Black and White Photos with Infrared  

 

My last two articles discussed using black and white photography and I’d like carry on with that topic this week.

This past week when there was one of those almost rare sunny clear blue sky February days I decided take a drive around my neighbourhood to make some pictures with my infrared camera.

That camera gives me scenes of colourfully altered reality when the light is right with results that are often unusually deep blue skies, and trees that are yellow or white instead of green. However, continuing on with what I have been writing and thinking about when and loaded the day’s files on my computer I converted the colourful images to black and white.

I like the striking effects I can sometimes get that are contrasty with dark skies and white vegetation when I make a black and white infrared photographs. They seem to have what some photographers call an “otherworldly” look.

I like converting my digital files to black and white and I enjoy the creative manipulation available to me.

Scenic photographer Nathan Wirth explains that creativity, “I wanted something different to experiment with, and I saw the potential to experiment with those infrared whites that come from the greens and the infrared blacks that come from the blues…and manipulate them until I found the stark contrasts that I was interested in.”

Infrared is a different way to visually discuss a subject, and a black & white photograph communicates in a subtle way. To me the combination of those two allows a photographer to stretch his or her creativity and show our world in different terms.

Digital and infrared gets me involved in the complete process from picking up the camera, the fun of doing photography, to completing the image on the computer. I enjoy the creativity of the infrared process that includes the computer. And wandering the neighbourhood on a sunny winter day with any kind of camera is so darned fun

A snow-covered landscape   

 

I looked out my window and the sun was poking in under the clouds creating deep shadows on the cold white snow after being dark and gloomy all day.

It made me think about the quote I used in my article last week by Paul Outerbridge, “in black and white you suggest; in color you state.” and thought, everything is so contrasty and monochromatic, it’ll give me a perfect opportunity to do a follow up on my last article about black and white photographs.

I rushed to get my coat and boots, attached my 70-200mm lens on my camera and went outside intending to get some interesting black and white photos of the shadows being cast in the yard.

As I trudged into the deep snow I looked around at the flat, overcast, shadowless landscape of my yard and thought of that verse by Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  The clouds had drifted lower to cover the bright light of the sun.  I was disappointed, but I spied a planter poking out of the snow and almost in desperation I focused on it and released my cameras shutter. Struggling through the snow a bit further I saw and photographed an old wooden wheel that was leaning against a lilac.

This time of year lots of photographers take advantage of the snow-covered landscape to create minimalist images and I thought, what the heck I’d walk down the street and see what I can find.

I could see a bicycle waiting for summer against my neighbour’s fence, and some wire plant holders in my garden. Boulders jutted out, sharp branches protruded, the snow falling off my green house made interesting shapes, and the handle of a rusty old snow blower my friend Shaun stuck along the road in front of my house on a hot day last summer to remind me that winter snow is only a few months away.

I just needed to “think in black and white” and remember to meter the darkest areas of each subject so I would not loose detail.

I wondered if I should drive down to the river or up along the road to find some deep snow drifts. Maybe I was just lazy, but with a bit of thought one never has to go very far from home to find subjects to photograph and anyway the road had very little snow so walking was easy. All I needed to do was go for a slow stroll along the road.

Even without the bright sun making shadows everything still could work as black and white photographs and that’s what I wanted. Sometimes I think flat overcast light isn’t worth my time, but when I returned home and loaded my pictures on the computer I was satisfied that this time it was.

In an article I wrote some years ago I said that a photographer I once met saying that he believed “shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing.”   That’s an intriguing thought, and if it is so, there wasn’t a much better time to visualise in black and white and exploit tonal elements in a scene as when one is viewing a snow-covered landscape.

The Black and White Photograph  

 

Today my friend Jo McAvany showed me a book of black and white portraits she had made for a client.

Black and White has always been my favourite photographic medium so, of course, I was really pleased to see that she was willing to take the step away from what most local photographers are doing and create the portrait collection in black and white.

Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Black and white photographs (in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. I think a B&W image stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms. I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.

In spite of the many modern photographers that don’t bother with anything more than just accepting what comes out of their camera, black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past and with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for a host of serious creative photographers.

Those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried monochrome (another word applied to B&W) image making, I will mention that it is easier than ever. Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu. However, I would suggest trying one of the many great programs available on the Internet that can be downloaded to test for free. Who knows, you might, like I do, really like black and white photography.

Readers by now must know how much I like quotes from famous photographers. So I’ll finish this up with some words from a turn of the century fashion and commercial photographer, Paul Outerbridge who wrote, “One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.”

Photographing Christmas lights    

I have always liked Christmas. I won’t go as far as saying that it’s my favourite time for year. Gosh, anytime time of year that I get to point my camera at something is my favourite time.

Christmas is special. I like the music. (Don’t ride in my car or visit me at my home if you expect any other kind of music till January 2nd) I also like the festive spirit of those people that remember this is a time of caring, giving and friendship. And, of course, I really like Christmas lights.

