Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Remarkable Infrared Photography of Ali Shamsul Baha

Today I am featuring the work of photographer Ali Shamsul Baha. Ali is an accomplished photographer and visual artist from Kuantan Pahang, Malaysia. He works in visible light photography, video, and infrared photography. I am pleased and honored that Ali allowed me to showcase five of his remarkable infrared photos in this post.

Shooting under the ray (Infrared) by 2121studio
Shooting under the ray - Infrared - 2121studio on Flickr
The most striking thing about Ali's images is his use of selective color techniques to produce visually stunning infrared images. Some infrared photographers shy away from selective color editing because they believe these techniques move them from the realm of photography and into digital artistry. Obvious Photoshopping has become a cardinal sin in some photographic circles. Not so in infrared photography.

Every IR photograph has been manipulated in some way. Camera software starts this process by taking signals generated from the invisible spectrum and assigning visible color values.There are no visible colors in the infrared spectrum. We set white balances to get even more visible color separation and then we perform channel swaps to get blue skies. The list of “standard” IR manipulations goes on and on. The bottom line is that all colors are false colors in infrared photography. We can embrace this fact or pretend it does not exist. Ali Baha embraces this fact and his color infrared photos certainly have that "WOW" factor..

Bungalow (Infrared) by 2121studio
Bungalow - Infrared - 2121studio on flickr
The first photo “Shooting under the ray” was taken in 2009 at a nature photo camp in the Royal Belum Rain Forest, Tasik Banding, Grik Perak, Malaysia.

The second photo, “Bungalow” was taken from a moving vehicle in Sumatera Utara, Indonesia. Ali used a moderately fast shutter speed (1/500 sec) to freeze the motion of the vehicle.

All of the featured photos were taken with a Nikon D50 and processed with Photoshop CS3. I mention these facts because we really don’t need the most expensive stuff or the latest and greatest software to produce stunning images.

Mount Bromo, Batok & Semeru (Infrared) by 2121studio
Mount Bromo, Batok & Semeru - Infrared - 2121studio on Flickr
You can find information about Ali's post-processing technique in his photo blog. Ali allowed me to paraphrase the technique here.

Ali brings the image into Photoshop and applies the Image > Autolevels function. He then performs a red/blue channel swap using a pre-defined Photoshop action. (The channel swap procedure can be found at the end of this post)  This will give you the "blue sky" effect.

For his selective color technique, Ali does the following:

   Duplicate layer (Ctrl + J)
   Image > Adjustments > Replace color
     Select the color you want to change with the eyedropper tool
      Move the 'Hue" slider to the desired color
   Add a layer mask to the duplicated layer
   Using a brush set to pure black, paint over the areas where you do not want the color change.
   Merge all layers (Ctrl + Shift + E)

Repeat the steps above (duplicate the layer, color replacement, mask, brush, and merge) to change other colors.  Ali recommends the following YouTube video that describes the color replacement procedure.   

Perahu @ Lata Berkoh (Infrared) by 2121studio
Perahu@ Lata Berkoh Infrared - 2121studio on Flickr
The third image “Mount Bromo, Batok & Semera” was taken in the Bromo - Semeru - Tengger National Park in East Java. This image brings together Mr. Baha’s photographic and artistic skills to produce a truly memorable photograph.

The fourth photo, “Perahu@ Lata Berkoh” was taken during an outing at Taman Negara, Lata Berkoh, Jerantut, Pahang, Malaysia.

The final image, “Wonderland @ Upih Guling (Infrared)” was taken at the Endau Rompin National Park (Peta), Johor, Malaysia.

Wonderland @ Upih Guling (Infrared) by 2121studio
Wonderland @ Upih Guling - Infrared - 2121 studio on Flickr
I want to thank Ali Shamsul Bahar for allowing me to share these wonderful photographs. You can see more of Mr. Bahar’s photographic work in his Flickr feed and in his photo blog. The photos featured in this post can be found in his Flickr Explored set.

