A Good Day for Infrared Photography            

Pritchard Train crossing 1a

Reflection

Log jams 1b

Salmon 2b

Bridge crossing 1a

 

The past few weeks have been apparent with flat and overcast skies. That’s certainly not inviting for anyone chomping at the bit to get out with a camera around Kamloops, British Columbia.

Only a short month ago the landscape was covered with glistening white snow that even on overcast days created some interest. However, that snow has melted this month leaving colourless meadows and a washed-out-looking, green forest of trees. In my opinion, the best word to describe the landscape, even with today’s sparkling sun, is grey.

I suppose many landscape photographers get creative and spend some time behind a computer manipulating that grey landscape. There are a myriad of programs designed to manipulate image files allowing black and white conversion or gritty oversaturation. But those conversions, although creative, in my opinion, don’t really give much life to the landscape.

However, for me it’s simple. I just grabbed my infrared camera and drove down to the large Thompson River that cuts through the valley on its way to Kamloops and then to the Canadian west coast.

For years I have enjoyed capturing landscapes (and cityscapes) using first, infrared film, and then for the past ten years, a camera converted to only “see” infrared light.

Infrared light is invisible to the human eye. To capture it with a modern DSLR, the camera is converted by blocking all but the infrared light from hitting the sensor.

I enjoy how infrared photography gives me a scene illuminated by that part of the colour spectrum we can’t see, with delightful images that couldn’t be captured in any other way.

Dark skies and glowing white trees are some of my favourite infrared effects. It is those fresh and exciting photographs (done with very little computer work) that separated my photography from both the monotone conversions, and the oversaturated scenic, that had been viewed on posts by other local photographers.

I like to wander along the winter beach not far from my rural home. Normally the turn-off and sparsely tree-lined beach is well used by locals with motorbikes and bicycles, walking their dogs, or launching their fishing boats. However, the winter beach on the river is empty, especially on cold days, and it’s those days that I enjoy the most. I can stroll along the narrow walkway that goes over the bridge while taking pictures of the river valley. And although there is a sign that tells walkers not to loiter or fish from the bridge, in all the years that I have been making pictures from it, no one has ever bothered me. Most of the time people smile and wave from their vehicles as the pass me.

I roam under the bridge and search the sandy riverside photographing interesting features and trash left over from winters’ storms, and, in spite of everything being shades of grey, infrared changes everything, and I have the choice in post-production to choose surreal coloured, or unique black and white images.

I’ll repeat what I wrote when discussing infrared in my article last November, “Infrared allows a photographer, and gives the viewer, a completely different feeling of a subject. Making an image with a modified camera is an exploration and a discovery that moves a photographer far from the usual”.

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