Shooting infrared on a quiet spring evening.     

This week had one of those nice quiet evenings that are all so common here in British Columbia. By 7:30PM the sun was starting to go down giving the landscape dramatic shadows and a day’s end glowing light.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty lazy after tearing the tile out of our shower wall so I could fix the tub taps, but there wasn’t anything interesting on the TV so I decided a short drive around my wooded neighbourhood might clear the tile dust out of my eyes and hair.

Over the many years I have been shooting with first, infrared film, and then for the past 10 plus years, a digital camera converted to only capture infrared, I have found that late afternoons give me the most impressive effects.

So, I grabbed my old IR modified Nikon D100, mounted a 24-70mm lens on it and set off along the winding roads that make up the wooded and hilly location I live in.

That old 6MP camera has served me well, I purchased it new when digital cameras were finally making images with enough quality to compete with film. I photographed weddings, scenics and everything else that I once shot with film. Then when Nikon began offering better sensors with more megapixels I sat it aside. For a while I called it my “car-trunk” camera because I just left it in the car all the time.

Then I read about infrared conversions. I had always shot black and white infrared film, but it was such a hassle. Loading and unloading the camera in the dark and even waiting till late in the evening to process it in metal tanks because I worried there might be some stray light creeping into my home photo lab. I sent that camera away and a few hundred bucks, and about a month later I had an infrared camera.

The images I get are a fun change from the colourful pictures or the sharp black and whites I am used to. Infrared is always a crowd pleaser.

I have a book by William Reedy titled, “Impact–Photography for Advertising”. It begins with the words, “To stop the eye… To set the mood… To start the sale…”

Those are great words for any photographer hoping to create visual impact with his or her photography. I think there is no doubt about it that those words ring true when one looks at the surreal effect of an infrared photograph. So I set off on that quite evening with my camera waiting on the empty seat beside me and made stop after stop to create infrared photographs of the rural neighbourhood that I know so well.

I have written about infrared photography before, so I’ll just end this by repeating myself, “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

Infrared Photography On A Cold Winter Day   

blue-horizon

frozen-pond

winter-grass

tracks-and-cliffs

orange-sky

Gosh, this cold weather is uncomfortable! Mostly I have been huddling inside except to feed my chickens, and dig through the latest snowfall so I can get my car out of the driveway. However, the morning’s sky was so clear and blue that, in spite of the negative -19C, I just had to bundle up against the cold and head outside with my infrared camera.

The contrast of clear blue against the fresh white snow would make for a colourful scene, but there is something about infrared that has always intrigued me.

Maybe it’s the black sky against the brighter foreground. There is a word I remember my art instructors would sometimes use in their discussions and it is, “juxtaposition”, or elements in an image placed together with a contrasting effect.

In the summer infrared turns the trees to white, the sky a strange shade of magenta, and everything else a slight blue. But in the winter one can create an image with magenta tinted snow and clouds, with a blue cast to the sky by adjusting the colour channels in Photoshop, or convert to a striking black and white image. B&W is always my favourite. I guess that it is from the many years of exposing rolls of Kodak infrared film. And as I said, I like the black skies.

Infrared creates a completely different feeling. I have written before that using a modified camera is an exploration that moves a photographer far from the usual setting with the effect being surreal and unworldly. The bluer the sky, the greater the likelihood of that unworldly effect; and white surfaces can glow with an ethereal brightness.

I haven’t used my IR camera since last October when I decided to try out a fisheye lens.

Since then I acquired an 18-35mm, so I took that and my favourite, a 24-85mm lens out to see what I could get. I prefer a plan as opposed to just driving around, but this time I wouldn’t venture very far from my warm car. Besides the cold I was too lazy to get my shoeshoes and the snow was too deep to go off the plowed road.

I am not a prolific shooter. I guess that’s an oddity in this day of shotgun style photography when it’s not unusual for photographers to return with a hundred or so images from only a few hours of shooting. I spent a lot of time just standing and looking, and as was the case this time, freezing my fingers.

The low-angled light from the afternoon created lots of deep shadows on the drifts of snow and from fence posts, train tracks, and stark, leafless trees. All are excellent subjects for infrared.

If there was a goal for this outing it was to get a picture for next month’s calendar. My wife Linda and I alternate monthly as to who’s picture is displayed for each month’s calendar, and one of my infrared captures should work perfectly for February.

Infrared photography moves a photographer far from the usual.

Horses in meadow

Monty Creek

Pritchard Barn

Spring pond                                                Pond Cattail

Monty Creek Church  Watch for Livestock

Sometimes it is necessary for me to get away from doing the usual things. My time as a photographer is spent being precise. I meter for the light and shadow, striving for the best possible exposure, and not much is left to chance.

On the Easter weekend I spent a day photographing a family Christening. My job was to take a creative approach to photographing that religious occasion and telling the family’s story. At an event such as a Christening nothing waits for the photographer and there is no time to correct omissions or mistakes.

The main rule for me was to keep out of everyone’s way, not to become a focal point of attention, and never to miss any thing that happens.

The next morning as I sat at my computer working on the post-production photo editing of the Christening my wife mentioned she would like to finish off the roll of film she had been saving for a sunny day. It didn’t take much convincing to ignore the day’s “to do” list and as I looked out at the clear blue sky I realized I needed something to take off the stress I had been feeling.

