As well as my passion for the stark winter mono images, I’m also very fond of infra-red photography.
Although I had been aware of IR photography for some time it wasn’t until around 2002 that I became more serious about it. I won a competition in the now long dead “Digital Photo Art” magazine and part of the prize was a trip to the New Forest to meet a lady called Kathy Harcom who specialises in infra-red photography. I thought her work was wonderful and it inspired me to have a go myself.
IR photography opens up a new dimension for photographers and offers a ‘different’ way of looking at the world around us.
It offers us the opportunity to explore the world of the unseen.
Why “unseen”? Because our eyes cannot see IR light, as it lies just beyond what is classified as the “visible” spectrum which human eyesight can detect.
When we take photographs using infrared-equipped film or cameras, we are exposed to the world that can often look quite different from that we are accustomed to seeing.
Colours, textures, leaves and plants, human skin, and all other manner of objects can reflect IR light in unique and interesting ways.
Like any form of photography or art however, it is a matter of taste.
Here is a comparison between colour, monochrome and digital infra-red—–
As you can see from the comparison of the church taken in colour, monochrome and infra-red, that the IR picks out different detail from the others, look at the foliage in particular, it’s almost white with a soft glow that typifies IR.
After doing a bit of reading and talking to people who used IR film I bought a roll, loaded it into my camera and was ready to go.
My first trip out was to York Cemetery which is a fantastic overgrown place with lots of potential for any kind of photography.
As you can see the film is very grainy but it has a lovely glow which I like a lot.
The process is quite tricky as the film has to be loaded and unloaded in compete darkness, so any light leaks and the film is ruined. The film also had to be bracketed 1 stop either way to make sure of getting a good exposure, so out of a 36 roll of film you got 12 images. The exposure is quite hit and miss, so you are lucky to get more than two or three good pictures out of a 36 roll of film.
We went back to that location a few years later to retake the previous shot with the digital camera, which I’ll talk about later, but the boat had disappeared, though I suspect this is it on the shed roof!
UNCONVERTED DIGITAL CAMERA AND IR FILTER
Another way of doing IR photography is by using an R72 IR filter that attaches to the front of your digital camera’s lens.
The IR filter prevents visible light from passing through while only allowing IR light to strike your camera’s sensor.
As your sensor has an IR blocking filter in front of it, very little, if any, IR light reaches it.
The combination of the IR blocking filter and the IR filter on the front of your lens requires very long exposure times.
Not all cameras are able to take infra-red images, as some have a stronger infra-red blocking filter on the cameras sensor than others.
There are a number of problems associated with using an IR filter attached to your lens.
The primary issue is motion blur because of the long exposures (Which we actually really like).
Also as the IR filter is very dark, you have to focus before attaching the filter to your lens which can be a bit of a faff.
However, the upside of using the IR filter is that you don’t have to convert your camera, so you can still use it for normal photography.
Back in 2004 I discovered we could take digital Infra-Red images using our Nikon D70.
This gave us exposure times ranging from about 10 seconds up to a few minutes.
The great thing about taking these shots digitally is you can instantly see if you have the correct exposure by looking at the histogram.
Unlike infra-red film, digital infra-red produces a very fine grained image which personally we like a lot.
This shows the image as a raw file straight from the camera and after it’s been processed
As does the stonework in the dales walls, which can look very graphic and it contrasts well with the soft glowing foliage. I love nothing better than wandering round the moors and dales looking for interesting features in the landscape like these.
This image was taken on the Hawnby moor road to Osmotherley, although it isn’t as apparent that its IR as some other pictures, but I love the depth and fine detail it produces. I’d had my eye on these trees and their roots for a while and had been waiting for the right conditions to take them. They are right at the side of a busy narrow road and you take your life in your hands taking this shot. It’s a place I visit regularly to have a look at, but I have never been able to better this image.
ANOTHER OPTION IS CONVERTING YOUR DSLR FOR DEDICATED PHOTOGRAPHY
This option requires some specialist modifications to your camera, so this means it has to become a dedicated IR camera, but it does have the advantage of being able to shoot at more normal shutter speeds.
No more long exposures, no time spent pre-focusing, then needing to shift your focus mode from AF to manual and no more fiddling with IR filters on the front of your lens.
The IR blocking filter that sits in front of your sensor is removed, and substituted with one that allows only IR light to be passed through.
It is the equivalent of taking the external IR filter, and substituting it for the IR blocking filter.
The cons of using a dedicated IR camera are cost, the inability to use the converted camera for anything other than IR photography, and probably voiding your DSLR’s
warranty and also the problem of carrying an extra camera.
My trusty D70 died in Castle Howard lake a couple of years ago and I was forced into making a decision about which way to go next. After some research I opted to buy a modified D90 from Protech Photographic and I haven’t been disappointed.
It’s well worth a look on their website, they sometimes have converted cameras on there for sale.
Be careful what you buy though as some conversions only remove the IR filter from the sensor which means you still have to have the external IR filter and all the associated faff that goes with it.
I do tend to go out with the camera more in the spring because of the way IR renders the fresh foliage, although you can take good IR shots all year round. As you can see the infra-red is very effective recording the spring foliage and I really like the delicate texture it gives.
Skies are almost as important as the subject you are taking I think. If you aren’t careful the sky can be too dark and dominant but a few fluffy clouds help a lot. Although on this occasion I think the clouds merge with the trees a bit too much.
If you fancy something a little different, there is a way of channel swapping the colours in Photoshop to give you a blue sky which can be quite effective. Though I’m not too keen on the effect I’ve got with this image.
Of course you can play with the colours in channel mixer and get some great effects. I took this by moving the camera up and down during the exposure then playing with the colours afterwards in Photoshop.
In conclusion, Infra-red photography allows you the opportunity to venture into the “unseen spectrum” and produce some ethereal images that transcend normal photography and open up new possibilities to explore another world.
If you have been inspired by this, we are planning to run some infra-red workshops during the summer. Please contact us for more details or check the website (details will be available soon) www.rjbphotographic.co.uk/tuition.html