TECHNIQUES

Seeing the world in a new light: how infrared photography can enhance your creativity

Landscape and travel photography giant David Clapp has been shooting in infrared to create unique photographs, and he reveals how finding a flexible way to do so has broadened his horizons.
The Khuê Văn pavilion at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam, surrounded by trees that appear a red/orange hue due to an infrared filter.

The Khuê Văn pavilion at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam. "There was a lot of green foliage at the temple, and on the day I was there the light was poor," says landscape and travel photographer David Clapp. "Using an IR Chrome infrared filter gave me one of the best shots of the trip because it's got such an unusual colour palette." Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a full spectrum conversion, a Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 62mm, 1/15 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © David Clapp

As a professional landscape and travel photographer, David Clapp frequently goes to locations around the world in search of strong images for his professional portfolio. He shoots, runs photographic tours and supplies canvas art companies with travel images for home décor. Some of the most valuable images in his portfolio in recent years have been shot in infrared.

For the British photographer, maximising his creativity now means taking two cameras: one for standard colour shots (most recently a Canon EOS R5) and the other for infrared photography (a converted Canon EOS RP). Here, he reveals his IR photography techniques.

Why infrared photography?

Infrared photography, also known as IR photography, records wavelengths of light that are beyond the visible spectrum and creates otherworldly images where colours or tones are often completely different from what we see with 'normal' vision. It can create opportunities for striking images in unpromising situations.

"Colour relies so heavily on atmosphere and lighting conditions, but infrared can work at pretty much any time of day," says David. "You can photograph something that's very normal and everyday and turn it into something unique. It's given my work such a strong identity."

Setting up a camera for infrared photography

David has been a professional photographer since 2005, and infrared images have been part of his business for around 13 years. Until recently, he used two main methods for creating them. One was to shoot with an infrared filter attached to his lens, which blocked most or all of the visible light spectrum and meant exposures were very long.

"Shooting an outdoor scene in bright sunlight with a 720nm (nanometer) screw-on infrared filter would typically need a 30-second exposure," says David. "It looked ethereal with, for instance, clouds blurred because they had moved during the exposure, but at the same time it was impractical."

The other method involved having one of his cameras converted so the built-in filter that blocks infrared light from reaching the sensor was removed, then replaced with an infrared filter of a fixed wavelength. This was effective, and his infrared travel images taken in locations including Paris and New York sold well. However, this approach restricted him to shooting only one type of infrared image.

What David calls his "lightbulb moment" came in the summer of 2021, when he realised there was another, much more flexible way of shooting different types of infrared image – by having a full-spectrum conversion done to his Canon EOS RP. "It was such a revelation to me," he says. This system involves the camera's infrared-blocking filter being removed and replaced with a transparent quartz plate that allows the full spectrum of light (ultraviolet, visible light and infrared) to reach the sensor.

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This enables David to use infrared filters of different wavelengths via the Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. As the adapter is used for attaching EF lenses to an EOS R System body, it means David has to shoot with EF lenses. "I'm happy with that," he says. "There's no loss of performance quality when using the adapter and I don't feel the lenses I have are in any way a compromise for the style of work I'm doing."

Importantly, using the adapter not only enables him to create images with different infrared effects, it also allows him to shoot with the same exposure lengths and ISO settings as conventional photography.

David opted to use his Canon EOS RP for the full-spectrum conversion. "I'd used the EOS RP a lot as my everyday colour camera," he says. "For me, photography is primarily about the refinement of concepts and the exploration of ideas. The camera is there to capture that exploration. It shoots 26MP images and it's compact and understated. Having something small that people hardly notice is important to me when I travel. So when I went down the infrared route, this was the camera I chose."

Hot air balloons are captured in flight over a valley in Cappadocia, Turkey, an infrared filter turning them an array of pastel colours.

This aerial image, shot from a hot air balloon, was taken when David was on a photo tour in Cappadocia, Turkey, using an IR Chrome filter. "The filter turns the balloons all sorts of unusual pastel colours and creates a false autumnal landscape," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a full spectrum conversion, a Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 64mm, 1/400 sec, f/8 and ISO1600. © David Clapp

Framed by a window, the pagoda at Bái Đính Temple in Vietnam stands out against a clear sky, an infrared filter giving the foliage of surrounding trees a pink hue.

In this image of the pagoda at Bái Đính Temple in Ninh Bình province in northern Vietnam, David used his 665nm infrared filter to give the foliage a pale pink hue. He says: "This is one of my trademark pink trees / blue sky channel-swapped images, which give the photograph a Japanese cherry blossom feel." Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a full spectrum conversion, a Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lens at 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO400. © David Clapp

Filters for different infrared effects

For a 2022 trip to Vietnam, David shot infrared images on his converted Canon EOS RP and colour photographs on a Canon EOS R5. Starting in Hanoi and moving on to four other cities including Ho Chi Minh, David shot a mixture of landscapes, architecture, street scenes and street portraits.

