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What is Infrared Photography?

Infrared, or IR, photography offers the opportunity to explore the world of the unseen. It is not black-and-white photography, and it is not just image editing. What makes IR photography so special is the fact it captures a world beyond what we can actually see with our own eyes - a world always there, but hidden.

In IR photography the world can often look very different from what we are accustomed to seeing. Colours, textures, leaves and plants, human skin, and all other manner of objects can reflect IR light in unique and interesting ways, ones that cannot be mimicked with just editing tools. 

It takes specialised equipment to be able to capture the infrared light spectrum, and editing software to balance and tone - plus some good old fashioned luck and experience. The same photograph taken only 10 minutes later could yield something much different.

To understand how IR photography works, let us first discuss the light spectrum. The light spectrum is the many different wavelengths of energy produced by a light source. A rainbow shows the visible part of the spectrum (the part we can see); infrared (if it could be seen) would be located just beyond the red side of the rainbow. 

To put it very simply, when we 'see' an object we see reflected light. When light hits an object some wavelengths are absorbed and some are reflected. Depending on the wavelength we see a colour. As an example, when you see a photograph of a red umbrella what you are seeing is the umbrella absorbing all the wavelengths except for the wavelength we see as the colour red. 

Light is measured in nanometers (nm). Each nanometer represents a wavelength of light. The visible light that we can see is a very small part of the spectrum - from 380nm to 780nm. Infrared follows on from 750nm to 1050nm (or 1mm). So in essence, infrared is always there it is just we cannot see it.

Reflected IR light produces an array of surreal effects, from vegetation appearing white or frosted to portraits being milky, smooth and the eyes ghostly. IR light can also pass through sunglasses, as well as smoke, fog, and haze to create crisp, highly detailed, clear photos. Just about everything looks different in IR - familiar, but different. 

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