Another day with infrared        

The days here in Pritchard, British Columbia have been hot, dry, with air that has barely moved. A cloudless sky and constant sun that beats down on my head as I walk around my parched property, None of which has been that inspiring for photography.

So when I woke up to an overcast day this week I hurried through my morning chores with the thought of going off somewhere with my camera, and by the time I had finished my coffee I had decided to pull out my infrared converted camera and travel out along the dusty Stony Flats road to see how the overcast sky would show off the tall Fir trees that line it.

I drove along stopping for pictures every now and then, but I started feeling I was having a “photographer’s block”. It was then that I thought about the Chase falls.

I had been there only a couple months ago and thought about how nice it would to photograph the falls on a flat day without having to struggle with the hash contrast that accompanies a sunny day.

I knew the light would be unusual in that tight little canyon. It always is with infrared. Colour photos are so much easier there with the light is reflecting off the canyon walls.

This time of year the path along the creek is overgrown and narrow. And in my opinion, was a perfect subject for infrared with the subtle changing shades of green to a tonal range of whites.

The most dramatic infrared photographs of the falls need to be wide enough to include vegetation. An unaltered infrared image turns out mostly brown with a few slashes of light drifting down to make some features blue. Without foliage converting the image to black and white that isn’t much different than a normal black and white picture.

To get the otherworldly effect of infrared one must find and angle that includes foliage that turns white.

When plants reflect infrared light the effect will show them as glowing white, and its that tonal change that one is after when using infrared.

My favourite photographs were not the falls. This time it was the tightly treed creek and the overgrown path leading to Chase falls. However, the falls will always be the focal point of any photographs and one needs to work with that so viewers have a feeling from that location

Patience is part of any scenic/landscape photographer’s tool kit. And anyone that has accompanied me knows that I don’t become annoyed or anxious if I have to wait.

On this outing as I waited for over a half and hour for a fellow poking a stick into the water moving dirt, then digging with his hands and sifting though the particles. I never talked to him. I was up along the rocks for wide shots and he was perched on rocks near the falls. I assume he was hoping to find gold in the streambed.

He was finding small bits of something because he kept putting his findings in his shirt pocket. I have never searched for gold along that creek, but I have noticed a lot of iron pyrite clusters glowing in the shallow water. Maybe “fools gold” was what he wanted. Or, who knows, maybe he actually was finding something valuable.

To me the value I find in that canyon stream is the photographs I get to make.

Thoughts about Neutral Density Filters for Photography

Chase falls in August

Cool waters

White water

A neutral density filter is a clear, colourless, filter that reduces the intensity of all wavelengths, or colours of light, equally. It is usually a colorless (gray) filter that reduces the amount of light entering the lens. A photographer can select exposure combinations that would otherwise produce overexposed pictures. Using a ND filter allows a photographer to achieve a very shallow depth of field, or motion blur.

I’ll begin by saying quality ND filters have always been expensive. During the days of film, the exposure you made was the exposure you got. And when one used colour film one didn’t get a second chance if there was a colour shift, usually a purple cast, with less expensive filters. Some cheap filters weren’t all that sharp either.

I thought about that when during a workshop the leader loaned me a couple Lee filters (over a hundred dollars each) to try on long exposures of the waterfall we were photographing. He indicated if I were to order through him I could get a discount.

I’d already spent a bundle on costs including travel and lodging, and owned ND filters that worked well so I passed on the deal and came home thinking about maybe a future purchase.

My memory of ND filter problems were from the time of film. Film has a permanence that data files created in our modern digital camera don’t have.

Colour balance in film means colour correction filters. Where as, with digital I mostly leave my camera on auto white balance, and fix any shift when I open my RAW files in Photoshop.

A photographer could somewhat help a soft image when shooting black and white film by increasing the contrast, but with colour it was permanent. Nowadays, we have a number of software possibilities that can almost (well, almost) fix a not-quite-in-focus image.

With all that in mind I thought that unless I was making very large prints that those cheap ND filters might be usable. So I ordered several very inexpensive, no-name ND filters thinking the $60.00 or so I spent might be foolish, but I’d have some fun and discard them if they didn’t work.

I bought them, put them away and forgot about them. Then this past week as I sat looking at the overcast sky after a much-needed shower in the parched hills around my home, I decided to give those filters a try. I grabbed my camera, tripod, and the bag of filters, talked my wife into coming, and drove to a local waterfall.

The Chase Creek falls weren’t the raging torrent of spring or early summer. This year’s long, hot, dry spell has had an effect and capturing an exciting waterfall wasn’t possible. I tried a couple different angles, scrambling around the rocks and down to a now sandy shore, and then a group of young people came to splash in the cold water so I moved downstream in the creek. I was getting bored anyway and didn’t mind giving up my spot to those kids and their blanket.

Returning home, I loaded my RAW files in the computer, easily corrected the white balance, added contrast and sharpened the image in Photoshop.

My conclusion is those inexpensive ND filters are great if one is willing to shoot in RAW and make post-production corrections. I think an out-of-the-camera JPG would be disappointing.

I expect there will be opinions by experienced photographers who read this. However, the images look pretty good on my calibrated 30-inch Mac display screen. I haven’t made any prints, but I expect 8×10’s might be just fine, and if just sharing images on-line I think inexpensive ND filters will be fine.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com