective as a photo-artist I reckon that Hoya IR R72 filter is brilliant for both black-and-white manipulations and for dreamy coloured artworks. I cannot express my recommendation well enough. The filter yields amazing slow shutter shots. I use some tricks in getting the right exposure and the results are absolute to my clients’ liking!

Lush green leaves on a hot sunny day will be seen as if you are in the middle of the winter at the Alps, waiting for Santa to give you your Xmas gift


Unless you placed yourself in a niche of photography that seeks only one sort of stuff (like product photography, or an Astro shooter) – then this filter is probably the most wonderful addition to your backpack!

© All rights for the photos (whether with or without my logo) and the content are reserved to Collins Ryàn – L’artiste, Auckland, New Zealand 2019. Any use of the material, either in full length or in parts, require a written and signed confirmation from Collin Ryàn – L’artiste.

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