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Tuesday June 14th 2011

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Flashback: Infrared photography

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MAKE Volume 12
hit newsstands in November of 2007 and featured a special themed section called Upload, focused on digital arts and crafts. Richard Kadrey offered this cool little tutorial on getting started with infrared photography. Enjoy! You can also still pick up a back issue of MAKE Volume 12 over in the Maker Shed.

Looking at the Low End
Infrared photography reveals a world invisible to the naked eye.
By Richard Kadrey

For the human eye, the lowest visible wavelengths are red light measuring about 700 nanometers (nm). Below that, infrared radiation runs from about 750nm down to 1mm. When photographed in this part of the spectrum, leaves and grass glow with energy, as if the entire natural world is lined with fiber optics. Skin is luminous and perfect, like alabaster. Infrared photography gives you an inhuman view of the world, and it’s a beautiful one.

In the beginning, infrared photography was nothing you needed to know about. It was a high-tech procedure reserved for laboratories and mapping satellites. Even when artists got their hands on the stuff, it required special film that had to be kept in an ice chest until it was used, and special processing that required access to a darkroom with the right chemicals, and all the expenses those items entailed.

Digital photography has made infrared accessible to everyone. That’s great news to those using IR for the first time, because this is when you’re liable to make the most mistakes. Better yet, you don’t need an expensive camera to take great shots. In fact, cheaper and so-called “dinosaur” digital cameras can be the best ones for IR shooting. The reason is simple: most high-end cameras come with a built-in infrared-blocking filter (sometimes called “hot glass”) that sits right in front of the camera’s sensor chip. Cheap cameras don’t always have this IR filter, and they’re easy to hack if they do. But remember when picking your cheap camera to make sure it has a Preview mode. This will allow you to see your infrared shot and make adjustments on the fly.

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