How to Take Stunning Infrared Photography on a Budget

Summer is upon us: a great time to try something new with your camera. And sunny days are the perfect conditions for infrared photography.

You may have heard of infrared photography, but not actually know what it is. Or you may think it comes at a price. Well, good news–you can do it on a budget.

An infrared photo of a pond reflection with some coconut trees
You too could take amazing infrared images like this one

Let us guide you through this awe-inspiring genre and show you how to take stunning infrared photography on a budget.

What Is Infrared Photography?

The word ‘photography’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘drawing with light’.

Infrared photography is similar to normal photography, however, it uses infrared light rather than visible light: this is a game changer in terms of the look of your images.

Usually, when we discuss light in photography, we are talking about visible light–a mere 0.0035% of the whole electromagnetic spectrum.

And the colors we see are just the way our brain interprets the different wavelengths in the visible spectrum.

At the edge of the visible spectrum, we find ultraviolet and infrared light. Ultraviolet light has shorter wavelengths than violet light (400 nm), while infrared light has longer wavelengths than red light (700 nm).

Reasons Why You Should Try Infrared Photography

Infrared photography captures the world using infrared light, rather than visible light.

Objects absorbing infrared light, such as bodies of water or a clear sky, will appear dark.

Conversely, objects reflecting infrared light, such as green grass, puffy clouds or human skin, will appear light.

A photo of a river landscape, taken with infrared photography.
This infrared landscape image shows the contrast between objects absorbing and reflecting infrared light.

Before I get too technical, let me give you 3 reasons why you should try infrared photography.

1. Infrared Images Have the Wow Factor

One of the best things to do in photography is to show your viewers a familiar scene, captured in an unexpected way. Infrared photography is a great way to do just that.

This pond is located in the park of Chateau de la Hulpe, just outside the city of Brussels, Belgium.

A photo of the pond in Chateau de la Hulpe, near Brussels
The pond at the Chateau de la Hulpe near Brussels, photographed using visible light.

In normal visible light, at least in the summer, the view is okay, but not very interesting or special.

Now, check out the same place photographed using infrared light: the difference is quite shocking.

An infrared photo of the pond at Chateau de la Hulpe, near Brussels
The same pond at Chateau de la Hulpe, photographed using infrared, and edited for ‘false colors’.

By using infrared light, I turned a rather common summer photo of a pond into something that looks like the photo of an alpine lake in winter. This has been edited for ‘false colors’, which I will explain later.

2. Landscape Photography Really Suits Infrared Images

If you are into landscape photography, you know how important it is to be out there when the natural light is at its best.

This often means you must get up before dawn, to be at location during the blue and golden hours: the hours just before and after sunrise/sunset.

An image of a field at sunset, taken during the golden hour
A classic example of golden hour landscape photography.

While most landscape photographers avoid the harsh midday light, this is often the best time of the day for infrared photography.

Why? Simply because more sunlight means more infrared light is available.

Infrared photography is a great way to get the most from your landscape photography: take shots in visible light earlier in the day, then switch to infrared later on.

An infrared photography of a walker stood in a field
This is the same spot but taken in the middle of the day using infrared filters.

3. Infrared Photography is Family Friendly

Because infrared photography needs plenty of light, great images can be taken almost anywhere during the day.

This means you can combine infrared photography with family outings.

For example, I shot this photo in a small public garden in Brussels, while playing with my kids.

An infrared photo of trees in Ten Bosch garden, Brussels
Infrared Photography of trees in the small Ten Bosh garden in Brussels, Belgium.

How to Take Infrared Photography?

The good news is that you don’t need to invest a lot of money to start having fun with infrared photography.

Sometimes it can be as simple as purchasing a screw-on lens filter. Let’s take a look at how to get started in infrared photography.

1. Best Camera for Infrared Photography

In principle, all camera sensors can see ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light.

In order to improve image quality, an internal UV/IR cut filter is usually present in front of your camera’s sensor. This limits the amount of UV and IR light your camera can see.

Because of this internal filter, you will most likely be forced to create long exposure infrared photography.

However, if you want to be able to capture a variety of infrared photography, e.g. handheld photography or portrait photography etc, you will need to modify your camera.

An infrared portrait photo of a man walking through a stream
Infrared portraiture taken with modified camera. 

You can send your camera away to companies who will convert it for infrared photography. It will cost you more than doing it yourself, but it is the easier option.

2. Test Your Camera’s Infrared Sensitivity

How much infrared light your camera can see depends on the efficiency of your internal filter.

There is a simple test for this: point a TV remote control at your camera lens, take a photo at the same time as pressing a button on the remote.

If the infrared LED of the remote lights up when you press a button, your camera is sensitive to infrared light and it has passed the test.

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