There is nothing quite like infrared photography. It is always an exploration when I use the well-worn Nikon D100 that I had modified many years ago to only “see” infrared light.

Vegetation appears white or near white. Black surfaces can appear gray or almost white depending on the angle of reflected light, and if photographed from the right direction the sky becomes black. The bluer the sky, the more the chance there is for an unworldly, surreal effect. And white surfaces can glow with a brightness that illuminates the sky.

I have written about infrared before, but for those that are new to this subject here is the gist of it.

Digital camera sensors are as sensitive to infrared light as to visible light. In order to stop infrared light from contaminating images manufacturers place what they call “a hot filter” in front of the sensor to block the infrared part of the spectrum and still allow the visible light to pass through. My infrared modified D100 has had that filter removed and replaced with a custom filter that allows for infrared only.

My wife wanted to visit a marshy area not far from our home that on wet years fills up with water, and is annually visited by birds, ducks, and geese. But this year’s early dry spring has not given the marsh much water, and when I walked up to the dam two ducks quacked loudly and flew away, and that was the only wildlife sighting for the day.

The back roads always have something to photograph, so we moved on and chose our subjects depending on the light. Linda was shooting with her old medium format 1950’s Ikoflex and was looking for interesting features like fallen trees and rock formations. That particular old film camera doesn’t have an automatic mode, or an in camera meter and requires a hand held light meter. I am sure the few passers by wondered at a woman standing roadside with a boxy thing hanging from her neck while she peered at something in her outstretched hand.

I just explored, and unlike Linda’s limited, 12 exposure roll of film, I had an almost endless supply of digital choice, and besides, infrared changes the way we see things. So I pointed my camera at anything that caught my eye.

I began this discussion with the words, “I spend my time being precise.” And “Not much is left to chance.” However, not so much with infrared. I only use the meter as a not-so-precise guide, and don’t worry about much else. I do try for interesting angles of the subjects I photograph, but sometimes I am in for a surprise when I bring the images up on my monitor.

Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.

I look forward to all comments. Thanks, John

 

The Dog Days of Summer are Perfect for Infrared Photography

    

For several days I have been listening to fellow photographers complain about the hot, bright days here in the interior of British Columbia. When they stop by my shop I welcome them with the question “ What have you been out photographing?”  But mostly I have been hearing “Naw, I haven’t been doing anything. It’s too hot, muggy, and the light is crappy anyway. I can’t wait till September.”  Well, I must agree that my personal photography also stagnated during these dog days of summer.  I prefer summer’s end, fall colours and I suppose, the cooler weather.

I had already spent a day doing stuff inside so when my wife mentioned that she wouldn’t mind a quick trip to the grocery store, so I grabbed a DSLR I had converted for infrared and we headed out. The closest town to our place is the small lakeside community of Chase, British Columbia. I like to drive the backroads when I go there and I thought the lake and bright sky would be perfect for a camera that only sees infrared light, plus I knew it would be nice and cool by the lake.

I have a camera that has been modified to only see infrared light and in my experience those harsh bright summer days are perfect for infrared image making. Infrared (IR) light is light that has longer wavelengths on the red edge of the spectrum and is invisible to human eyes.

Here is some trivia: In 1800 William Hershel described the relationship between heat and light and let the world know about his discovery of the existence of infrared light in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The sensors for digital cameras are sensitive to more than just the visible light spectrum. This causes problems with colour balance, so camera manufacturers place a filter in front of the sensor that blocks the infrared part of the spectrum that only allows visible light, and not infrared, to pass through.

The modification is accomplished by removing that filter, and then installing one instead that blocks visible light, allowing mostly infrared light to reach the camera’s sensor.

The camera still functions normally, with full auto focus and auto exposure, except that it’s now able to record the infrared wavelengths that are just beyond what the human eye is capable of seeing.  When infrared photographs are produced as black and white the photographs show trees with glowing white leaves and black skies opening up new visual opportunities for photographing the world around us.

Many think of infrared photography as the stuff of military night reconnaissance, or, as frequently portrayed in movies, as aerial thermal imaging that finds the bad guys. With thermal imaging one sees the heat the subject is producing, however, infrared as photographers use it, with our modified cameras is about capturing the light or radiation that is reflected off a subject and doesn’t involve thermal imaging at all.

I  wander around, and photograph pretty much anything, choosing different angles to see how the light would react. Some subjects don’t work very well with infrared, so I just experiment, take lots of pictures and hope for the best. Everything appears normal through the camera’s viewfinder and because so much light reaches the sensor on a sunny day one can use high shutter speeds and so it is easy to hand hold while exposing a picture.

I like infrared photography and have made prints from infrared film since the beginning of my career in photography, when infrared film had to be loaded and unloaded in complete darkness, and because dark red filters had to be used on the lens subjects were very hard to see through the viewfinder. When digital cameras were introduced all this changed.

For those interested, there is lots of information to be found on the internet. IR photography opens up a new visual dimension for the photographer willing to dust off that old DSLR and get it converted to an infrared camera.

Visit my website   at www.enmanscamera.com