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Getting Started with Infrared Photography

Infrared photography looks like nothing else. I’m sure you’ve seen some IR photos around the web, but maybe you don’t know how to achieve this special effect? Look no further, here’s a guide on what to think about when choosing your object, how to shoot and what to do in post-production.

Photography is the art of capturing light, IR photography on the other hand is the art of capturing invisible light — but the challenge comes with its benefits, IR photographs can be really attention grabbing and otherworldly.

What you need

First of all you need to have a D-SLR camera with a lens that can use filters. Then you need to purchase an IR-filter, there are a few out there and the main difference (assuming we’re looking at the same brand) is the range of wavelengths that the filter lets through.

The IR filter I use is the Hoya R72, all the IR photographs in this article are taken using that filter. I’m very happy with this filter, but since it’s the only one I’ve tried I can’t recommend it above any other one.

Another piece of equipment that is crucial is the tripod. With D-SLR cameras it’s impossible to take IR photographs without proper stabilizer. Sure, I guess you could have your camera placed on a table or a solid rock, but the best way is no doubt to get a good tripod. Since we’re going to be using a slow shutter speed, long exposure, the tripod needs to be very stable.

Different lenses handles IR photography differently, and in this case it’s not necessarily decided by the price of the lens — these lenses are not designed for IR photography and therefore some of them just doesn’t work very well in this field.

The Canon kit-lens, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, for example will create a hotspot in the center of the photograph as seen in the photograph above. This is an effect that only appears on some lenses. If you’re serious about IR photography you might want to consider purchasing a lens that works well with IR — if so, there are several websites that have lists of good/bad IR lenses.

What do I photograph?

First and foremost, you need to understand the concept of capturing invisible light, invisible to the human eye that is. The world looks totally different in Infrared, and there are a few things to think about.

A blue sky will appear black, or very dark, while foliage will get a distinct white color. This creates amazing contrast in the image that makes the photo ‘pop’. Due to the long exposure time, portraits and other non-static sceneries can be hard to capture, this is one of the reasons why most IR photographs are landscape shots.

You need to test and see what you can come up with; it can take a long time before you fully grasp the idea of capturing and composing with infrared light.

How to photograph

I would like to say something like “and now to the fun part” but in this case the photo shoot itself can be rather annoying and/or time consuming. Don’t get me wrong, IR photography is fun, but the way you have to shoot when you’re using an unmodified D-SLR camera is far from an optimal solution.

When the filter is attached to the lens you will most likely see nothing in the viewfinder. The filter is designed to block visible light and it does so quite well. This will result in two hassles — you cannot see what’s in frame and what’s not, nor can you see what’s in focus. The best way to solve the first problem is to set up your tripod and find a good composition before attaching the IR filter.

The focus distance is not the same for IR light as it is for visible light, so you will have to re-focus after the IR filter is attached. This can be really troublesome since you won’t see anything in the viewfinder, older lenses might have a special IR focus distance listed, but modern Auto Focus (AF) lenses does not have this. The best solution is to have the camera auto focus with the IR filter on, or step down the aperture enough to get focus the entire distance.

Now you’re set to go, but your cameras exposure meter isn’t working correctly so you will have to use manual exposure. Most IR photographs I’ve taken have had an exposure time between 10-30 seconds. With these long exposure times we not only risk getting motion blur but also heavy noise levels. The longer the exposure the more noise will be created, that’s not specific for IR photography but a general rule in photography. Use the lowest ISO setting to try and keep the noise level as low as possible.

Post-production

What the outcome will look like depends on what filter you used and how the camera handles IR light.
If you use a filter like the Hoya R72 that I use your result will be heavily red/magenta tinted images. This is what’s called “false colors“, and it can be fixed in Photoshop, which is what I will show in this part of the article.

Open your IR photo in Photoshop. The first thing we want to do is to use a feature called Channel Mixer. Create a new adjustment layer and select Channel Mixer. You can now control the channels RED, GREEN and BLUE. What we want to do is switch the Red and the Blue channel.

Select Red and drag the Red setting to 0% and drag the Blue setting to 100%
Select Blue and drag the Blue setting to 0% and drag the Red setting to 100%
You can also experiment with changing the Green channel or such as well, find a good mix for every scenery.

You should now have removed that heavily tinted red/magenta color from your photograph, but the current look might not be much better either.

