Photographers love new gear. For me, whether it is a new lens, filter, or camera, it seems like there is always something (or somethings) on my list. With all that magical, shinny stuff out there it is easy to forget that the secret to great photographs is vision and the technique to capture that vision within an image. Ok, but putting all that artsy stuff aside, I want GEAR! So how can we realistically judge the value of new equipment? I believe that the best yard stick is to assess the extent to which a particular piece of equipment allows us to see our subjects in different ways. A wide angle lens, a macro lens or a camera with enhanced low light capability all have the potential to open new windows on the world, expanding our vision. Using this criteria I have found that shooting in Infrared passes the "new vision" test with flying colors (or at least in bizarre colors). Just over a week ago I got my old Canon 20D back from Lifepixel. Lifepixel is one of a few companies specializing in Infrared conversion. In a couple of weeks they transformed my dusty doorstop into an exciting new tool and I'm having a great time.
Infrared is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond deep red. Although these longer wave lengths are beyond the ability of our eyes to detect, infrared photographs have been captured since the early 1900's. I first explored infrared photography over 30 years ago using special film and development techniques. Early in my digital life I returned to IR using dark filters which blocked the visual spectrum. Images required long exposures and had to be framed and focused before the filter was attached. Also auto focus was useless. The filters were expensive and as I moved to DSLRs the process seemed to be too much of a hassle to be worth the cost. With IR conversion of my 20D it is time to get back into IR once again.
|Prudential Center 1978|
Digital sensors are actually highly sensitive to infrared light. In fact, digital cameras must have a infrared filter to keep the visual spectrum from being overwhelmed. The camera conversion process involves removing the IR filter and replacing it with one that blocks visable light. Because this all happens behind the mirror on DSLRs, the result is a camera that can be framed and focused like a standard DSLR. And without the dense filter the exposures are similar to those with visible light. Lifepixel did all this for $250. I could have saved money by doing the conversion myself , but for me having the experts do it and stand behind it was a bargain.
Seeing in Infrared:
So how does infrared "see" the world. More correctly, how does infrared affect how I see the world. Most importantly Infrared has resurrected my black & white eye, but it is black & white with a major twist. Black & white and IR photography are both about contrast and pattern, but, in order to find interesting patterns in a the scene with Infrared, we need to understand the differences between what we see and what the sensor records as light and dark. There are some important differences between how B&W and IR "see". Among the most prominent attributes of Infrared images are inky dark skies and the ability to penetrate atmospheric haze. Murky conditions that might be dismal for visual light photography can be clear and sharp in IR (see the comparison shots of Mt. Monadnock from Silver Lake). Undoubtedly the most striking difference, however, is that foliage strongly reflects IR light, transforming green leaves and grass into what may be mistaken for a frosty winter landscape. The overall effect can range from Ansel Adams dramatic to wildly surrealistic depending on the choice of subject and the processing. Actually Infrared images are not colorless. Digital IR images are recorded strongly in the red portion of the spectrum. Often the strong red tint is eliminated by conversion to B&W, but the color can also be used to manipulate the final photograph. In a couple of examples here I was able to bring out a blue color in the water and sky by switching the red channel for blue in Photoshop. Lifepixel has a nice tutorial about how to make this particular switch, but the same technique can be used to bring out other color effects. Finally Infrared is generally horrible for portraits. Skin is turned to a pasty anemic white, contrasting with demonic black eyes. Great for horror movies, but not something that will enamour you to the bridal party.
There is an abundance of information on Infrared photography on the web, but in the end I think the images tell the story best. Needless to say, over the last week, I have been running about visiting many of my old favorite locations to see how IR can provide a new perspective. I have literally been seeing my world in a new light and that is what gear should be all about.
For more Infrared Images check out my Flickr Set