Infrared Conversion on an EOS 10D

Tolmie State Park - selective color

Tolmie State Park – selective color

I’ve been wanting to do this for several years now.  I started experimenting with digital infrared photography back in 2002 with a Canon Powershot G3.  This camera had a relatively weak hot mirror filter, which prevents infrared rays from reaching the sensor.  So my exposures were usually under a second, but also usually too slow to handhold.  My filter was an 830nm filter, and at that range, no visible light enters the lens.  So the best options are to convert to black and white, and either do selective coloring (see above), or just focus on textures and tones (see below).

Pagoda - infrared w/ converted EOS 10D

Pagoda – infrared w/ converted EOS 10D


But I finally got my old Canon EOS 10D dSLR converted for dedicated infrared photography.  I asked the converter (szabophotography on eBay) to install a 720nm filter over the camera sensor (after he removed the hot mirror filter).  This range is closer to the visible spectrum, and allows for some color options. There are different ways to do this and I am still learning.  I do most of my post processing in Lightroom 5, so it’s sad that I can’t get decent color infrared results in Lightroom alone. Lightroom has a limited white balance adjustment range, and it cannot fully simulate the camera’s custom white balance.

So far I’ve gotten the best results by setting a custom white balance in the camera (more on this later) and using one of these two methods:

1. Open the RAW file in Canon’s DPP software and export a TIFF file (which ends up being 3 or 4 times the size of a RAW file).

2. Or import straight into Photoshop (I use Pixelmator or GIMP because I’m not made of money) and do a color channel swap.  Then export a TIFF file.

At this point, these TIFF files can be imported and edited with Lightroom.  I like Lightroom so much because it’s very easy to balance contrast and sharpness with noise, and keep image quality high. It’s all about finding that balance where you push an image as far as you can without it starting to block up, blow out, or break up and get noisy.

Abandoned Olympia Brewery - white balance in DPP

Abandoned Olympia Brewery – white balance in DPP

This is a photo processed using method #1 above.  This was a cloudy day, so there is not a lot of color in the photo.  But you can see the custom white balance has made a very magenta/red photo more muted brown and blue.

Tolmie Driftwood - Color infrared, channel swapped

Tolmie Driftwood – Color infrared, channel swapped

This is a photo I took yesterday on a sunny beach in the Puget Sound.  I simply did a color channel swap in Pixelmator (method #2 above), exported as a TIFF, then edited for shadows and highlights, contrast, sharpness, etc. in Lightroom. The colors are more natural with a color swap than simply using a custom white balance.  The foliage looks yellow or orangy while the sky is a blue tone.

Custom white balance in-camera:  This is a setting that uses an image on your memory card as a reference to set a custom white balance.  For some reason, this yields much better results than just using “Auto WB”.  So it’s good to re-set your custom white balance whenever you change scene types, like going from sun to shade, or going from a photo with a lot of trees and grass to a photo like the one above with almost none.

Channel swap:  There are a lot of great tutorials on websites and YouTube about how to do this.  You just open the color channel mixer in Photoshop, reduce the red in the Red channel from 100% to zero. Boost the blue in the Red channel to 100%.  Go to the Blue channel, reduce blue to zero and boost red to 100%.  That’s pretty much it.  I tried to make some subtle variations, but started getting weird tints.

I’ll put up more infrared photos with the newly converted camera as time goes on and I learn more.


Goose Family Edit

Goose Family - NIK Color Efex Pro 4

Goose Family – NIK Color Efex Pro 4

I shot this family of Canadian geese entering the Henderson Inlet off Puget Sound.  But I have a 6D now instead of my previous 7D.  The full frame sensor does not crop the image from my 200mm lens, so everything appears farther away.  I need a 500mm or 600mm lens for a shot like this, but simply can’t afford one. So it’s nice to have 20 megapixels to crop from in post processing.


Goose Family - no editing

Goose Family – original, no editing

Normally, I’d delete a shot like this on my camera, before ever downloading it to my computer.  But this IS the above photo before I did anything to it.

After a major crop, and basic adjustments in Lightroom, I opened the image in the NIK Software plugin Color Efex Pro 4.  As you can see, there is virtually no color in the original, so I added some using the Bi-Color filter.