Ali Shamsul Bahar:
Flickr Feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87731897@N00/
Blog: http://2121studio.blogspot.com

How to Do a Photoshop Channel Swap
In its simplest form, a Photoshop channel swap is accomplished as follows: 
Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer
  Choose the red output channel
     Set the red slider value to zero
     Set the blue slider to 100%
  Change the output channel to blue
     Set the red slider value to 100%

     Set the blue slider value to zero

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

IR Macro and Close-Up Photography

This is my fourth post about things you can do with your infrared camera during the “off season.”  You can read my previous posts about infrared light painting, candlelight IR photography, and more fun with candlelight by following the embedded links.

click for larger image
Cone Flower Macro IR - Ann Arbor Michigan
Macro photography has many advantages. You don’t have to travel to exotic locations to find interesting and unusual subjects, you can shoot at any time of the day (or night), and you can easily shoot indoors when the weather is inclement. Because you are shooting small objects, macro photographers can control the lighting of the object using relatively inexpensive light sources, reflectors and diffusers.

Infrared macro work is a little more challenging than visible light macro. As you get closer to your subject, the depth of focus becomes very shallow and accurate focusing is very important. Most macro photographers use very small apertures to maximize the DOF. If your lens is prone to hotspotting, the hotspots get worse at smaller apertures. I use the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR lens for many of my IR macro photographs and I have not had any problems with hotspots.  Other Nikon macro lenses have significant hotspot issues. 

The Nikonians infrared database provides an excellent initial resource for determining if your Nikon lens has hotspot issues. Kolari Vision and Nasim Mansurov have more extensive databases that show IR lens performance. These databases are not perfect but they provide a great starting point when choosing or using lenses for IR work. 

IR Leaf on Deck Rail.  Ann Arbor Michigan
There is another major challenge with IR macro work. IR does not focus on the sensor in the same place as visible light. During the IR conversion process, the autofocus is adjusted so that the visible light images that reach the autofocus sensor (and the viewfinder) accurately predict the IR light focusing on the sensor. This is at the calibration point. As you move farther from the calibration point, the accuracy of the focus sensor is diminished because the focal point on the sensor changes with the focal length of the lens. 

Let’s use a real-world example. If you have a Nikon D90 that was converted to IR by LifePixel using their standard 18-70mm lens, LifePixel will calibrate the camera autofocus at a point near the wide end of that lens’s focal length. As you use longer focal lengths, the resulting image will have increasing amounts of back focus. You can compensate for some of this by choosing smaller apertures and increasing the DOF but that only goes so far. 

Now imagine that you put a 105mm macro lens on this camera. At that focal length, the accumulated back focus cannot be ameliorated even at f/22. Your super sharp macro lens appears to be “soft” in the infrared spectrum. 

There is a solution to this problem – LiveView. By using LiveView and zooming in on the area of interest, you can accurately focus any lens at any focal length. This is because the image you are working with is the infrared image as seen by the sensor. Newer Nikon cameras have LiveView autofocusing where you can zoom in on the area you want to be sharpest, activate the autofocus, and the camera’s phase detect autofocus system will make it sharp. The downside is that LiveView autofocus is a much slower than normal autofocus. This is not a big deal in the macro world because macro photography is normally a slow deliberate process. LiveView can also be a challenge when there is a lot of glare on the back LCD.

Brown-Eyed Susan, IR.  Ann Arbor, Michigan
There is another solution for the serious macro photographer - calibrating a dedicated IR camera with a fixed focal length macro lens. I did this with a Nikon D90 and the 105mm f/2.8G VR macro lens. This gives me a camera with IR macro and (slow-focusing) short telephoto capabilities and no worries about back focus. The autofocus works very well with this combination and I was able to solve about 70% of my IR macro focus problems with this approach. That said, I still have to use LiveView when the DOF gets really shallow. I have similar problems when I take macro photos with a visible light camera. I would caution others taking this approach because most macro lenses hotspot like crazy.  The new 105mm VR AFS f/2.8G lens is a good performer but most of the other macro lenses are on the “Do Not Use For IR” list.