What you want to do now is play around with the Levels and Curve settings, if you’re new to these adjustment tools you can always hit Auto and see if you like the outcome.

This was a very quick guide on how to change that false color in Photoshop, but there isn’t any magic number that works for all photographs — you will just have to test and see. Then again, that’s basically what IR is all about in the beginning, this is a technique that takes some time getting used to and it will involve a lot of not so perfect shots. Don’t give up — the results can be astonishing!

(I’m by no means talented in IR photography, these examples are very basic but hopefully they give you a feel for this style.)

93 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    alex (-7 Points) March 24, 2011 at 5:34 am

    hey, when ever i change the red and blue channels my photo just ends up being the opposite, instead of a full red tint, the picture becomes a blue tint. Am I missing steps or something?

    i use a canon 550D, sorry for the novice question, i just cant seem to get photos like the ones you have edited, or remotely close :(

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  2. Add point Subtract point

    Well, I bought a set of IR filters. Now the problem is , it’s still winter. There is nothing for IR to reflect from, and it’s cloudy. Spring will be welcome this year.

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    After using Kodak IR film for a number of years, I decided to have a go at IR in my Nikon D70. With IR filter in place, I set a White Balance, pointing the camera at a white card. With the camera on a tripod, manual exposures were made, till I got a result. They were very much like the first pic’ in the tutorial…White clouds, dark sky, and the foliage that I could vary from straw colour to pale pink, using the PS CS2 tools. It must be remembered, that to get best effcts with IR, you really need sunshine on your subject.

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    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
    http://photoshopcs8.co.cc

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  5. Add point Subtract point

    Maybe a sophomore question, but why do you need a filter? Can’t you just clip off the visible portion of the picture with photoshop?

    Thanks

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      I think you’ve missed the point. You can create fake infrared effects on Photoshop, but if you actually want to take photographs of the infrared spectrum you need to attach a filter to your lens and remove wavelengths below IR. The long exposures (etc) are needed because DSLRs already have an IR filter built over the sensor so the time taken for IR light to pass onto the sensor is longer. You could modify the camera (permanently) by removing the IR blocker and then you wouldn’t need a filter and you could take photos at normal speeds, but otherwise a filter is a must.

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    Sidney Brook (1 Point) December 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Great information.
    Many Thanks.

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  7. Add point Subtract point

    Hey,

    Jade: Yes that would work as i have a D80 and have tried it. You might get a little hotspot when doing so so i think you might want to try other lenses if you have.

    I seem to figure it on my own and it was within a few hours of trying. The long exposure times make life harder than you’d expect so please keep that in mind. Post Processing to correct the camera shake will be time consuming as well.

    If you have a month, you should be fine in regards to learning and testing

    Hope thats helps

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  8. Add point Subtract point

    Hello,

    I am at uni and have a digital project coming up.
    I have a Nikon D80 with a kit lens 18-135mm and I have looked at buying at Hoya 67mm infared R72 720nm filter.
    I just wanted to check if this is correct?

    Also I was wondering how long it takes to get to grips with it? I have a park down the road so I can get out regularly. I have a month to do the project (we get the brief next week).
    Will this give me enough time to get reasonable results?

    Appreciate a response from anyone that can help as soon as possible.

    Can’t wait to try this out.

    Jade

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  9. Add point Subtract point

    I have a Sony a350 dSLR and ever since I heard about IR photography (either with a filter attached or getting the camera itself modified), I’ve wanted to have a go at it purely for the learning experience and rather curious looking pictures.

    I have quite a few different lenses now, but am at a loss as to what type of lens would suit this application best. This is important as the IR screw-on filters are pretty expensive and may not be available in all sizes.

    Are there any reccomendations as to what lens type would be best, macro/wide angle/zoom/prime/etc?

    Thanks alot.

    Best regards

    Gavin

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    تقنية (1 Point) September 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    now you helped me to save many of my old photo thanks very much

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Ken Davis (1 Point) September 4, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Before taking your photograph is it best to take it in Black&White or in colour.

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  12. Add point Subtract point

    Anyone know if you can IR with a Sony Alpha 200?

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    Theresa (-1 Points) August 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    I am experimenting with a hoya R72 filter on my Olypus sp 590 uz bridge camera but i get a bright haze at the centre of my pictures. am i doing something wrong or is my camera not suitable for IR photoraphy?

