Infrared Photos of Clouds and Contrails

Mick West

Staff member
Infrared gives great contrast to clouds and contrails, bringing out detail that might be missed. Especially as they fade away. So I thought it might be nice to have a thread to share these types of photos. Feel free to add.

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Try it with a polarizer.
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Interesting, you do get even more contrast. Not a lot of clouds in the sky right this moment.

Also, with the polarizer on the autofocus stopped working. I switched to manual, and this one photo turned out super sharp. I wonder if the autofocus is a bit off with the IR. Experiments needed.
I got my longer filters today. There's a strong difference between the 720nm and the 950nm, which lets through less light (obviously).

The 950 gives more contrast between sky and vegetation, but less contrast within vegetation, so the trees look more white and washed out.

720 left, 950 right, drag to compare.
950nm really needs a tripod. It gets a slightly higher contrast sky, but often ends up a bit blurry.

I switched to 760nm, which seems like a reasonable compromise.

Really though, I've not sure seen a huge improved in close-ups of planes leaving contrails. Maybe a bit clearer, but it's hard to get an exact comparison.

Mt Shasta from 32 miles away. 760nm

Check out how well it cuts through the haze. The color photo is an iPhone, so low resolution, but the haze difference is obvious. See especially the low hill in the foreground compared to the mountain.
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I apologize in advance for the shaky hand held video. Thought folks may be interested in the difference between IR and normal spectrum video.

I was playing with filters and camera setting on a cross country flight. The combination of IR filter with high contrast black and white worked the best.


Camera - Sony A6000 with full spectrum conversion
Lens - Sony 55 - 210mm zoom

clip 1 - IR720nm filter full color setting
clip 2 - IR720nm filter high contrast black and white setting
clip 3 - IR cut filter (normal visible spectrum) full color setting
clip 4 - IR cut filter high contrast black and white setting
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This prompted me to go through my archive, but frustratingly I seem to have only taken my infrared camera with me on clear days far away from aircraft, viz this image shot in Monastir:


I even managed to capture what looks like an Airbus A320 coming in to land at the nearby airport, but no contrail because it was on final approach. I did find this from Venice however, around the Arsenale area:


Infrared slices through haze. I find that landscapes often look unnatural because there are no depth cues - as on the moon, without atmospheric haze the landscape looks like a tabletop model.