The first image in this series is a macro photograph of a cone flower taken with a D90 calibrated for the 20mm f/2.8 AFD lens. Yes, you can use wide angle lenses for macro and close-up photography. The advantage of a wide angle lens is that you have a lot more DOF for any given aperture. When you take this approach, you will have to crop more, but modern cameras have lots of megapixels to work with. You also have to move around a lot more to frame the shot. I did not need LiveView for this shot. The image was converted to black and white using Nik SilverEfex Pro 2.

Spirit Level -IR Macro.  Ann Arbor, Michigan

The second photo shows a close-up of a leaf on the deck rail. I shot the back of the leaf because the backside has more structure and because the front of the leaf reflects a lot more IR light. When I tried to photograph the front of the leaf, I lost all of the detail and I had the devil of a time taming the reflections. I even tried using a low-angle flash to enhance the detail by creating shadows. Shooting the front of a dark fuzzy leaf like a Geranium or Tomato may work better, but that is just a guess on my part.  

The third photo is a shallow-focus capture of a brown-eyed Susan. This was image was captured during the blue hour between sunset and full dark. I shot this without LiveView using a monopod. Shallow focus IR photography can be especially difficult if the autofocus is not accurate. I could have captured this with LiveView but it was not necessary for this particular shot. There is a lot more IR light during the blue hour than the camera expects so I had to use manual exposure settings.

The final photograph is an IR macro shot of a Stanley spirit level. I used LiveView autofocusing for this and zoomed on in the right middle ring as it crosses the bubble. I used the LifePixel WB preset with no channel swap. This gave me the tone-on-tone image you see here.

Instead of putting your IR camera away for the winter, you might want to try some IR Macro photography. It could be a fun and rewarding way to spend an evening. 

Shooting Information:
Cone Flower:  D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 20mm f2.8D, f/8, -0.67EV,  1/100 sec, ISO 200, tripod and remote release.

IR Leaf:  Nikon D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 20mm f2.8D, f/10, 1/50 sec, ISO 200, tripod and remote release.  

Brown-Eyed Susan:  Nikon D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G  AFS VR, f/2.2, 1/320 sec, ISO 800. Monopod.
Stanley Spirit Level:  D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G  AFS VR,, f/5, 1/13 sec, -1.33 EV, ISO 200. Tripod and exposure delay mode.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Infrared Leaves Don't Have to be White

Traditional IR photo. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The classic infrared landscape photo is a scene where the sky is dark and the leaves are white. Sometimes this convention is followed because the photographer chose to convert the image to black and white, sometimes this convention makes sense from an artistic perspective, and sometimes we see a classic IR rendering because the photographer is trying to create a "proper" infrared photograph. 

I firmly believe that there are no "proper" IR photographs. IR light is by definition, invisible to our eye. The IR images we "see" in photos have  all been converted to visible light photos by some arbitrary process. This conversion may be through chemically induced changes in a film emulsion or it may be the results of a bining algorithm used by your camera's image processor. If you look at the RGB histogram on the back of your camera, you will see that the processor has placed some of the incoming IR light into the blue and green bins even though these wavelengths are blocked by the IR filter. What is proper or natural about that? 

Cascade of light through the leaves. Ann Arbor, MI.
Some photographers will argue that black and white IR photos are the only "proper" representations of the actual infrared image. I say, "Phooey!" on that argument.  The entire visible spectrum, from blue to red, exists within a 400nm wavelength range (~300 to 700nm).  When fitted with a 720nm filter, your camera's sensor can detect about the same wavelength spread. If my eyes were silicon sensors, I would see about the same number of IR colors as my real eyes see in the visible spectrum. So black and white isn't the "proper" way to represent infrared light either.

The purpose of this little tirade is to point out that there is no "proper" way to present an infrared photograph. There is only what you like and dislike and what others like and dislike. This observation can be disconcerting or liberating, depending upon your disposition. Vive la Liberté!  After all, who's going to know if you get the colors wrong?  