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    john cameron (2 Points) July 24, 2010 at 8:28 am

    i had a d70 covertion to irfarered but wheni tried to take a white balance reading i might have pressed the wrong button or turn the wrongknob as i now have replace the red cast with a blue one and i cant find my way back thankyou for your help i hope you can help me john cameron

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    raianflores (0 Points) July 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    hi! i just want to ask.. will a nikon d5000 be good for IR?

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    FAed (-2 Points) July 11, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Hi
    am facing problem which is removing that heavily tinted red/magenta color from the image ..i used channel mixer to solve the problem by adjusting the red “Red –red 0 -blue 100 and vice versa but i end up with heavy blue cast image ..i really need help on this part many thanks .

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    Torria (1 Point) June 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial!
    Can’t wait to get the IR filter to try it out!!!

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    Kool2bbop (1 Point) June 1, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Thanks for this amazing tut.
    I’ve learned a lot today.

    Obrigado

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  19. Add point Subtract point

    Can you inform me, If I use Lens (TAMRON 70-300) is it ok to use IR Filter ?

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Seilla (1 Point) May 9, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    I have a similar problem as ayret. I get all red, and when I follow the instructions and switch the red and blue in Channel Mixer, my red photographs just turn into royal blue. I’ve tried the Levels and Curves, played with the green in Channel Mixer, adjusted the blue and red in Channel Mixer to 50% each to see if that helps, but no. Help!

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    ayret (3 Points) April 20, 2010 at 2:14 am

    hey.we really appreciate all the tips for beginner like me. im really having problems with my ir photography.my photos doesn’t come out like your false color red sky n purple trees. all i get is either all purple nor all red.so when i try swapping the red n blue in photoshop it doesn’t make a difference.im using a nikon d80 n opteka hd2 r72 ir filter. i dont know which is wrong? the camera or the filter? any tips? thanks

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    y my IR filter lens doesnt work… no image on my camera all black?

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    wallymc (0 Points) April 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    i have several lenses,size 52mm 55mm 58 mm.should i buy a 58mm r72 with step down rings in case my 52mm lens has spots in them.thanks,wallymc

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    mon regalado (0 Points) April 3, 2010 at 9:49 am

    nice article. question, though. i have the red IR image loaded into photoshop, and already switched the red and blue channels, but what i get is an image with a blue tint. adjusting the levels and curves only makes the green images whiter, but the rest still remains a deep blue hue. i can’t get any other color out. am i doing something wrong? i’m using a canon 400d with an r72 filter. thanks!

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Evan B. (1 Point) March 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    ok so i just got my infrared filter. Its some off brand 950nm filter. I am using a 40d that has the hot mirror on it. I am getting these very purple images that seem to be black and white photos with purple tint. So when i reverse the red and blue channels i get the same purple effect. any ideas how i could fix the problem, other than removing the hot mirror?

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      Hello there…. I picked up a camera that was converted to take only IR photos. (runs @ 3oo$ for the conversion) It works better than a lense because you can “see” what your taking a photo of, and dont neccesarily need the tripod. I had an IR lens..but it was too difficult. Now I just point, click. But I get colored images..purple or orange or blue..depending what I set my white balance at.
      In photoshop I go to where I can make the photo B+W…then select “scenic”….it gives a nice effect. You can add gradients as a layer for some nice color effects..dropping the opacity down to @ 20-30% … Or you can hand color with your brushes..

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    I’m having an issue. I get everything fine up until the channel mixer point (adjustment layer). The image instead of being magenta is now all blue. When I do auto levels it works, but not very well and very grainy. I would prefer doing it manually but get stuck at the blue point.

    Great tut anyway!

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    Smoothoperator (1 Point) February 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I really loved the 1st picture for the forest, amazing,..!

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  28. Add point Subtract point

    I have read long ago, that some digital cameras aren’t good for IR due to their digital sensor. Any comments guys? Do you know which makes are working and which aren’t?

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    โค้ดเพลงhi5 (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 4:07 am

    wow Great article, thanks!167

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    wow Great article, thanks!154

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    ฟังเพลงใหม่ (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 12:11 am

    wow Great article, thanks!149

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  32. Add point Subtract point
    David Spreekmeester (1 Point) January 26, 2010 at 3:07 am

    Mind you, newer ‘prosumer’ cameras like the Nikon D300 seem to be blocking IR light too well (in regular photographs, this is a good thing) to be used for this purpose. For instance a cheaper model like the D50 lets through much more light in the infrared range.

