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When I started out photographing in infrared I wasn't setting a specific White Balance (I let the camera set on automatic). Then I started learning more about how people take infrared shots, and that they were setting their White Balance to "reds" either by taking a picture with the Infrared Filter on, or by taking a picture of a shade of red.

Which is better?

  • Setting the White-Balance to the scene close up with the filter on?
  • Setting the White-Balance to the scene?
  • Setting the White-Balance to a shade of red?
  • Use the automatic white-balance? (Or another 'default' mode)

And why would I chose one option over the other? Will choosing a White Balance differ with different Infrared filters?

I've experimented a little bit but I'd rather know a little more about both Infrared photography and the use of White Balance.

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    No need to be sorry about anything, the question is researched and detailed and I for one am curious about the answers. – Francesco Sep 1 '12 at 17:37
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With infrared I would strongly advise shooting RAW and setting white balance in post. When I started shooting infrared, I found the standard Lightroom adjustments didn't have enough latitude to white balance infrared, so I had to create a custom camera profile. The point is that the color shift you get is extreme. I would not trust the camera to be able to accomplish it, nor would I want the white balance baked into the file in case I wanted to change it later.

If you really want to set WB in camera then I would put the filter on and shoot a white sheet of paper under natural light set a custom WB from that.

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What type of camera do you use to shoot infrared? I ask for I have a IR only converted older Nikon D-70 which was converted by Life Pixel and I do a custom white balance by metering off of something green, grass for example,and with Nikon the display will read Gd, for good, or Ngd, for no good. Otherwise I agree with a previous answer that gave an example of a reference shot, a piece of white paper perhaps will be of some help and no doubt, shoot RAW. Other than that my personal experience is in shooting IR film and having a camera body converted to deep red by removal of a filter over the camera's sensor.

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Automatic white balance in camera for pictures taken with either an infrared filter or with an infrared modified camera will likely not work the way you expect, since the camera mostly sees shades of red. A recommended way to get the white balance correct in camera is to set custom white balance from foliage or grass, with your filter on. This way, in your final picture, leaves and grass will show up in white or gray (which is likely what you want).

This approach is valid for a "Standard" or "Deep B&W" infrared filter, for other types of infrared filters which let more visible light pass through to the sensor (often called "Super Color" or "Super Blue" infrared filters), LifePixel recommends taking the custom white balance from a grey card as usual.

This will give you good results when importing your infrared pictures into your favorite photo editor. One exception to that rule is unfortunately Adobe Lightroom, where you will have to create a custom profile for your infrared pictures. This was already mentioned in a different answer. Without a custom profile, your pictures will show a strong red cast, which you will be unable to remove using the white balance settings.

Be prepared to fine-tune the white balance (and contrast) of your infrared pictures in your photo editing tool, as the result straight out of your camera is likely disappointing, even when using the custom white balance approach described above.

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The mechanics of how to set white balance depends on the camera.

  • Some cameras (Canon) allow you to take reference photos with AWB that are used to set white balance later. Other cameras cannot save reference photos. White balance must be set directly.

  • Another issue is some cameras will refuse to set WB when the image is outside some expected range. Too dark, too bright, too much color cast, etc. Difficulty setting white balance is more likely when using an infrared filter with an unmodified camera.

As for what reference to use to set white balance:

  • Experiment with different IR-reflective surfaces. You can identify them by looking for relatively bright objects in Live View. Whatever you use to set white balance will tend toward gray in your images.

  • You can use something that reflects pretty much everything, like concrete pavement. Then swap the red and blue channels in post for faux-color IR with golden-colored leaves. (When using 680nm or 590nm filters.)

    pavement WB RB channel swap

  • You can get a different look by setting white balance on grass or other foliage.

    foliage WB

  • For a more monochromatic look, use a high-quality 720nm filter that does not let visible light through. The less visible light, the more monochromatic the image will appear. If too much visible light is allowed through, the filter may behave like a deep-red filter and foliage will not be bright.

    good filter

Other issues:

  • DSLRs may have problems metering for IR because they use separate sensors with different sensitivities to non-visible light. You will have better results with Live-View.

  • The sensor stack of some cameras (Canon) may be insensitive to IR, even after modification. There is likely an element on the sensor stack (other than the hot mirror) that blocks a significant amount of IR. I suspect the Bayer filter. Use of high-quality filters becomes more critical with such cameras. Shutter speeds will be longer and ISO higher than cameras that are more IR sensitive.

    A side effect is such cameras can be used for normal visible-light photography when used without any filter. AWB won't work correctly, but any white surface can be used to set custom white balance.

  • Autofocus may not have enough light to work with through near-IR filters. It may be necessary to focus manually.

  • Processing raw files has its own issues. White balance settings would affect the embedded preview, but otherwise wouldn't matter.

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