Tone-on-tone leaves against block wall. Ann Arbor, MI
So back to the title of this post "Infrared Leaves Don't Have to be White."  In full light, your camera will render leaves as white but that does not mean that you must let them stay that way. Using the tint and color swap sliders can sometimes produce images that are pleasing to view and look very different from images posted by others. Not every image needs a color swap and some don't need color balancing, either. The image is the image, but the colors can be anything that makes you happy.

The second photo in this post is an image of the light streaming through the trees in my neighborhood.  There was no channel swap. The leaves in the image are white, brown, and red. The background is a deep red. To me, the net effect is a cascade of light against a dark background. It is a busy photo but it made me happy.

Crow silhouette. Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The third photo did not get a channel swap either. This photo was taken using the LifePixel preset white balance. The result was a tone-on-tone image of the leaves and the little flowers were white. It really did not need much post-processing.

The fourth image is a silhouette of a crow. This one got a channel swap but I used the sliders to make the leaves yellow and yellow-green. I thought this contrasted nicely with the black crow silhouette.

Infrared photography is especially well suited for artists who have moved beyond the mere taking of pictures into the realm of making pictures. I encourage you to make something happen in your infrared photography.  No apologies. No excuses. No limits!    

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Creative IR Lighting - Infrared Light Painting

This is the third post about things you can do with your infrared camera during the “off season.” My previous posts about candlelight IR photography can be found here and here.

Antique oscillating GE fan circa 1940 or 1941.
Light painting is a technique where the photographer literally paints the object with light during a single long exposure. This technique is often used when the photographer cannot get the lighting they want with flashes, strobes, or natural light. The creative advantage of light painting is that it allows the photographer to selectively wrap light around the subject and enhance the image in ways that would not be otherwise possible. 

Light painting also adds a measure of creative uncertainty to the image and no two light paintings will look the same. The shape of the light beam, how you move it, and how close the light is to the subject have profound effects on the ultimate exposure. This will delight you or drive you nuts!  For the sake of full disclosure, I must also warn you that light painting is an experimental process that requires dedication, patience, and perseverance. The fan photo shown here took about 20 tries before I got the lighting the way I wanted it. 

How to Get Started

First off, start small.  Photographing small interesting subjects in a dark room gives you fewer things worry about at first.  This requires minimal or no additional investment in gear.  Basically, you need an infrared converted camera that has the ability to hold the shutter open for extended periods, a sturdy tripod, and a flashlight.  The flashlight must have an incandescent bulb because LED flashlights generate very little IR light. Light shapers can be made with gaffer’s tape, cardboard, and aluminum foil.
  • A dark room is important because you will be using long exposure times.  Even an LED light will make a noticeable contribution to the exposure with a 20 second exposure.
  • The movement of the light is extremely important.  You should not hold the light in one position because the light quality will be flat and harsh.  I generally try to keep the light moving even if I am painting a small area.  
  • Controlling the angle of the light is very important, both for creative purposes, but also because light spill onto the table or other objects can create undesired bright spots. 
Light painting is like learning a new dance. During the painting process, you are trying to reproduce the movements that produced the desired lighting and find correct movements to address the lighting that wasn’t quite right. When the shutter opens, I find myself counting as I move; i.e., two seconds on this area at this angle, three on the next, step back for 5 seconds to introduce background lighting.

Camera Settings
  •  ISO:  Base ISO
  • WB:  I use the LifePixel preset
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction:   ON
  • Exposure Delay:  ON*
  • Use a remote release cable or use the timer function to open the shutter*
  • Manual mode
  • Shutter speed:  10 or 20 seconds
  • Aperture:  f/22 or higher to allow time for painting – this will be determined empirically.
*These settings are not strictly necessary in this example because any initial vibrations will occur when the room is dark, but it is a good practice for tabletop work. 

