I got my Canon 6D back in 2013, and although it served me well for years, it was eventually replaced by a Canon 5D Mk IV and more recently the Canon R5. But rather than leaving this old, outdated 6D to rot on a shelf, I decided to give it a whole new life, converting it to take infrared images and getting some really awesome photos in the process.
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Converting a camera to shoot in infrared means that the sensor is modified to be sensitive only to infrared light. Although it is possible to do this yourself if you are particularly good with electronics, I have chosen to use a service in the UK called Pro Tech Photography. For £320 (about $398), Pro Tech converted my outdated full-frame 6D to shoot 720nm infrared. In the USA, Vision Kolari offers a similar service. Its reviews are good, but I haven’t used the company myself.
Infrared light is invisible to the naked eye, but through the camera it can produce weird and wonderful effects. Most notably, any green grass or foliage will look particularly bright – almost white – because the chlorophyll in the greenery reflects a lot of infrared light back to the camera. Generally, you will see two types of infrared photography. The first is called false color (see above), where the raw infrared file is processed in Photoshop using channels to create a color image with dramatic blue skies and often white foliage. It’s a surreal look, and some of my false color images look okay.
But the real joy for me is taking black and white infrared images. Infrared photography seems to work best in bright sunlight – often in the middle of the day when the sun casts strong shadows. These are conditions that photographers typically avoid, especially for landscapes, but infrared thrives here, delivering contrasting images with blue skies turning almost black, emphasizing the fluffy clouds in the sky.
Converting these shots to black and white creates spectacular images with a punchy contrast that I love. I took the camera on a recent trip to the Isle of Skye in Scotland and I’m so happy with the landscape photos I got (seen throughout this article and in my YouTube video seen above), preferring them to the color versions which I took my much more expensive Canon R5.
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And sure, I can convert those color images to black and white, but they won’t look the same as black and white images shot in infrared and won’t have the ethereal look that IR can achieve.
Strictly speaking, it’s possible to achieve the same effect by using infrared filters that attach to the front of your lens. However, these work by blocking all light except infrared, meaning very little light is allowed through the lens. Therefore, you need to use long exposures – often several seconds – to get enough light for a good photo. With the filters, you will also need to use a tripod, otherwise any movement in the scene (like trees blowing in the breeze) will be blurred.
I’ve really enjoyed my experiments with infrared photography so far and really look forward to doing more over the summer. If you’ve never tried it but like black and white images, I highly recommend you consider a conversion. It’s not terribly cheap, but it’s a great way to reuse that otherwise outdated camera and enjoy the creative thrill of taking photos in a whole new way.