Using Infrared Illumination For Night Time Photography

Many people think that usable night vision technology is only available to the military or through the purchase of very expensive and high tech equipment. Today, however, the situation is rapidly changing and many cameras and camcorders have excellent built in low light and infrared vision capabilities.

The most common and least expensive method of capturing video or images in the dark is by using near infrared illumination. One example is the Sony Night Shot camcorder that first introduced this method over ten years ago.

The internal CCD recorder in many modern video cameras is capable of capturing IR light. This enables the unit to record better quality video in low light situations. And on some models, an internal near infrared light source is built into the camera to increase the quality of images taken in low light.

For close up work or in low light interiors, this system performs very well. People find, however, that the cameras seem to perform poorly in extremely low light situations, such as filming wildlife at night. There just is not enough of an infrared light source to light an outdoor scene using only the somewhat limited built in unit. But, by adding an additional external near infrared light source, excellent night time footage can be taken.

If you add more infrared light to the area where you are shooting, it still seems totally dark to the eye. But the camera now has a large additional source of infrared illumination. There are a number of different types of LED illuminators that use a group or sets of banks of infrared light emitting diodes.

Add on illuminators range from accessory units available from your camcorder manufacturer to extremely powerful individual units from OEM sources. The standard add on lights are not high priced, and higher level battery powered external light kits that allow illumination in the 100 foot range can be found in the two to three hundred dollar price range.

By using an external IR light source of adequate power, it’s possible to set up a useful night vision system without a huge cost outlay. For wildlife enthusiasts, the advantage of using your camcorder in this way is that you can set up in total darkness. The additional infrared illumination that you use can’t be seen, but you can see through the LCD viewfinder on your camera and view in the scene in what will look like near daylight conditions. The images using near infrared will be monochrome, and don’t show colors, but by adding a stronger light source your camera can record extremely detailed images. Adding extra IR light greatly reduces or eliminates the ‘graininess’ typically associated with low light photography.

One other interesting option to consider if you want to experiment with IR photography is to use an IR or infrared flashlight. These are quite inexpensive and while they won’t give you as much illumination as full light kits, they are fun to use and really do show what some of the capabilities of your camcorder are.

Try some experimenting in low light situations. You might find that your camera or camcorder has more built in features that you thought.