  1. Set the camera up on a sturdy tripod or other support.
  2. Once your general settings (above) have been established, take a photo without turning on the flashlight.  You want to check for any unexpected light sources that will pollute the scene.  Examine the resulting photo on a real monitor (not the LCD on the back of the camera) to make sure everything is black.
  3. If you use autofocus, focus the camera then switch to manual focus.  Autofocus will hunt in the dark.  For critical focusing, use Live View (zoomed in on the area you want to be sharpest) and focus manually.  Be sure to switch back to manual focus.
  4. Click the shutter turn on the flashlight, and experiment.
Antique Underwood typewriter with sepia overlay.
Final Thoughts
Photography is all about the light.  While interesting subjects and colors help to make an outstanding photo, lighting can make those same subjects boring or exciting. With light painting, you control all the light and you can readily see how the direction, intensity, and character of the light affects the final image. Light painting is a great learning tool and a fun way to spend a winter evening. 

Shooting Information

Antique Fan.  The fan was placed on the edge of a table and photographed with an IR-converted Nikon D90 (590nm SuperColor conversion from LifePixel) and a Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D lens.  Lighting was provided by a small MagLight flashlight. I constructed a snoot with aluminum foil and gaffer tape to give a directional light beam with minimum light spill. The shutter was open for 20 seconds at f/22, -1EV, ISO 200. I had to use the smallest f/stop to keep the exposure at 20 seconds.  A sepia overlay was added in post-production to even out the tones.

Underwood Typewriter.  The typewriter was placed on the edge of the table and photographed with an IR-converted (720nm IR Standard Conversion from LifePixel) D90 and a Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AF-D lens. Lighting was provided by a Mini MagLight.  I constructed a snoot for the flashlight using aluminum foil and gaffer tape.  I wanted the “brush” to be a thin line of light with minimum light spill. The shutter was open for 20 seconds at f/16, -3.3EV, ISO 200. A light sepia overlay was added in post-production to even out the tones.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Creative Infrared Photography Using Candlelight

Vicki silhouette high contrast
This past weekend was cold and rainy so we opened a bottle of wine lit some candles, and… took some IR photographs. It was a cozy time and I am happy to report that we had a few keepers from the session.The first two photographs were taken with the SuperColor 590nm converted D90 with a Nikkor 20mm AFD lens and ISO 400.. 

This first photo shows Vicki lit by two candles, one a tall taper and the other a low pillar to provide more diffuse light on her left side. The candles were very close together.This single point-source creates dramatic shadows and contrasts.The photo was taken at f/4 and 1/13 sec.The Exposure Value (EV) was decreased by 3EVs. If I had been paying attention, I could have captured the same image at 1/100 sec and no EV compensation. Once again, this shows how much IR light is present.  Candles produce more infrared light than visible light.

Vicki IR 580nm
The second photo shows Vicki with her hand around a single taper. Her hand acts as a reflector that produces a pleasantly uneven lighting that reminds me of campfire light. This was taken at f/2.8, 1/25 sec, and -4.67 EV.Once again, I could have captured the same shot at f/4 and 1/100sec or faster. There was no color manipulation with these first two photos. 

Yes, I could have taken these candlelight photos using a standard camera but shooting them with an IR converted camera is so much easier. I was able to light the room and my subject with an LED light and the light did not contribute to the photo. I did not have to fumble with the camera in the dark and the D90 was able to autofocus. Finally, I could have used a faster shutter speed to reduce camera shake and subject movement.

Grater and Shadow 830nm
The last photograph shows a small box grater with a tea light inside. I placed the grater in a corner between two light-colored walls because I wanted the shadows to be an important part of the photo. Setup and shooting were extremely fast and in 5 minutes I had a bunch of photos to work with. This was fortunate because the heat from the candle started to melt the plastic handle. The handle solidified after it cooled but alas, its shape will never be the same.

I chose the Deep Infrared (830nm) camera for this shot because I wanted a black and white image. Post-processing was amazingly easy. I used the Levels function to set the black point, added some contrast, cropped and sharpened the image about 15% in PhotoShop CS5. This processing could easily be done in PS Elements or any entry-level photo processing software. Even with the stronger light-blocking characteristics of the IR 830nm camera, I could have taken this at f/6.3 and 1/8sec.