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    mattoni roger (1 Point) December 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Hi

    Its wonderfull … i got hoya and i tried to do the same .. i got red pic and then i tried to change the blue and red color as u said but i faild to get nice pic.

    I think we need more to learn.

    Thanks

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    Thanks for solving the hotspot for me. I was getting this on my Canon 350d and the 55m lens and could not find the answer. I am now using older EF lens that were designed for the Canon EF (film) cameras and having no problems. I also have several other brand “film” lens/adapters which also work OK. Cheers.

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  35. Add point Subtract point

    Thank you very much for your quick and comprehensive reply, Fredrik.

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    I noticed the beautiful colors in the photo after the color correction. Did you created those colors together with the removal of the false colors, or the colors are there once the false colors are corrected? Are IR photos black and white? Are those colors in the final photo artificial?

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      Those colors are there when you switch the blue and red channels around, so they are not created so to speak. It’s hard to answer if the colors are “artificial”, since that’s not actually what infrared light looks like — we humans can’t see those wavelengths of light. Black and white is a great way to go with IR photography, since it creates so lovely contrasts, but IR itself is not B&W (no more than our normal world is black and white etc).

      I don’t have that much knowledge on the subject, but if you’re interested I suggest you look into light wavelength and how we humans perceive light and colors.

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    nancy dana (2 Points) October 18, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Hi, I got a problem here. I love to take photo but I don’t have any camera(usually, I’ll use my friend’s camera). I don’t know which camera should I buy(FYI, I am a student and money are my biggest problem). But I love to be a, I don’t know, a part time photographer maybe.. So, where should I start?

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  38. Add point Subtract point

    Just brought an IR filter and been meaning to try it out.This tutorial makes me more excited to take IR pictures. Thanks!

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  39. Add point Subtract point
    DigitaPhotography (2 Points) September 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I am glad to have found your site. You gave me some quite usefull information.

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  40. Add point Subtract point
    Jack Goldstein (1 Point) September 23, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I am glad to have found your site. You gave me some quite usefull information.

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  41. Add point Subtract point

    I,also, like IR Photography. I have tried it and my Pentax K100D will take an Image and it comes out pretty good. Now, my big problem is just how can you edit the Image using Paint Shop Pro X2. I can get the Blue to come in, but I just can’t seem to get it to look close to some Photo’s that you guy’s have. Any step by step help would be nice.

    Corker2

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  42. Add point Subtract point

    Hi, thanks for the tutorial. I tried to follow it, only to end up with an overall red image (unlike your examples), and when I post-processed it in PS (switching the red and blue channel) all I got is an overall blue picture (from overall red picture). Where can I got it wrong? White Balance? Camera setting? or just the wrong exposure? :(

    Please advise

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  43. Add point Subtract point

    nice article .. feel free to visit my infrared photography website – http://www.infrared2u.com

    thanks

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  44. Add point Subtract point
    hermits (1 Point) July 1, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Im using an Olympus E520 with a 14-45mm kit lens. Would this work on this camera?

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  45. Add point Subtract point

    damn!! i want buy my own IR now…

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  46. Add point Subtract point

    Can you include on your tutorial about the WB setting.
    Borrowed a Hoya R72 from a friend. i did the same thing as your tutorial but it didnt work. i think the problem with my photo is the White balance setting. Hope you can help me. thanks in advance Fredrik

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      Pete Latham (1 Point) May 26, 2009 at 4:15 am

      Chlorophyll reflects infra-red light big time, and it’s because of this that the Photoshop IR filter doesn’t quite cut it. It’s good but not as good as the real thing. So, white balance is best selected on something that is green in real life. You can either make a custom white balance on the camera by throwing it out of focus and taking a shot of the grass, or you can select a suitable region later on in your post-processing.

      I’ve found that Lightroom doesn’t like IR shots and it gets them wrong. I use Canon DPP when processing IR images.

      Hope this helps … Pete

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  47. Add point Subtract point
    professional photo retouching (1 Point) March 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    It is really nice to see infra red once again I used to love that in the age of film. Now with all my time taken with digital editing. it is nice to see a comprable result to the original technique.

