Lessons in infrared photography – just when you think you have cracked it…

Regular followers of the Taraji Blue blog will know that I have recently become obsessed with infrared photography. For Christmas, Ali bought me a compact digital camera complete with infrared filter and I was immediately hooked. After first experimenting with the style of photography in Lapland over Christmas, I took to the streets of York every available weekend to hone my skills further. The wee compact was fun to use and gave some really great results – the only issue was that because the screw on infrared filter was so black you could not focus using it. You therefore had to unscrew the filter, focus and compose the shot, then replace the filter to take the image. Very fiddly and time consuming. Not an issue for landscape photography – but much more so when attempting to photograph wildlife or humans. Regardless, my main aim was to build up my skills with the equipment before the real test – South Africa in March 2013.

However, Alistair delighted me with a lovely birthday present just days before we traveled – a second hand Canon 550D which had been chipped to take only infrared stills and infrared HD video.  Needless to say, it had not been out of my hands for the entire trip to South Africa. It is a fantastic wee camera and I really loved using it. I spent most of my time using a prime 50mm canon lens – a lens that I have never really used / appreciated before, however I found it really made me alter my perspective on Africa – I’d shift my focus from the Big 5 to the endless skies and textures of Africa. I’d take more notice of the light and the way it illuminates plants and trees. I’d spend time waiting for the right light tunnels though forests, or waiting for shadows to dance across the sands and waters of Kruger. It gave me an entirely new focus.

I’d love to be able to share some real tips with you on infrared photography – but to be honest, I am still learning and don’t want to show myself up. I thought I had got to grips with it quite quickly – but then after using it intensively in Africa I became more and more attuned to the subtle differences in light and texture that would result when you altered your focus from landscape to sky, or from light to dark subjects, but the results were not consistent and I have been unable to draw firm conclusions. The time of day also had a huge impact – I expected the raw midday sun to yield the most dramatic results, but instead I found myself drawn to the light at dusk and on overcast days when the sky would be covered in thousands of tiny clouds of cotton wool.

Twhree wee tips I can, however, offer is to:

a) buy a pair of very tinted sunglasses. I used some reasonably cheap ones with a sepia type tint which illuminated the light in the clouds, sky and landscape in a similar way to infrared – offering me a glimpse of what shots might work before I even lifted the camera to my eye.

b)  Turn the photo preview on your camera to monochrome (opposed to displaying the images in infrared) as this gives you a much better ‘feel’ for how the picture will turn out once post processed.

c) Use a small aperture. I used F18 a lot, as this enabled me to capture a huge amount of depth in the texture of the foreground as well as the endless cloud filled skies. It also allowed for many different variants of light to be captured in the image – illuminating plants, skies and the ground in unique ways.

Above is my favorite shot from Africa taken with my Canon 550 infrared camera. Further images are also available in the Taraji Blue infrared online photo gallery. I welcome any feedback on my images  – and any tips – because, as I say, I am still learning and have a long way to go!

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