When the shooting was done, we refilled our wine glasses, watched a movie, and had a very pleasant evening together.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tips for Infrared Photography Using Candlelight

Autumn is here in North America and infrared photographers are thinking about capturing those final images of the season and putting their cameras away until spring. Don’t do that!  There are many things that can be accomplished with infrared photography that does not involve leafy landscape photographs. In my next series of blogs, I will cover some non-traditional IR projects you might like to try.

We will start with candlelight photos – this is after all, One Candle Photos.

Candle is the Subject - Infrared

Balancing noise (ISO) and shutter speed (movement) are the biggest challenges the photographer faces when taking visible light photos by candlelight. The good news is that candlelight photography is easier with IR.  Candles emit more IR light than visible light. This allows us to use a faster shutter speed and/or lower ISO settings than we would normally use for visible light photos. Lower ISO means that we will have less noise (graininess) in the photograph. Faster shutter settings minimizes movement blur from the subject and from the flame. 

In visible light photography, candlelight gives a warmth and intimacy that is rarely found in natural sunlight. This warmth does not occur when using a 720nm (Standard IR) or a 830nm (Deep IR) converted camera because the warm yellows and oranges are blocked by the IR filter. The shape and relative intensity of the light is the same but the apparent warmth is gone. SuperColor (590nm) converted cameras will capture oranges, reds, and some yellows from the visible spectrum but the warm tones may not be noticed due to the overall orange hue in the out-of-camera images. Because of this, I think black and white renderings work best for IR candlelight shots. You can always apply a warm monotone to the photo during post processing.

Books and photo blogs about candlelight photography tell us to reduce or eliminate other sources of light because they can outshine the candlelight. Photography in a darkened room creates many difficulties. Autofocus struggles in low light and many of us fumble with camera settings when we work in the dark. With IR photography, we can light the room and the scene with LED light. LEDs produce almost no IR light and contribute almost nothing to the exposure. With LED lighting, my converted IR camera can autofocus and I don’t have to hold a flashlight in my mouth when I change camera settings.

So why do I mess around with candles?  A candle acts as point source and point source lighting creates spaces and shadows that are difficult for me to reproduce by any other method. Candlelight increases the dimensionality and apparent depth of the image and creates interesting shadows. And finally, playing with cameras and candles can be an enjoyable way to spend a winter evening.

What type of photos can be taken by candlelight? Almost anything you want. Traditional compositions fall into 4 major categories:

·         The candle is the subject
·         The candle and the subject are in the shot
·         Candle-lit scene where the candle is not in the photograph
·         Environmental scenes with candles.  (I will not discuss this category.)

The Candle is the Subject
When the subject is a lit candle, we have a high dynamic range scene with an extremely bright candle flame and very dark areas.It is difficult to get a well-balanced photo in these situations and we must decide whether the light or the shadows are more important. I tend to use matrix metering in these situations because I am constantly taking the camera away from my eye to evaluate the images and make adjustments. If I used spot metering, I would have to make sure that I put the spot in exactly the same place each time to ensure that base camera measurements remain the same. If I don’t put the spot in the same place, my adjustments will not be effective. In the first candle image, I had to reduce the exposure compensation by more than 4 stops to get the image you see here. I also boosted the saturation to bring out the red tones. Shooting information.  D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8, f/8, 1/60 sec, -4.33EV, ISO 200.

Candle and Holder - Infrared
If you want to see the candle holder or other objects in the image, you may have to use a one-image HDR procedure. A standard HDR approach will produce an indistinct candle flame due to flame movement. In one-image HDR procedure I use Adobe Camera Raw to process the image as usual and bring it into Photoshop. I then process the image a second time but I adjust the exposure levels to bring out the other elements in the scene. Copy the second image onto the first as a layer mask and paint in the other elements. The Candle and Holder photo uses this technique. The first image was exposed with -6 stops of exposure compensation to capture the flame. On the second pass through Adobe Camera Raw, the exposure was adjusted 2 stops brighter to allow us to see the table and the candle holder. This technique really helps to minimize ghosting due to flame movement. Shooting information.  D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8, f/8, 1/50 sec, -6.00 EV, ISO 200.