My last article was about using my ultra-wide lens Saturday morning to photograph the Tree of Hope, but the night before found Jo and I wandering in the cold photographing the city lights.

Jo used a 28-300mm and I used my 24-70mm and we both carried tripods. I think the lowest ISO I used was 800. Jo said she kept hers set at 100 ISO most of the time.

There were the usual strings of lights along the city streets, but it was the cheerful holiday lit Okanagan Lake waterfront that we wanted to photograph.

Kelowna goes all out and even has a skating rink that is open till 11PM and this year there was a big fire at one end for people to gather around.

Everything was perfect for two prowling photographers hunting for interesting and creative photos. I was hoping for snow. I like how the white covering reflects light at night.

We were ready for the cold and the snow and we even went shopping when we first arrived in Kelowna for a pair of insulated boots that Jo got for an early Christmas present.

What a fun overnight trip we had. We checked in to our downtown hotel, went Xmas shopping, had dinner at my favourite Kelowna restaurant (That plays blues music as you eat) were out till 9:30ish photographing the lights and got up early the next morning to photograph the 250,000 bulb Christmas tree.

As Jo and I drove home after that exhilarating time we talked about how we each found our own personal views of the lights. Would that be Perspective?

Photographing in low light or after dark helps to slow us down. One employs a tripod and most of the shutterspeeds are slow.

I think those photos that visually work usually take some forethought.

I’ll end this with a quote by American photographer Elliott Erwitt that I have used many times before because it fits so well, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

 

 

 

 

Ultra-Wide angle lens and the 120-foot Tree of Hope  

I recently wrote, “I have never been comfortable with wide-angle photography and I am not convinced as of yet. However, I have this big lens so for the time being I intend to put it in my bag every time I go out.”

I kept that promise and on an early Saturday morning this past weekend and I tried to be creative using that 14-24mm lens to photograph the 120 foot tree of Hope in Kelowna British Columbia.

“For 17 years the Tree of Hope at Landmark Centre has been a bright symbol of inspiration and hope to our community. The Tree of Hope is over 120′ tall and has approximately 25,000 energy-efficient bulbs. From late November until January, the Tree of Hope is a visible reminder to the citizens and visitors of Kelowna that the Christmas season is a time of generosity and compassion, bringing joy to friends and family.”

I remember the first time I saw that bright tree of lights.

My wife Linda and I had concluded our business late and were leaving Kelowna one snowy evening. All I was thinking at the time was how horrible our two-hour drive along the dark, winding snow-covered road would be.

When I saw the tree I made a sharp turn on a side street, stopped, got out and walked back along the road just to check it out. Returning back to the car I told my wife that next year I wanted to stay overnight so I could photograph that tree in the morning light.

Linda was always very patient when I got excited about doing a photograph and I am sure was thinking, “oh, great now I get to listen to John talking for the next two hours about how he will take a picture of that Xmas tree.”

I wrote. “Wide-angle lenses are interesting and I try to fit the subject into a wide-angle scene. Normally I would select a lens to match the subject, but with the 14-24mm lens I was always looking for a subject that would match the wide lens.”   That tree, the nearby buildings and the metal bridge that crosses the road were perfect.

I like how the blue early morning light separates building and adds background colour to lights, especially Christmas lights.

My best pal and photo partner Jo McAvany and I left our hotel about 6AM. It was still dark and we could have had breakfast first, but we were to excited. As it was we had plenty of time, the morning was very overcast and we waited over an hour for the sun to work it’s way through the clouds. However, that gave me plenty of time to play with the unique perspective that lens gave me.

I will report that I was more than happy with that lens. It was an ideal tool to photograph that tree and the architectural features around it.

I read that when using an ultra-wide lens one should choose and interesting foreground, shoot low, use distortion, frame the subject in an interesting way and take advantage of the sky. Good advice.

I think my ultra-wide lens comfort level is getting better. There are certainly subjects deserve the creative perspective that 14-24mm offers. Hmmm, I don’t know if “deserves” is the right word, but I did have fun.

 

 

 

I’ve never been a fan of wide-angle lenses. 

 

Back when I began earning my living pointing a camera the widest lens I would use was a 35mm on my 35mm camera and a 50mm on my medium format camera. Both were as wide as I could tolerate because I disliked the perspective.

I have tried fisheye lenses in the past, and although the photos I took might have been called creative, I was never tempted to keep the lens.

This past year I acquired a 14-24mm. I bought it to sell, but after reading several positive reviews about that lens I ordered a filter holder with both an ND and a polarizing filter deciding to give the wide angle a try before selling it.

I wrote about using that lens this past spring to photograph a waterfall on a rainy day.

