The Digital Road To Infrared; Software, Cameras, And Filters For A Trip To An Often Surreal World Page 2

If the image with added grain is too low in contrast or too dark, add a Curves or Levels adjustment layer grouped with the background copy. For some subjects, especially portraits, I prefer not to add grain in favor of smooth sculptural skin tones. Whichever effects--from glow to grain--that you add, be sure to view them at 100 percent at the size you plan to print them. Smaller sizes such as 5x7" require stronger effects than larger print sizes.

An effect that looks great for a small print can appear unrealistic and exaggerated in a larger image.


Enhancement Options
Yet another Photoshop filter that enhances the IR effect is Filter>Distort>Diffuse Glow, #7. Try it instead of Gaussian Blur or add it after you've applied blur. With Diffuse Glow, you can add both glow and grain in one step. However, your background color must be white--press the letter d on your keyboard to reset this. In the Diffuse Glow dialog box, try these settings: Graininess: 2-6; Glow Amount: 3-6; Clear Amount: 10-15. Applying settings of 2, 6, and 10 to one of my tree landscapes resulted in the effect seen in #8. A lower glow value and higher clear value makes the effect less pronounced.


For further fine-tuning, you can select areas of your image and apply controls and filters to specific areas. For example, if the sky isn't dark enough, select it and use Curves, Levels, or even a Gradient to get it where you want it. Similarly, you can selectively apply grain or glow.

Plug-In Software Solutions
Remember when I said that converting a color digital image to black and white IR wasn't as easy as just selecting a filter? Well, I lied. There are plug-ins that will do the work described earlier for you, if you're willing to give up some control. One good choice is the Infrared: Black and White filter that ships as part of the nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 package of 75 potent plug-ins, $299, from This filter does a great job on many subjects and offers several controls, as well, #9.


Starting with a digital color original, #10, I applied the settings shown in #9 with the dramatic IR result seen in #11--dark sky and white foliage. But black and white IR isn't just for landscapes. The effect can enhance portraits, buildings, and other objects as well. Starting with a portrait, #12, I applied the nik Infrared: Black and White filter to obtain the very pleasing effect seen in #13, complete with high contrast and glow effects.

Starting with this digital color original of a New York City park, I applied the settings shown in the nik Infrared: Black and White filter dialog box.

The settings shown in the nik Infrared: Black
and White filter dialog box produced this dramatic IR effect.

Sliders allow you to adjust Brightness--the overall lightness of the image--and Contrast. "Lighten Highlights" controls the luminosity of the highlights, so you can brighten clouds and other light-toned objects. Finally, the "B/W Infrared Method" drop-down menu lets you choose from emulations of different IR film emulsions, with different color filters over the lens that produce different contrast and tonal results. Further, you can selectively apply this IR filter by using a Wacom graphic tablet. To see sample images and tutorials, go to the nik multimedia website.

Black and white IR isn't just for landscapes. The effect can enhance portraits, buildings, and other objects as well. Starting with this portrait, I applied the nik Infrared: Black and White filter.

Applying the nik Infrared: Black and White filter to the portrait, #12, yielded this very pleasing IR result. Note the high contrast and glow effects.

Another plug-in option is the SilverIR filter, $55, from Silver Oxide, While it, too, can produce great results and provides different control options, it requires an additional step: you must apply the Photoshop (or Elements) Diffuse Glow filter as the last step. For landscape shooters, it offers powerful options, letting you choose different tonal schemes for different subjects. To my taste, while it's great for landscapes with green foliage, it's less successful if you want to achieve the classic IR look with people and objects. Further, it is rather slow, taking 5 minutes to apply to an 18MB file on a 1GHz computer. See the website for excellent examples, comparisons, and detailed tutorials.

The Hardware Connection
One company, IRDigital, actually converts certain digital cameras to shoot black and white IR. This option is for serious IR shooters only though, as the conversion is a one-way trip (the camera can't be returned to its original state), and the converted camera can only shoot black and white IR. The modification is currently available for the Canon EOS D30, D60, 1D, and Digital Rebel (300D), as well as the Nikon D100. To locate one of these older camera models, try Shutterbug ads or eBay. Conversions cost $350 for all except the Digital Rebel, which is $500. See for more details and examples of landscape and portrait subjects.

Filter Factors
To get the IR look on a non-converted camera you'll need an IR filter that blocks nearly all visible light while giving IR wavelengths a free pass. Wratten designations in increasing strength are the 89B, 88A, 87, and 87C filters. Popular IR filters include the nearly opaque Hoya R72, B&W 093 (Wratten 87C), Tiffen TI 87 (Wratten 87), Harrison and Harrison 88A, and the Cokin 007--shades of James Bond--(Wratten 87B). While these filters technically pass different amounts of IR and/or visible light, they yield black and white IR images very similar to each other pictorially. Most of these filters are not inexpensive. IR filters can be ordered from suppliers including B&H ( and Adorama ( Our colleague, pro photographer Joe Farace, is a major fan of the IR look. He suggests using a Hoya Infrared R72 or a Cokin 007 filter and ISO settings of 200-400. His exposures range from 1/3 to 1/7 sec at f/2.8. To see Farace's techniques and images check out the archives at

IR-Ready Digicams
Most digital camera sensors are sensitive to invisible near-infrared wavelengths of light. Most models, however, incorporate a built-in filter to block IR. However, there are a number that are still sensitive to the near-infrared range, or offer other IR options. These you can use for black and white IR right out of the box, though most require a filter. Slip an IR filter over the lens and your camera will usually expose accurately and even autofocus for the infrared wavelengths! Furthermore, you can see the results on the camera's LCD monitor or electronic viewfinder. Many IR-friendly models are older cameras now out of production, but they may be found in Shutterbug ads or online auctions. Some that we know will work are the Canon Powershot Pro 90 IS, Nikon Coolpix 950, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F707 and F717 (use the Infrared or Night Shot mode), the Minolta DiMAGE 7 (from 2001), and the currently available Fuji FinePix S20 Pro (2004).

Some models from the following manufacturers are said to be IR-friendly: Canon, Sony, Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, and Konica Minolta. While we don't have a complete list, here's how you can check if your digicam is sensitive to IR radiation: Simply point your TV remote control at your camera with the filter in place while pressing the volume (or any other) button. Now, look at the image on the LCD screen or through the electronic viewfinder, or take a picture and then examine it on the LCD monitor. If you see a continuous or blinking white point of light emanating from your remote, you are ready to rock 'n roll with IR.

Website Resources
· Google "Infrared digital b&w photography" for enough links to keep you off the streets for days