Filters for infrared photography start at a wavelength of around 450nm and extend to 840nm. David chose to take three infrared filters on the trip. One was a 590nm filter, which allows more visible light to reach the sensor and creates colourful infrared images with golden yellow foliage and bright blue skies when processed (channel swapped) in software.

The second was a 665nm filter, his favourite infrared filter, which produces less extreme images but still has the potential to deliver colourful results. The final one was an IR Chrome filter, which replicates the appearance of long-discontinued Aerochrome film and was originally developed for aerial photography. Using this filter, skies and skin colours remain normal, but green-coloured subjects, such as foliage and grass, turn orange or red.

When shooting, David would choose the filter that gave the effect he wanted for a particular subject, then fine-tune the colours and white balance at the editing stage.

A one-second exposure of a fast flowing river surrounded by mountains. The long exposure has blurred the movement of the water.

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Shooting infrared alongside conventional colour

David's conventional colour images, shot on the Canon EOS R5, included textural landscapes of rice terraces and street portraits. He particularly valued the camera's autofocusing accuracy and speed, as well as its image stabilisation. "It was absolutely brilliant," he says. "I only had to use my tripod once on the entire trip – I was that confident about shooting sharp pictures without it, even in evening and dawn light.

"The Face Tracking feature is absolutely fantastic for pictures of people, even when they are children moving erratically. For example, I was taking portraits of a young boy swinging back and forward on a hammock. Using AI Servo AF in conjunction with Face Tracking, the focus locked on to his head and gave me the option of which eye to choose. The shots were sharp and detailed. This feature was a game-changer for me."

A close-up portrait of a young boy in Vietnam, taken on a Canon EOS R5 using autofocus to ensure his features are clear and sharp.

David used a Canon EOS R5 to shoot colour images on his recent trip to Vietnam, including this portrait of a young boy. It was taken while the boy was swinging in a hammock. "The EOS R5's autofocus locked on beautifully to his face and eye," says David. "With the camera in AI Servo, this gentle portrait remained pin-sharp throughout." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 42mm, 1/500 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © David Clapp

Wooden boats float on water, surrounded by plant life, the tones of the landscape turned monochrome via an infrared filter.

In this image, also taken in Ninh Bình province, David again used the 665nm infrared filter. David says, "The scene's subdued greens and brown water was unappealing in colour, but the infrared filter brings out the tones beautifully and makes the plants and foliage look extremely unusual." Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a full spectrum conversion, a Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens at 30mm, 1/160 sec, f/16 and ISO400. © David Clapp

Expanding creative possibilities

Conventional colour images still hold plenty of interest and potential for David, but shooting with a range of infrared effects particularly excites him. While it's worth stressing that a full-spectrum conversion on your camera is not officially recommended by Canon, and that it's an irreversible procedure that will invalidate your warranty, for David it has opened the door to making different kinds of images.

"The freedom you get from shooting infrared in this way unlocks creativity and is so artistically liberating," he says. "As well as photographing with different infrared wavelengths, you can also, for example, shoot the same scene with different filters and blend them together. It opens your mind to think about the world in a completely different frequency, which then means you train yourself to look at the world in a totally unique way."

In addition to infrared photography, David is also planning to shoot with light that's on the ultraviolet spectrum (below 380nm) by using a UV-transmitting bandpass filter in his Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. "I haven't experienced shooting with ultraviolet light yet, but I'm looking forward to trying it," he says. "When I'm using these different frequencies, the camera is utterly magical. It gives me limitless possibilities."

Written by David Clark


David Clapp's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

A Canon EOS RP camera is positioned on a wooden table with rolling green landscape behind it.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

A next-generation 45 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor captures incredible clarity, low noise and wide dynamic range. "The EOS R5's ability to create the sharpest of images from moving subjects and its intelligence to track faces, eyes and movement makes the camera a huge step forward for the travel photographer," says David. "The IBIS means I am free of the tripod."

Canon EOS RP

A small, light and intuitive full-frame mirrorless camera for superb creativity on the go. "Understated, light and powerful, the EOS RP has been one of my go-to cameras for a few years now," David says. "For me, the camera stops complicated technology getting in the way of capturing moments with its simple layout and quick access to features."

Lenses

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Capture stunning landscapes and architectural images using this compact and lightweight, high-performance, ultra wide-angle zoom lens with Image Stabilizer. David uses this lens for landscapes, travel, architecture or when a large dynamic foreground is needed. "This lightweight and sharp optic is a firm favourite," he says.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 IS USM

A versatile lens with macro mode for up to 0.7x magnification. "My favourite standard zoom, this sharp and lightweight lens is a perfect travel and landscape companion," says David. "It has great image stabilisation and barely any aberrations."

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II

Refined to deliver superb image quality right to the edges of the frame. "I shoot everything from architecture to landscape and interiors to panoramas with this lens," says David. "I also use it with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III, so it becomes a 35mm f/4.5 TS-E!"

Accessories

Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

The Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R takes the functionality of the Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and adds the ability to use drop-in filters, removing the need to fit filters on the front of a lens, which is especially useful for wide-angles with a large front lens element.

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