Things We Love: Infrared Flash Photography at Night with a Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art Lens

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Every time I pick up the infrared camera rig I use to photograph New York City at night, I can’t resist quoting Tony Montana’s iconic words from the movie, Scarface: “Say hello to my little friend!” The reason for this is that the Sunpak 622 Super Pro Flash, when combined with an infrared head, Wein Safe-Sync Hot Shoe to Hot Shoe with PC, Nikon D800, and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens is just so beautiful to behold. We’re talking serious eye candy. For added wow factor, I dressed the camera in a camouflage easyCover Silicone Protection Cover and Lens Rim. Looks aside, my infrared rig also takes fantastic photos. No wonder it’s one of those things any photographer would love.

My goal in assembling “the perfect” infrared rig was to spice up the humdrum world of regular photography. The first step was sending my Nikon camera for infrared conversion to a company such as Kolari Vision. During the conversion process, the camera’s built-in IR blocking filter is removed. A filter that instead blocks visible light, but allows IR light to pass through is then carefully fitted over the camera sensor. For night photography, it’s best to use a DSLR instead of a mirrorless camera. The reason for this is that, unlike with a mirrorless camera, placing a dark infrared filter over a DSLR sensor won’t affect low-light focusing ability.

The second step was pairing the camera with an infrared flash. It took some searching, but eventually I found a Sunpak flash with a matching IR head. Had this option not been available, I would have searched for filter material to tape over a standard flash that would block visible light while being transparent to IR light. What I love about my Sunpak is that the infrared flash output is adjustable, powerful, and invisible to the human eye. To protect my camera’s electronic circuitry from potentially high flash-trigger voltage, I use a Wein Safe-Sync Hot Shoe to Hot Shoe with PC. I figure it’s better being safe than sorry.

Once I had my infrared rig assembled, I bought a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home Bag to carry it, and hit the streets for some shooting. Most of the time I found myself shooting between IS0 1200-3200, f/8-16, 1/30-1/125, and low flash power. Being able to instantly assess my exposures made shooting easy. In the field, I used the flash power selector to balance subject exposure with background and ambient light. The final step was to process the raw files creatively in Photoshop. Generally, I put clarity at 100, and then play with the other adjustment sliders until I get the results I’m after. It’s a lot of fun.

Please share your infrared flash photography thoughts and questions in the Comments box, below.

The “Things We Love” series articles are written by B&H Photo Video Pro Audio staff to talk about products and items that we love. Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the writers and do not represent product endorsements from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio.
 

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Daniel,  which IR filter (wavelength) did you have installed into your D800?  And does the IR filter need to closely match the wavelength of the IR flash?

Thanks!

Hi James. On my Nikon D800 I got the standard IR filter installed - 720nm. Before that I had a Sony A7 converted to Deep BW IR - 830nm. In terms of IR, they both worked well with my IR flash, which is 840nm. My understanding is that IR filters below 840nm will work best. However, I haven't had the opportunity to test others. Also, I don't mind high  ISO noise with IR - I actually try to enhance it because I think it looks cool - like film grain. Oh, and I think all the IR conversions are below 840nm anyway - so it shouldn't be an issue. Good luck with your IR adventures. 

"I would have searched for filter material to tape over a standard flash that would block visible light while being transparent to IR light. "

For those of us who cannot find the discontinued SunPak IR head, does B& H offer a filter ?

B&H has this: LEE Filters 3x3" Infra Red #87 Infrared Polyester Filter B&H # LE8733 MFR # 87P3 According to Lee Filter site it's 730 nanometers - so that should work - although having never used it, I can't guarantee it. Also in a larger size: LEE Filters 4x4" Infra Red #87 Infrared Polyester Filter. 

Thanks!

I agree with Frederick K.  I have no problem my converted Fujifilm X-T2 in low light.  In fact, my former converted Nikon D7000 would not properly autofocus at all, in any light, using the viewfinder.  Live view was necessary for Nikon autofocus of IR, which essentially meant that I was in 'mirrorless'.

Interesting - my friend's IR-converted Nikon D7200 worked great in super low light. Still, as a general statement, and based on my experiences with the D800 and D7200, and based on info that certain camera models have trouble focusing at f/stops smaller than f/8, and that IR filters soak up 3 plus f/stops of light - one can deduce that in general mirrorless cameras will have a harder time - with exceptions :)

Hmmm ... I have No Problem Auto Focusing in Low Light with my IR Converted Fujifilm X-T2. After 50+ years of pro work, carrying heavy kit around, I REALLY Prefer the Lightweight Fujifilm options. But I like your shots! I did a bit of IR Night Flash photography back in the late '70's. I should take it up again. Thanks for the reminder ... I think I have some IR gel sitting around that I could use with my flash. :-) 

Cool. Good to know your X-T2 focuses well with a 3-stop filter over the sensor. Back in the 70's you could've used IR flashbulbs I suppose.

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