Hoya R72 Infrared Filter
5 Feb 2007
When I first started shooting I was pretty amazed by the incredible range of tone available in photos by photographers like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Their work captured the world in a way that they eye was never meant to see. After years of work, I learned to ape the style in the darkroom but it was never quite dramatic enough for what I had in my head.
Somewhere in the course of things I was introduced to Infrared photography. Most people are familiar with the idea of heat sensitive images where the hot things are red and the cold things are blue or green, but most Infrared photography is actually near-infrared. This is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that can't be seen by the human eye but can be seen by special film or digital sensors. Near-infrared is different from what you see in movies, it doesn't actually show you what is hot or cold, it shows only reflected infrared light. With infrared photography things that have a lot of reflected IR show up as white while things with no reflected IR show up as black. One of the most striking instances is a fluffy sunlit tree in front of a clear blue sky, resulting in a black and white image with a glowing white tree and a pitch black sky.
I was drawn to this unique style of photography partly because of it's incredibly graphic nature, and partly because it was an access to a hidden world. Suddenly I was able to capture not just a crazy image with weird colors but something that actually existed but average people just couldn't see. Because I shoot a lot of ghost towns and abandoned places this secret light source really appealed to me, it seemed like there was all this stored up life hidden in plain sight.
Infrared film has always been pretty annoying to work with, it is expensive, and incredibly sensitive to light. Most kinds have to be loaded into your camera in darkness to avoid fogging the film and the darkroom has to handle it the same way. None the less, It was the only way to get the job done and when I switched to digital I lamented not being able to work in Infrared any longer. But after a while I discovered several ways that people were making IR work with digital cameras.
Digital sensors are naturally sensitive to IR so most cameras come with an IR blocker to cut down on interference, making it pretty difficult to create IR images. However there are several ways to make this work. One is to remove the built in IR filter from the camera, which works great but it renders the camera nearly useless for average shooting and can be expensive. Another way is to to use a visible light filter which allows you to still use the camera for visible light shooting.
One such filter is the Hoya R72 filter. It is basically a standard screw on filter that you can get for nearly any lens that blocks all visible light, only allowing infrared light through. The catch to this approach is that because you still have the built in filter blocking most infrared light you have to utilize fairly long exposures on the order of 3-10 seconds. Some cameras are better for this than others but all of them will work. All you need is the filter, which can generally be had for between $50 and $100, and a tripod for the long exposure.
If you are looking for something new or a way to jump start your creativity, Google around for Infrared photography to learn a little more or check out the flickr group at http://flickr.com/groups/infrared An IR filter might just be the perfect addition to your camera bag.