Monochrome Magic - part 3 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Published 01/10/2004


Patrick Rice

International member, Patrick Rice Cr., CPP, ALPE, Hon-ALPE has written an excellent book on infrared wedding photography and we include here his thoughts on digital infrared. In recent years, I have rediscovered black & white photography as well as black & white Infrared photography. Unfortunately, in the digital world, these "outside the box" techniques are not as readily available. Through research and discussion, I discovered that I could still produce my unique style of wedding photography using one particular digital camera - the Nikon Coolpix 950.The camera has a 2.11 megapixel CCD.

One unusual feature with the Nikon Coolpix 950 - the one that got me excited about the camera - was this camera's ability to shoot true infrared images. Infrared light is the band of invisible light just beyond the red rays. Although the eye cannot see infrared light, it can be recorded with photographic film and also digitally. Infrared images are often considered "dream-like" or "ethereal" in appearance. It is very striking and distinctive type of imaging.

To understand why this camera can shoot into the Infrared range and others cannot, you must first understand how digital cameras are made and how infrared images are recorded.With digital cameras, manufacturers are always working to get the "cleanest" image capture possible to give the photographer the best image file. As manufacturers learned more about image capture, they discovered that they could get a cleaner image by blocking infrared light from being recorded. Apparently, invisible infrared light contaminates the visible light being captured on the digital media and thus degrades the image quality. The solution was to install an infrared cut off filter to block the transmission of all infrared light to the camera. In technical terms, these are referred to as "Hot Mirror" filters. As the name implies, these filters reflect heat and transmit visible light. The latest Hot Mirror filters transmit over 85% of the wavelengths between 400 - 700 nanometers (the visible light spectrum) and reflect (block) over 90% of the wavelengths between 700 - 1000 nanometers (the near infrared spectrum). This discovery was made after the release of the Nikon Coolpix 950 camera - so this particular camera does not have an effective Hot Mirror/Infrared cutoff filter in place.The Nikon Coolpix 995, 990, 880 and other models now all have the more efficient cutoff filter. The other reason that the Nikon Coolpix 950 can record into the infrared range is the fact that the camera has both a colour and black & white modes for recording images. In the black & white mode, with the proper filtration, a photographer can digitally record infrared images. The Nikon Coolpix 950, as well as many other digital cameras, can photograph in the black and white mode directly

The key to infrared recording of images is to use an infrared pass filter to block some or all of the visible light from being recorded. With Kodak Infrared film, I primarily use a number 25 red filter (basic red) in front of the lens and get very good results.Trees, grass and other foliage are recorded as very light gray or white and blue skies can be nearly black with this film and filter.The Nikon Coolpix cameras have a 28mm threaded ring on the front of the camera's zoom lens. I purchased a 28 - 37mm step-up ring from along with a 37 - 49mm step-up ring (very common - you can buy these at any camera store) and then attached a 49mm number 25 red filter to it. When I first started experimenting with the Nikon Coolpix 950 in trying to record into the Infrared spectrum, I used this same number 25 filter but achieved only adequate results. The images I were recording with the digital camera just did not have the same "snap" that I was accustomed to with Kodak Infrared film. The next logical step was to use a filter that blocked more of the visible spectrum and was more responsive in the Infrared range. Opaque filters block all of the light rays shorter than 700nm and only allow the Infrared light to pass. In appearance, the filters look black and cannot be seen through. I used a 49mm number 87 (Opaque) glass filter on my step-up ring configuration. The results rivaled that of Kodak Infrared film! This was exciting and has changed my entire outlook on Infrared image recording.

How it works. As mentioned above, the Nikon Coolpix 950 camera is not equipped with an effective Infrared-blocking filter and thus records both visible and infrared light. The camera lens is fitted with an auxiliary infrared pass filter to block almost all of the visible light that would normally be recorded, while still recording the infrared light. The flash setting on the camera is disabled. Exposures are made automatically by the camera using the Auto Matrix-Metering mode of the Nikon Coolpix 950 camera. All photographs are taken with the camera on a tripod. I recently purchased a number 87 Kodak Wratten material square filter. I purchased a 28mm (the Nikon Coolpix 950 lens thread size) UV filter from and cut out a slightly larger circle than the filter of the number 87 Wratten filter and inserted it into the lip of the UV filter .The Wratten material is flexible enough to stay in place without falling out. To my knowledge, there are no commercially available number 87 filters in a 28mm filter size. The near Infrared spectrum of light starts at about 700 nanometers and goes to about 1000 nanometers. Visible light ranges from about 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers. The number 87 filter only passes light from about 800 nanometers to past 1000 nanometers. Thus, the number 87 filter is not recording the visible spectrum of light at all - only the infrared spectrum is being recorded with the camera. Exposures are relatively slow using this filter with the Nikon Coolpix 950 - they range from about 1/15s to ½s in the sunlight, even longer in overcast conditions - which makes it difficult to record in focus images of people because of subject movement. Like with infrared film, I generally place my subjects in the sunlight to accentuate the effect of the image.

Because opaque filters like the number 87 cannot be seen through, I compose my images using the camera's small viewfinder window and not the larger LCD display which is seeing through the lens itself. The image in the viewfinder corresponds to the image being recorded, even changing as the lens zooms in and out for different focal lengths. This 28mm opaque filter is even more beneficial when you consider that now ALL of the Nikon adapter lenses can be used to record digital infrared images. Thus, I can use the Nikon fisheye lens, wide-angle lens and telephoto lens attachments. The creative possibilities are limitless!

If you are searching for the "look" of infrared, but do not want to create it with a digital camera as explained above, I found another alternative. A photographer I heard about named Fred Miranda offers an inexpensive downloadable Infrared action to roughly simulate an Infrared image. I purchased his action as a download directly from his website for only $8.50. After loading the action into my PhotoShop actions menu, I was able to quickly and easily convert any digital image into an infrared-like image. There are some subtle differences between using an infrared action and actually recording a scene in infrared with proper filtration. Most notably, the infrared action does not render clothing in the same way as Kodak Infrared film or digital infrared capture. One of the qualities of true infrared that I have found very appealing is the differences in infrared reflectance of different materials. Black tuxedos with synthetic trim are very striking because the jackets and pants may record black, while the piping and trim are nearly white. Tuxedos that are made entirely of synthetic materials will record in grey or even white.
vThe possibilities are endless and the results speak for themselves .The ability to still provide my clients with Infrared images from their wedding day makes the digital transition possible for my studio. I feel it is important for photographers to embrace the changes in technology and look for new and better ways to give your clients a unique product. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at

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1st Published 01/10/2004
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