There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, 

for what we see is what we are.

 – Ernst Haas

It’s been a while. The last time I wrote about infrared photography was over three years ago (Interpreting Invisible Light). At that time, I was shooting with two converted DSLR cameras at 590nm and 850nm, basically putting me at both ends of the spectrum. These days I am shooting with a Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera converted to full spectrum (more on this later). Infrared opens up a whole new world of exploration and art, in part, because the camera is able to capture what our eyes cannot see. We enter the world of invisible light, which allows us to create images that bend reality.


If you are new to infrared, don’t feel that you have to move to a mirrorless camera in order to dive in. Yes, there are some advantages, but, ultimately, it’s the learning, shooting and processing results that matter. Learn what you need to know before purchasing or converting your first infrared camera. As for me, it’s only been a few years that I’ve been shooting mirrorless, in color and infrared. The first nine years of my infrared adventure were all with my two converted DSLRs.

And, in case you didn’t already know, infrared photography has been around for a very long time. The first infrared film was developed in 1910 by Robert Williams Wood. It required long exposures to record the light and capture images. (Similarly, if you try to shoot infrared using a filter over your color camera, you invite long exposures and a host of other issues that a converted camera avoids.) It wasn’t until the 1930s that infrared film became available to the public after Kodak developed film emulsions for infrared. Over time there were more than forty types of IR film to choose from. Not so, today.

As with any type of photography, infrared is not for everyone, but I’m thrilled to have it as one of my tools. I do know that without having given it a try (reluctantly), I would never have known how much I would enjoy and embrace it. If you haven’t tried it and have the opportunity, give it a whirl. I mean, I have to admit that I, too, was a skeptic and not super keen on the suggestion that I “needed” to shoot infrared. I didn’t even know or understand what a nanometer (nm) was … It’s a wavelength of light. However, with a converted Canon 20D in hand and no directions, I took 590nm out for a spin that lasted three months before I got a chance to sit down and learn how to post process. In that experience I found a world of infinite possibilities that expanded my creative vision in ways I could not have anticipated. Admittedly, I never saw myself five cameras deep in the infrared world, but here I am.

Palm abstraction with 665nm and faux color.

Pawleys Island oak with 590nm.


If someone were to ask me what they need to know to get into infrared, here are a few things I would share:

Camera and Conversion Choices

Decide whether you want to convert a DSLR that you’re no longer using, purchase an already-converted camera or purchase and convert a new camera (DSLR or mirrorless). And, do your research on what is possible with various wavelengths and which best suits your interests and style. There are options for everyone. As for conversions, you can select a single wavelength or a full-spectrum conversion for more flexibility.

For example, if your primary interest is black/white photography, then perhaps your best choice would be an 830nm or 850nm conversion. If you want some flexibility with color and black/white infrared, then the standard 720nm conversion may be the place to start. You can pull out some colors with the blue/red channel swap and in post-processing, but not as much as the next set of choices. If you love color and the flexibility of playing with colors in post and don’t mind spending time processing and experimenting, then choosing 590nm to 665nm and other wavelengths below 720nm may be for you.

If you’re like me and love to keep your options open, then a full-spectrum conversion is the best choice. Then, you can purchase filters at whatever wavelengths you like and easily change them out as your mood or the situation calls for. (I have two cameras converted to full-spectrum – my primary Nikon Z6 and a Canon RP, which I use as a loaner for workshops.) The flexibility for me is important. And, while I have filters ranging from 550nm to 850nm, plus the IR Chrome and Hot Mirror filters, the ones I rotate the most are 590, 665, 720 and 850. Occasionally, I will use the Chrome filter and love what it generates straight out of the camera. The Hot Mirror filter allows me to shoot in “normal” color.

Faux color party at Raulston Arboretum with 590nm

After the “party” comes black/white with 590nm

Lens Choices

One of the “sticky wickets” of infrared is that not all lenses work well for infrared. This is primarily due to the “hot spot” issue. If you’ve done any research, you’ve heard about this. A hot spot is a bright circular area (spot) that varies in size and intensity and lands smack-dab in the center of your images. It’s not lens flare. Sometimes, it can be subtle, but when you see it (and it’s bad), it’s more than annoying. It’s very challenging to remove or fix (though there are ways), and it makes the infrared experience frustrating.

Some lenses are “perfect” for infrared and generate no hot spots at any focal length or aperture. (My Nikon 24-120mm f/4 is one of them and has a permanent home on my Z6.) Other lenses are beyond terrible – hot-spot city no matter the settings or lighting situation. And, then, there are lenses that will work well with limitations – focal length and aperture choices. It’s best to do your research before you dive in. Several companies and photographers have done testing and have compiled lists of lenses that are “good” and “bad” for infrared. One of them can be found on the Kolari Vision website.

Shoot in Raw and Watch Your Histogram

As with all photography, shooting in Raw is the way to record all image data and provides you with the most flexibility in post. This is especially important with infrared. If you want, shoot “Raw + JPG,” but don’t miss out on the raw opportunities. And, while you’re at it, go ahead and find your histogram display on your camera, and use it. (You’d be surprised at how many don’t take advantage of the information it provides.) With 720nm to 850nm, you can generally rely on and pay attention to the luminance (white) histogram display, watching to keep your exposure from having unintentional blown-out highlights.

With wavelengths below 720nm (665, 630, 590, etc.), you want to turn on the RGB histogram display and be sure to keep your RED channel within the goal posts (no over-exposure). The reason is that these wavelengths integrate both infrared and visible light. Blowing out your Red Channel has the same impact in post as blowing out your highlights in color photography – loss of detail and information. Believe me, it matters. Plus, you should know how to access your histogram display anyway. With these lower wavelengths, the Red Channel is always slightly past the luminance channel. Underexposing your images in these wavelengths by one stop (- 1EV) is one way to be more secure in retaining the image information.

Two Trees in monochrome with 720nm

Two Trees with IR Chrome filter

Custom White Balance (CWB) Is Important

When I began shooting digital images, and even now, I would select a White Balance setting according to the situation and the light. Mostly, I choose Daylight or Cloudy, rarely Auto. The same thing applies and is even more important in infrared. However, instead of choosing one of the standard white balance choices, you want to select Custom White Balance (CWB). That means you need to learn how to set the CWB with your camera – every camera is different in the steps. Without a “good” CWB, your infrared images on the back of your LCD can be hideous (bright pink, overly red, etc.). Most conversion companies give you a CWB to start with. Once you change or add another filter, you’ll need to set a new CWB. The custom WB is different for each wavelength, and it matters – makes a difference. Learn how to set the CWB in your camera. If you need a cheat sheet because you rarely do it, make one and put it in your camera bag. For most wavelengths, I set the custom white balance using green grass. The exception is that for the Chrome filter I use a neutral tone (road, wood fence, or even a gray card).

Some camera brands are more cooperative in giving you a good CWB for infrared (Nikon, Canon and Olympus, typically). However, even within “cooperative” brands, there can be some challenges. Other camera brands require some work in post to get a good starting point for white balance. If you shoot Raw + JPG, and you use Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you will have learned or soon will learn that Adobe has other ideas on how your infrared images “should” look. You’ll see the colors shift before your eyes when you open the raw files. It’s annoying, but not impossible to deal with. I create custom color profiles that are applied to the image in Adobe ACR (or Lightroom). This gets the images back in a good place to work with. With jpeg files the white balance is “baked” into the image. It may be that you’ll want to start out shooting both Raw and JPG so you can see where the white balance should be landing in your raw file. Not to worry, there are ways to deal with this issue in post, but setting a good CWB in camera for shooting Is best practice.