I loaned the 14-24mm to my friend Jo McAvany and she loves it. Her photos from our trip to Bellingham Washington last October were great. I only tried it once while we were there when I wanted to include two waterfalls in the same shot, it worked perfectly for that, but I changed back to my familiar 24-70mm after only a couple shots.

Jo plans on using it for her Santa pictures this weekend. She has set up a small studio in my shop and will be photographing people’s dogs with Santa. I’ll be interested to see if she ends up changing to her 24-70mm.

The 14-24mm is a different beast, like any ultra-wide lens it has that unique perspective and some distortion at the edges. It’s built like a tank with over 2 pounds to carry (969 grams). A reviewer wrote, “It must be held level and flat to avoid distortion. However, It will focus within a foot of the sensor from 18 to 24 mm, allowing very wide close focus shots.”

I found one photographer that said, “For those who know how to use it effectively a 14-24 can be spectacular.” And the prolific writer and photographer (bythom.com) Thom Hogan wrote, “The 14-24mm is a fantastic lens. Optically, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a wide angle.”

Well in spite of my feelings about wide angle photographs, I decided any lens receiving reviews like those deserved a chance.

This past weekend I finally took that lens out for a good workout. It is sharp and does give very wide scenic views like most wide lenses I have tried. It focuses very close, is sharp wide open and like my 70-200mm easily locks on to birds in flight. (I decided to try some birds even though it’s too wide for that type of photography.

Most of the day I was photographing bridges and trees along the water thinking that might be a good way to test how I liked the wide perspective. I even spent some time with Jo’s three year old at a local playground to see how the lens performed up close.

Wide-angle lenses are interesting and, I think, a bit hard to use. I was continually trying to fit the subject into a wide-angle scene. Normally I would select a lens to match the subject, but with the 14-24 I was always looking for a subject that would match the wide lens.

There is also the need to correct some of the pictures in post. That’s not a complaint as I work on every image I take. But unless one wants the curved exaggeration of a wide-angle lens the edges require alignment. I guess that’s what using a ultra wide-angle lens is all about.

One reviewer wrote, “if you’re willing to roll with the punches, you’ll capture truly outstanding images…once you feel as if your creativity is starting to outgrow the confines of your gear, you might consider adding an ultra wide lens to your arsenal.”

I have never been comfortable with wide-angle photography so I am not convinced as of yet. However, I have this big lens so for the time being I intend to put it in my bag every time I go out.

Got new camera and its infrared  

When I first made photographs with infrared back in the early 1970s my choices were between purchasing black and white print IR film or colour IR slide film.

I tried the colour slide film, but at that time I wasn’t a fan of colour photographs and to make a reasonable print from a slide meant waiting a week or so for the film to get processed, (special handling also) then selecting an image for printing, sending it away again for an internegative copy to be made and then a final print enlargement. The whole process was not only costly, but time consuming.

As I have written before, Infrared film was a hassle. But nevertheless, I enjoyed the final images and shot IR black and white film for years.

When I became aware of digital infrared conversions I had my 6 MP Nikon D100 camera converted after I had been using it hard for some years. I purchased that camera in 2001 and expected it would, like a film camera, last forever. However, in this past year it began having problems keeping the data that I thought was being written to the memory card and I decided to start looking for another camera.

I answered an ad I found on eBay and bought a newer model. So that well used 2001- 6MP infrared camera has now been changed to a 2010, 16MP infrared camera.

Since I that first DSLR a lot has happened in the world of digital infrared. When I had that D100 altered there wasn’t much difference in IR filter availability. However, now I spent time deciding what the final IR effect was that I wanted.

I could stay with just black and white as I was used or choose any of several filters that are from total IR blocking to those allowing some visible light to show through.

I chose a filter called “super colour”. Now instead of only the black and white tones I get 4 color tones: Red, Yellow, Blue and Cyan.

With the super colour filter recording four colour tones of data I was pleased to not only have what is called “faux colours”, deep yellows, blues and muted red to work with, but when I convert a Super Color image to b&w I have many tones grey and black.

With my old camera all I needed to do was to go to Photoshop and change my blue channel and red channels, then turn the image to black and white. I like B&W, but as with my normal DSLR that starts with colour and then gets changed to B&W I decided to take the chance that I would like extra data the Super Color conversion offers.

Although this conversion isn’t as forgiving in flat, overcast light as my old camera and that somewhat limits the times I can get really good RAW images without needing to go to Photoshop or one of the other programs I have installed on my computer.

On a sunny day the pictures are stunning. Many are good enough to just stay as they are.

I am planning my yearly trek to photograph Christmas lights. That’s less than a month away and I am hoping there will be snow and at least on mostly sunny day along the waterfront and city streets so I can get some good infrared photographs when I first get there.

I want it all, snowy streets and just cold enough so I can photograph people ice skating at night, and clear enough so I can get silhouettes of the buildings in the early morning and, of course, some good infrared photos during the day