Friday, July 25, 2008

Infrared Photography with Nikon D40

For the past 3 weeks, I've been receiving requests from fellow D40 users on how to get into IR photography. Well, here it is.

D40 is great for IR photography because of its 6-megapixel sensor. This sensor is fairly sensitive to infrared and, in ideal situation, it can even be used handheld. No modification is needed to the camera but you need an infrared filter.

To keep cost down, I use the kit lens Nikkor 18-55 because of its 52mm filter thread. This glass is sharp, kicks ass and produces no hotspots when doing IR stuff (a lens hood is recommended though). The cost of a 52mm IR filter is quite reasonable so that's why it's not recommended to use f2.8 glasses as 1) IR filter cost is a bit prohibitive at 72mm, 77mm, or 82mm threads (at least thrice compared to 52mm!) and 2) IR works best in landscape photography so a great depth of field is needed (smaller the apertures, the better). I normally shoot at f11, f13, f18, etc.

My IR filter is Hoya 52mm R72 IR Filter which I got for PHP2,000 (~US$45) last June 2007. I normally shoot when there's plenty of sunlight (10am~3pm) and some scattered clouds. Be warned, don't forget your sunscreen lotion!

Here's my flow:

1) Once I find an interesting subject and its suitable composition, I set my camera in a tripod.

2) Switch to aperture mode and select f9 or f11. Focal length is up to you.

3) Press pre-focus button to get sharp focus of the subject.

4) Switch to manual focus to avoid re-focusing later.

5) Mount the IR filter carefully; avoid moving the lens focus ring.

6) Set whitebalance to incandescent +3, image quality to RAW and ISO to 200.

7) Switch to manual mode and set shutter speed to a starting point of , say, 1/2 second.

8) Activate 5-second timer and push shutter release button. Wipe that sweat off your face and drink some cold liquid.

9) After the camera has taken the shot, review histogram. The peak should be more or less leaning to the right half of the chart to avoid dim images. Decrease or increase shutter speed as necessary and take the shot again. If the scene has plenty of sunlight, decrease aperture to get more depth of field, say, f18 or f22.

That's it. Next time, I'll list here my basic false color processing workflow to obtain the desired look of final image. A good reference is here.

As you may have noticed, IR photography is in between the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. So you have no reason now to stop shooting when sunlight is very harsh & bright. I tried shooting IR in these golden hours and in most situations, the shadows produced by the scene make the image dull.


Matt said...

I have to say that I'm anxious to see your false color processing workflow for the IR. I'm very ineterested in IR but have only been doing B&W b/c I can't seem to get the red out of my photos.

Anonymous said...

i have a d60 and a cheap IR filter(opteka) on my 18-55 VR lens. I am getting extremely dark shots even with 30 second exposures. is this because of my filter or my camera? i read that the d60 has poorer light absorption than its predecessors(d40(x)), is this the problem? with an aperture of f5 a shutter speed of 30" and the iso at 200, its practically pitch black on a bright winter day. the only decent shots i get are grainy as sin and take indoors with a 200 watt incadecent bulb.

Nald said...

@Anonymous: it's your camera. D60 is 10megapixel or so so those photosixes are packed up and not so sensitive unlike D40 which is only 6MP.

Jim Neff said...

Thanks for the step-by-step. I just got my D40 a few months ago and looking forward to trying some IR stuff. This helps a lot.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Suello,

I know this is an old post but I'll try my luck. I have a question on the 18-55 kit lens. Do you have to calibrate focus with IR say make your own mark on the barrel for the focus shift, or this is a non issue if you stop down. Thank you.

Nald said...

no need to focus calibrate for IR.

Anonymous said...

What about noise reduction? Use it or not? Also is that RAW NEF or RAW NEF+ jpeg basic? Once you have the image what other modifications do you make to the image?

Thank you

Anonymous said...

i have the d40x but its also 10 megapixel. can i still use it but with longer exposure time?

Viktoras Mykolaitis said...

There's couple examples of my infrared photographs shot with D60 -

Anonymous said...

Do you know if putting an infrared filter on the nikon d40 is going to damage the sensor? Can I still use the camera for normal photography?

Patrick Bregman said...

Since it is a filter that you screw on your lens, it can not and will not damage your sensor. The only thing it could possibly damage is the lens in case you put it on wrong, but even that is hard to do.

So, when you don't force anything it can't damage anything.

"He's called Dr. J because, on the court, he operated on people." - Nate "Tiny" Archibald on Julius "Dr. J" Erving