It Doesn’t Need to End When the Sun Goes Down: Night-time Infrared Photography

Many people fall into the trap of thinking that infrared photography is an activity for full sun and when confronted with a beautiful treed landscape or a portrait subject. Nothing could be further from the truth and you can use a camera for infrared photography whenever you like the results.
Night time infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
1/250 sec at f8, 100ISO, 35mm with a 17-35mm Canon f2.8 L lens. All photography in this article is with my Canon 350D that was converted for IR by maxmax.com

People have this idea that infrared is only for certain types of photographic subject matter. Personally my approach to infrared is this: it has a particular look and I will use it whenever that look gives me a result that I want. I am not a purist. I do not believe in singular approaches, I do believe in the final image and whatever it takes to get it. So I carry my infrared converted 350D with me most places and am finding that you can get singularly different results using infrared in many situations you might not expect.

Why do I find IR so flexible? Well, because IR will give you a different tonal distribution from the colors in the scene than will a normal visible light image, it looks different. Some objects will become markedly brighter in IR, some darker. We are used to many green plants going bright and the blue sky going dark. But you also get surprising things changing tonality. Some rocks will go lighter and some darker than they look to the eye. And so it goes. I love this sense of exploration. Frankly it has made the whole world new and I am loving shooting conventional and infrared and comparing the results and working out which I prefer in a given situation. It is fun.

Night time infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
1/250 sec at f8, 100ISO, 35mm with a
17-35mm Canon f2.8 L lens

So what happens when you shoot infrared as and after the sun goes down? Well, your exposures get longer. That’s about it, really. The pictures illustrating this article were taken at the beach to further illustrate the point that you can shoot IR anytime, anywhere, if you are will to experiment. Now night time infrared photography is, because of the exposure times, the province of either converted cameras or the shrinking number of cameras with weak enough IR blocking filters so that the IR sensitivity is still good. Remember there is no harm in long exposure times and you can exploit them, using it to give you some of the types of image shown here.

Night time infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
1/350 sec at f9.5, 100ISO, 100mm with a 28-135mm Canon lens

What about light sources? Well, it seems that even with the sun below the horizon there is enough IR bouncing around from the sun hitting the atmosphere higher up to get decent shots. If the moon is up it is also a source of infrared illumination. Most artificial lighting produces some IR that you can use, so cityscapes can be shot. In fact you may get differing color effects as the spectral characteristics of the different light sources interact with the residual characteristics of the RGB bayer filter on the sensor to produce variation from layer to layer.

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
1/10 sec at f2.8, 100ISO – As the sun sets you can get great sky effects

So sit back, look at some images and read the captions for ideas. Then go out and try it for yourself, or try something or anything and see if you like it.

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
Some seaweed has the classic infrared look. Here the sun is near the horizon. 1/90 sec at f4.5 and 100ISO

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
More great sky 2 sec at f3.5 and 100ISO

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
1/60 sec at f4.5 and 100ISO

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
As it gets really dark the lights come on. 20 sec at f5.6 and 100ISO

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
30 sec at f4.5 and 100ISO – With the long exposures come motion blur and with that some great effects

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
See that the classic white look of the seaweed has not gone away even though the sun is long set

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
Here I have used the painting with light technique, using a small torch to illuminate the rocks in the forground, holding the torch briefly on each during the exposure, and then moving on. 8 sec at f1.8 and 400ISO, Canon 28mm f1.8 lens

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
Moonrise 6 sec at f3.5 and 100ISO

Night infrared photography by Wayne J. Cosshall
Looking the other way from the moonrise we had a moving boat that painted a strip of light. 20 sec at f3.5 and 100ISO. This one had some heavy adjustment. All the previous ones just had levels used to get the white and black points where I wanted them, and, with some, the mid point tweaked to open up the shadows a bit.
You can see some other night infrared photography that I have taken under different circumstances at:
Night Photography
Some More Night Infrared Photography
Night Photography 2
and even a comet infrared photograph

Just experiment and have fun. Don’t assume anything and don’t take anyone
else’s word that it can’t be done till you have tried it yourself.

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