I did some pretty heavy adjusting to shadows to get the look in the first photo, and as high quality as NIK software plugins are, they can add digital noise depending on what you do with them.  So you have to watch what’s happening to the shadows and don’t push things too far (to avoid generating too much noise).  Then I’ve learned that after finishing with the NIK plugin, sometimes another round of gentle sharpening and noise reduction can improve things.

Wood Ducks – McLane Nature Trail

Wood Duck Pair - 131mm, 1/180 @ f/4.5

Wood Duck Pair – 131mm, 1/180 @ f/4.5

I’ve never been this close to wood ducks. They are usually very shy, but I think people have been feeding them at this nature trail.  So they swim by hoping for a handout.

Wood Duck - 200mm, 1/250 @ f/4.5

Wood Duck – 200mm, 1/250 @ f/4.5

I had a tripod, but with the ducks swimming fairly quickly, it was easier to brace my camera on the walkway railing to stabilize it.

Wood Duck - 168mm, 1/250 @ f/4.5

Wood Duck – 168mm, 1/250 @ f/4.5

I cropped each of these photos down from its original size.  Too much space around the birds to do a good job of focusing attention on them.  So the photo you see is not representative of the focal length listed.

The EOS 6D is awesome at wide angle shots because of its full-frame sensor, but the 7D I used to own was much better at this type of photography. Faster focusing, and the 1.6x crop factor made this 200mm lens seem like a 320mm lens.  The big advantage with the 6D is that I can push the RAW files much further in post processing without them getting gritty and noisy.

Infrared Woodlands – Unconverted EOS 6D

Woodland Boardwalk - 20 sec @ f/5.6, 1600 ISO

Woodland Boardwalk – 20 sec @ f/5.6, 1600 ISO

I haven’t shot any infrared for about 9 months. This afternoon I went to a local nature preserve, and the sun was so bright, it was perfect for infrared. Now I still have a couple limitations to work around.  My camera is not converted for IR, so exposure times with my 830nm B+W filter are in the 6 to 20 second range at 1600 ISO.

Also, the only lens I have small enough to take my 58mm filter is my “nifty fifty” (using a 52 to 58 step-up ring). So everything had to be composed at a 50mm focal length. I got the filter to use with my Powershot G3 back in 2002. I’ve purchased some “L-glass” since then, but 77mm IR filters are expensive!

Stumpy Pond - 10 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 1600

Stumpy Pond – 10 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 1600

The first photo was mostly in the shade of large trees, while this second photo in open sunlight took half the exposure time, even with the aperture at f/8.

Footbridge Rails - 10 sec @ f/8, ISO 1600

Footbridge Rails – 10 sec @ f/8, ISO 1600

For post processing, I pushed contrast and clarity adjustments to a much farther extreme that I do with visible light photos.  I deleted most of the photos I took.  A lot of scenes don’t work in infrared. There has to be the right mix of dark and light elements, like foliage contrasting with wooden objects, water, and sky.  The rules of composition obviously still apply, but only certain types of scenes lend themselves to infrared.

Natural Gateway - 15 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 1600

Guardians of the Bridge – 15 sec @ f/8.0, ISO 1600

There is a lot of shade in this photo and you can see it slowed the shutter speed. I also see a strange bloom effect on the tree trunks which doesn’t seem to affect the boardwalk or bridge. Because that wood is already “dead”? I don’t know.  Leaves often show some bloom, but I’ve seen it with tree trunks too.

Dainty Petals IR - 3 sec @ f/4, ISO 1600

Dainty Petals IR – 3 sec @ f/4, ISO 1600

I haven’t tried to shoot much of anything close up in infrared. It’s problematic when your shutter speeds are so long, and even gentle breezes are making the flowers sway.  I got lucky here.  My tripod legs were splayed out almost flat to get this angle.

This was a fun challenge, to only use 50mm and deal with longer exposures.  I still plan on getting an older dSLR converted, because I really like the look of infrared, and people who see my infrared photos are usually impressed.  I could get faster shutter speeds without having to work against a hot mirror, and I could use any of my lenses!