I first became interested in infra-red photography in 2003 when I met a lovely lady called Kathy Harcom and spent a day with her in the New Forest along with Roger Maile the then editor of a fabulous magazine called Digital Photo Art. Sadly DPA is no more as well as Creative Monochrome which was a great loss to all its followers.
I didn’t know much about Infra-red photography before then even though I grew up with black and white film but what I did know was it was very tricky to handle and process. I had come across a few IR photos mainly from a friend David who had briefly dabbled in the medium.
Meeting Kathy was one of those ‘Eureka’ moments, especially when we went back to her house and she brought out her prints. Masterpiece followed masterpiece and I was totally in awe of the work she produced. There is something of the otherworldly about IR photography that appealed to me then and continues to this day.
So back home and full of enthusiasm I decided to give it a go after doing a bit of research and talking to friends (“don’t go there” and “you can do it on the computer” being recurring comments). As usual I decided to go my own way and bought some IR film.
The film had to be loaded into the camera in complete darkness so I had to get one of those black bags that you put your camera, film and arms in, zip it up and then try and load the film into the camera by touch! That was the easy part!
Film loaded, now where to go and take my masterpieces? I needed a place with lots of overgrown foliage and something interesting among the foliage. I know, York Cemetery.
I was using an Olympus OM2 and the great thing about the Zuiko lenses was that they had the infra-red focusing line on them so focusing was made easy with that. (IR light is a different wavelength to normal light so a slight adjustment in the focus is required.) Added to that I had to bracket the shots so I took +2 stops, +1 stop, normal, -1 stop and -2 stops! So out of a 36 roll of film I could take 5 different scenes. Invariably I realised after a while that the ‘normal’ one was the best exposure of the lot so I was able to cut down the amount of bracketing a lot and get more out of the film.
York Cemetery is a fabulous place for photography, if you like wild places and don’t mind the odd scratch from the brambles. It’s a haven for wildlife and plant life in the middle of York.
Back to the black bag to unload the film and load it onto a spindle to go in the developing tank. Easier said than done, getting the film out of the camera was the easy part, threading it on to the spindle by feel took ages, aided by a lot of unladylike swear words (not sure they helped!) and it’s at moments like this when you can’t do a thing about it that you need to sneeze! Of course you can’t take your arms out of the bag because that runs the risk of letting in light which would be disastrous for the film.
I very carefully processed the film, it’s amazing how long you can hold your breath at this stage, anticipating and fretting at the same time! At last the film was processed and ready to come out, dare I? Phew, there is something there and it may be in focus and OK.
Once dry the negs were scanned and ready for printing.
I was really pleased with my first attempt so buoyed with this success I bought a further 5 rolls of film at £10 each and we took them on holiday with us to Mull.
There was lots of subject matter and one that really appealed was a boat slowly sinking into the pond at Calgary Art in Nature.
Disaster struck though and out of the 5 rolls this was the only decent shot. Somewhere along the line light had leaked onto the film and ruined it all. Feeling very depressed the camera was put away in disgrace.
Soon after that we bought our first DSLR, a Nikon D70 with one of the tiniest screens I’ve seen, thank goodness they have improved considerably since then. It was soon after getting this camera that we learned that we could take IR images on it by using an IR filter on the front of the lens. The early DSLR’s didn’t have the IR blocking filter that the later ones have.
So, buy the filter and go out into the garden to try it out, it seems to work, hooray! A bit fiddly but a lot easier than the film technique, AND you can see immediately whether the exposure and composition are correct.
The D70 was a great little camera and I took some of my best IR images with it, until I dropped into the lake at Castle Howard Arboretum! It was full of smelly, green slime, ugh!
So my IR journey had another hiccup.
By 2014 I was getting serious withdrawal symptoms so I decided to investigate the possibility of getting an IR converted camera, this is one that has had the IR blocking filter taken out and been replaced with a filter that lets the IR light in. I had to do quite a lot of research to make sure I got the right camera as some conversions still require the infra-red filter on the front of the lens. This is something to bear in mind when looking at IR conversions on the likes of Ebay, always read the small print and find out before you bid. Basically if you want a camera that will take both colour and IR images you want the camera conversion the still requires an IR filter on the lens. If you want a camera that takes IR images only and nothing else you need the conversion that replaces the filter inside the camera.
Since getting the converted camera it’s had quite a few outings and I’m gradually re-honing my IR photography and enjoying every minute. It’s given the much needed new perspective and interest I was craving for so long may it last.