To Africa with Nikon D90 converted to IR

March 13, 2013

Before I went to Africa in late October 2010, I had Jennifer’s Nikon D40 x converted to IR and supposedly calibrated for my 10 to 24mm f/2.8 zoom lens.  I had previously seen beautiful black and white IR images by Ron Rosenstock and by Billy Dodson.  Since I was going back to Africa with Billy, I was hoping to come back with similar images.  Billy had already planned this trip long before inviting me to accompany him. He scheduled his time to be there right before the rainy season with would guarantee some clouds in an  otherwise blank blue sky.  Just what you’d want for dramatic B & W IR photos.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework ahead of time.  My first mistake, one of many, was not researching the various IR filters that were available and thus choosing the one that would best suit my needs.  The second was not choosing the lens best suited for the variety of scenes to shoot.  The 10 to 24mm zoom proved to be too wide an angle lens for the vast landscapes that East Africa offers.  Also it is also best to have one of the many 

animals in the foreground with a beautiful dark sky and white clouds in the background.  The third mistake was not becoming intimately familiar with the D40X.  I came back from that trip very frustrated (with respect to IR photography) with only one acceptable B & W IR image.  I spent the next several months pondering what to do about the D40X camera.  I couldn’t see any way to rectify my mistakes.

Finally, I asked Billy what camera, lens, filter he used and who did the conversion for him.  He had converted a Nikon D90 to IR and used a 18 t0 135mm Nikor zoom lens.  Lifepixel completed the conversion for him, but he wasn’t sure which filter was installed.  So I began reviewing Lifepixel’s web pages and all their tutorials including videos.  They really do a great job in educating their customers.  I sent them an email with several questions and they arranged to call at a time convenient to me.  I purchased a used Nikon D90 camera body and choose Lifepixel’s Super Color IR Filter.  One advantage of this filter is the sky will remain blue after processing.  I also choose to have them perform a universal calibration on the camera.  This means that I must use the camera in Live View Mode for focusing and compositing, but I can use any lens I wish.

I capture and edit my photos in the manner that Lifepixel demonstrates in there tutorials.  This is illustrated in the following steps and photographs:

Set your camera to RAW for taking all your photographs.  Review your histogram and adjust so there is no clipping at either extreme.  Take 3 photos by bracketing your exposure approximately 1/2 to 2/3 f-stop.

The photo below was taken using a 18 to 200mm lens at 42mm, ISO 400, 1/320 sec and f/13.

Chinese fan palm IR photo RAW


I use Lightroom3 for cataloging and editing my photographs.  Since I am using Nikon equipment, Lifepixel recommends using Nikon CaptureNX to properly adjust the color temperature, or white balance.

My image is exported into a folder that I identify simply as “Export to CaptureNX”.  This makes it easy for me to find it when I use CaptureNX to open this file.  It is very important when exporting to select “Original” under File Settings when exporting.  This assures the file will still be in RAW, or .NEF for Nikon files. Lifepixel has other equivalent recommendations of Canon users.  Once the file is loaded in Capture NX, use:Develop> Camera Settings>White Balance>Set Grey Point>Marquee Sample.  Then click “Start” and select a rectangle over a large portion of your photo. Once processing is completed your image will look similar to the photo below.

Chinese fan palm IR photo White balance adjustment I then save this image as a TIF to another folder that I labeled “Adjusted White Balance”  From here I open Photoshop and have it select my adjusted white balance image. Once my image is loaded in Phptpshop I select:  Image>Adjustment>Channel Mixer.  The Output Channel is set to Red. This is the default setting. Using the Source Channels below, set Red to zero and Blue to 100%.  Then the Blue Output Channel is selected and the Red Source Channel is set to 100% and Blue is set to zero.  Once this is completed, click OK.  Your image should then look something like the photo below:

Chinese fan palm IR photo channel swap I then bring this back into Lightroom to complete my editing.   Of course, Photoshop and Bridge can easily be used instead of Lightroom.  I am just more familiar with lightroom.

Below is the final edited color IR image and the B & W image edited using NIK Silver Effex Pro.

Chinese fan palm IR photo final color editChinese Fan Palms in Infrared, Tarangire, Tanzania, East Africa Chinese fan palm IR photo final black and whiteAT12L120C Finally, I discovered an unexpected benefit of IR Photos.  Sharpness is enhanced as the IR Blocking filter in the un-modified actually causes blurring to all images.  The photo below is Max, our Yorkie.  I took this shortly after I received my IR converted camera back from Lifepixel while I was checking out Live Focusing using the 18-200mm lens. As you can see, it is extremely sharp.



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