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  48. Add point Subtract point

    There are some cameras witch would’nt work with the Hoya 72 IR Filter. I have a Nikon D300 and with her I can’t get IR-Pictures, there is a hard filter before the chip.
    But with my Nikon D50 it works great. I buyed me the Hoya 72 a year ago, waited 6 months till I got it. But I just started to shoot with him now, as I rode your blog-entry.

    thx

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  49. Add point Subtract point

    Would a D-SLR work just fine as for IR-photography without any modification except the use of the filter? –question comes from comments about an IR filter built-in the D-SLR which blocks the IR light from the sensor and shoudl be removed…thanks in advance.

    will

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  50. Add point Subtract point
    roberto (1 Point) March 9, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Beautiful results; but If someone needs to use a “not digital” SLR, it’s possible to use the IR filters and what kind of films has to be use?? Someone did in the past this experience ??
    Thanks

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  51. Add point Subtract point

    HI i have never been able to use my IR filter but after reading this i think i will try again. Good tutorial

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  52. Add point Subtract point

    Hey man, fantastic tutorial, it’s been a big help.

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  53. Add point Subtract point

    Since the filter isn’t all that expensive and I’m having difficulty seeing whether or not my lenses will work with the hoya r72, I’m probably just going to buy it and test it out. If it doesn’t work I’ll just hold it till I get a lens that produces a better processed image. Question, I don’t have photo shop, I have Photoshop Elements 4 and aperture 2.x do you know if I’ll be able to do the same type of image processing with either of these programs? In the mean time I’ll be looking around for a similar setting adjustment ^_^ I don’t mind spending money on apps, but if I can save myself from buying cs3 or ps for now I’d be all about that :D

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  54. Add point Subtract point

    thnx for sharing ur knowledge :)

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  55. Add point Subtract point

    Great input. It’s really true that the canon kitlens sucks at capturing with the Hoya R72 filter… hmmm…how I want a wide angle lens so badly now. :P

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  56. Add point Subtract point
    Chris (1 Point) July 31, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Hey I have a Nikon D40 with the kit lens and a 55-200mm VR lens will any of these lenses create the hot spot?

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  57. Add point Subtract point
    Kenneth William Caleno (2 Points) July 23, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Why not try Photoshop infra red-simple:

    1. Ctrl+j
    2. New adjustment layer-Channel mixer
    Check “monochrome”
    3. Set Red to +100
    Green to +200
    Blue to -200
    Set constant to between 27 and 32
    Click “ok”
    Flatten and save.

    Regards, Ken

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  58. Add point Subtract point

    Awesome! Thank you so much for this! I was workin’ with my Canon kit lens, and kept getting the hotspots in the middle. Now I’ll be sure to use my other one! No other site told me about that little tid-bit. Thanks again!

    ~Kyle

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    marco kad (0 Points) June 13, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    guys, it is fun to shoot IR, but it is not fun to use an IR filter, cuz then u need a tripod and to refocus and sometimes taking the filter off and then on,, so what is more fun is to shoot IR without an IR filter and handheld, and that is by modifying ur camera..

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  60. Add point Subtract point
    Kamaldeen Rauf (1 Point) June 10, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Wow, I love this effect. Thanks for the tutorial

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    Matsuri (2 Points) June 6, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Wow, I love this effect. Thanks for the tutorial :)

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    doncarlito (1 Point) June 6, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    fredrik,can i shot ir using canon g9? i have a lens adaptor with polarize filter..

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  63. Add point Subtract point
    doncarlito (1 Point) June 6, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    very cool fredrik! i got to get myself an ir filter.this tutorial is great! thanks fredrik.

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  64. Add point Subtract point

    Amazing effect! Too bad I dont have any of the filter or gear.

    A picture of anything using this filter/magic would make a great wallpaper!

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  65. Add point Subtract point

    Time for me to go buy an IR Filter. This kind of photography looks really incredible! Thanks for the tutorial Fredrik!

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      Hi the best digital camera to use for infared are the Olympus E410 or E510 they are the easiest to set up and use and the lens that come with them are all good for infared,the best results are when the sun shines but you can get good results on other days,you just need to try different settings ,people are so used to being able to point and shoot that they find it hard to come away from auto exposure.

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