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Infrared Lighting

Infrared Lighting for Infrared Photography

Daylight: The best source of infrared lighting is natural daylight. Sunlight has plenty of infrared light, about as much as visible light, and easily illuminates your subject for infrared photography.

Incandescent and Halogen Lights: Incandescent lighting will produce sufficient infrared light for indoor shooting. If you need to shoot indoors, you should check that there is incandescent or halogen lighting available. Incandescent lighting will use a WB setting close to what would be set outdoors for infrared.

IR Leds: Dedicated infrared LEDs work well for IR illumination. These LEDs are available as individual components for making your own illumiation, or as assembled units. As an assembled unit, there are a variety of options available, with options that run on battery, plug into a wall, and even some that can mount on a camera hotshoe. These are good for providing a constant directed illumination. TV remotes use IR leds, so in a pinch a TV remote can be used as an IR flashlight. IR leds will generally be invisible to the eye (although some lower wavelength ones may faintly glow red) and can be used for discrete illumination of the subject or nighttime shooting. LEDs emit around a single wavelength, so when selecting the LED illumination source, you should check that the wavelength of the LED is higher than the IR filter being used on the camera. For example a 780nm IR LED will work with a 720nm filter, but will not be visible using an 850nm filter.

Camera Flash: Camera flashes emit infrared as well as visible light when they fire, so they can be used for normally for infrared flash photography. It is possible to cover the flash with an IR filter to get rid of the visible portion of the flash and have a dedicated IR flash. For this kind of modification, it is important to use a glass filter, not a gel filter, as the gel filter may melt from the heat of the flash. When modified like this, the flash will still be visible as a red glow when looking at the camera, but is generally non obtrusive. Some flashes will not keep the white balance from the camera while others will. See Flash WB article for details.

Green Laser: Some green lasers also emit IR. See our green laser article for details

Inappropriate IR lighting:

Fluorescent lighting: Fluorescent lighting is optimized for energy efficiency. Part of how this is accomplished is by limiting the emission of these lights to only the visible spectrum. As such, these lights have only a very faint IR emission and are not adequate for infrared photography. This is true of both CFL type bulbs and larger tube style fluorescent bulbs. If shooting indoors, it is important to make sure that there is a source of incandescent lighting otherwise there will be insufficient light from just fluorescent lights.

Household LED lighting: Since LEDs emit around a single wavelength, visible LED lighting is completely useless for infrared. Newer LED lightbulbs, for example, will then not work at all for infrared photography.

3 Responses

  1. I did not realize that the best source of infrared lighting is natural daylight. Photography is something I like, and I would like to get some infrared sources for lighting. Incandescent and Halogen lights will have to be something I look more into for the type of lighting I want.

  2. Sunlight is the best source for IR illumination, yes, but don’t forget the Moon. A full Moon reflects lots of sunlight and is a great IR illuminator.

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