I love the look of long-exposure photography. You can create a different look and feel to a scene. Long-exposure Infrared images are possible, with the right preparation and gear.
Let’s go through some simple steps to getting a great long-exposure Infrared image.
For reference, I utilized a Canon R5, converted to Full Spectrum. For anyone not familiar with Full Spectrum, the camera is altered, removing the IR blocking filter or hot mirror, and a clear piece of glass is inserted in its place. Once converted, you place a filter on the lens to select what type of photography you want to capture. In this instance, I used a Kase 720nm filter. You can accomplish the same effect with an unconverted camera by placing the Kase 720nm filter on your natural color camera.
#1. Get a good tripod.
Over the past few years, the quality of tripods has improved and the prices are reasonable. Carbon fiber tripods are usually best as they are very light and easy to carry.
#2 Get good quality, Infrared neutral density filters
If you’ve shot long exposure images before, you know that not all ND filters are the same. Many will add a color cast to the images that you then have to deal with in post-production. When it comes to Infrared photography, some ND filters have little to no effect or only offer half the number of stops they are marked for when used for natural color photography. I tested the Kase clip-in filters and I can tell you that they truly offer both 4-stop (ND16) and 10-stop (ND64) reduction for both Infrared and natural color images. That’s great because you only need to carry one set of ND filters for all your photography.
The Kase clip-in filters are very easy to use. You remove your lens and place the clip-in filter above your sensor. It literally clips in. Once in place, you put your lens back on and shoot like normal. The filter comes with a triangular piece that looks very similar to a guitar pick that works perfectly to remove the clip-in filters.
The question that often comes up is, “Do I need a 4-stop or 10-stop, or both?” I carry both as it allows me to adapt to every shooting scenario. Depending on shooting conditions and the amount of available light, On seriously sunny shoots, I will use a 4-stop ND filter and still be able to shoot hand-held to maximize my contrast in the images.
#3 Pick your scene to fit a long exposure.
The idea with long exposures is to capitalize on the effect of keeping your shutter open longer. There are things that will help make these images look better, and a few things to consider not doing as well. If you are shooting a scene with water, especially running water, a long exposure will blur the water.
This is a 30-second exposure with a 4-stop ND, at ISO 100, f22, shot right after sunset. I then increased the color saturation to give the image more of a reddish, sepia tone.
This is a 2-minute exposure with a 10-stop ND at ISO50, f22
Even a pond will take on a different look as the surface will get smooth and mirror-like.
Now, see what happened to the clouds in this image? Often times I will try long exposures on cloudy days as it adds a little to the images when the clouds show movement.
However, if it’s windy, that can blur your trees, which may or may not be the look you are going for. You will want to experiment with different conditions to see what type of Long exposure Infrared you like. Don’t be afraid to try everything; if the image doesn’t work out, just don’t share it.
#4 Set your camera properly
Make it easier on yourself by setting your camera right. Start with the lowest ISO setting you have available. Many new mirrorless cameras have a “Low” ISO setting which is the equivalent of ISO 50. By setting your ISO you now need more light. Next, take your f-stop to a higher number. The higher-numbered f-stop requires more light.
#5 Use a remote or delayed shutter
When you are capturing a long exposure, the last thing you want is anything that negatively affects the image. No matter how careful you are, pressing the shutter button can jar the camera slightly, affecting the image. Most cameras allow for some sort of remote shutter activation by a wireless remote or a cellphone app. If you don’t want to do this, instead consider setting your camera for a delay. Then when you press the shutter button you can move your hand away before the shutter actually opens.
#6 Budget more time for long exposures
One thing that always amuses me is how long it takes to capture such a small number of long exposures. I have had a one-hour shoot time generate only 6 or 7 images. Give yourself enough time to try different things and to shoot different exposure times. If possible, try a location at different times of the day for a different look.
#7 (Most Important) Enjoy the process!
I watch some people shoot and they get so serious I wonder if they are actually enjoying themselves? This is your art form, and for many, your hobby…. it should be fun. Enjoy the process! Try different things, different exposure times, camera heights, and camera angles. Don’t stress over the results, focus your energy on enjoying the image-capture experience. If the images don’t turn out the way you want, ……… don’t show them to anyone and go back and try again.
Below are a few more examples of Infrared long exposures.
I have a portfolio of IR long exposures you can see here.