Candle and Subject are in the Shot
To take this type of photograph, we should: 

  • Get close.  Light follows the inverse-square rule.   When you are close to the subject, you have more available light and you will be able to capture more details.
  •  Zoom out.  This goes along with the previous, getting close, point. When using variable aperture zoom lenses, zooming out makes larger apertures available. When you stand back and zoom in, you get the double whammy - less light entering the lens and the maximum aperture becomes smaller. 
  • Remove the protective filter from your lens.  In this high contrast/high glare situation. Your protective filter may produce some unwanted glare.
  • Experiment with candle placement. A single candle or multiple candles in a single place will act as point source lighting and produce dark dramatic shadows. Spreading candles out produces more diffused lighting.
  • Keep the composition simple.   You want the viewer to be drawn to the candle and the areas illuminated by the candlelight. 
Candle and Lens - Infrared
For my example photograph, I mounted the D700/Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4 combination on a tripod and removed the protective filter from the front of the 24-120mm lens. I placed a taper in front of the lens. The candle was the only illumination for this shot. I used a small f/stop on my IR camera to increase the depth of focus and focused on the first ring within the lens.  The first image in this series had a lot of glare so I added negative exposure compensation to control it. I considered shooting an exposure bracket and processing with HDR software but the flickering flame would have caused ghosting in the stack. I converted this to BW with NIK Silver Efex Pro 2.  Shooting Information: D90IR (720nm conversion), Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8, f/11, 1/100 sec, -2.67EV, ISO 320.

This photo shows several of the elements within the lens. It was interesting to note that the two leftmost flame images are inverted and getting larger. These inverted images were probably caused by the flame image reflections from the mirror. They were getting larger as they made their way back through the lens.

Candle is Not in the Photograph
In this approach, the candle can be just outside the frame or it can be behind an object in the scene. On a rainy weekend, I used this approach to reproduce the chiaroscuro lighting effect of the master painters. Wikipedia describes chiaroscuro as “…a technical term used by artists and art historians for using contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body.” Similar lighting effects are used in photography and cinema.   

Witch hats - Infrared
The scene was lit by a single tea light located behind the black hat on the left.  Light-colored walls surrounded the scene on three sides and a large reflector positioned above and to camera right added fill lighting. The candle was the only light for the shot. Without the candle, the image was black. Image was converted to BW with Silver Efex Pro 2.  Shooting Information:  D90IR (590nm conversion), Nikkor 20mm AFD, f/4, 1/4 sec, ISO 400.

The hats look different in this photograph because the leftmost hat was made of leather and the right hat was a synthetic material. I wanted the shadows to be a major visual element so I used a low tea light to create dramatic upsweeping shadows from spent Brown-Eyed Susan stems. The point source lighting also gave the rest of the scene a sense of volume and dimensionality.

You can do a lot with candlelight. People shots and flower shots are very interesting by candlelight, glass objects can be used to produce interesting abstract images, and dramatic shadow images are easy to arrange. Have a little fun with your IR camera this winter!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Auto Glass and Infrared Photography

I was on the Huron Parkway bridge waiting for the traffic light to change when I noticed some interesting clouds in the distance. The infrared camera (standard 720 nm conversion) with a 20 mm wide angle lens was on the seat beside me so I popped off the lens cap and shot a few frames at f/8 with matrix metering and auto focus. I did not use the viewfinder or LiveView because the camera was in front of my chin and pointed toward the left window of the car.   

Oops moment. Shooting IR photo through auto glass.
When I looked at the frames, I noticed that the side window was only partially down and the view through the window portion was exceedingly dark. It was one of those duh! – slap yourself on the forehead - moments. This experiment reminded me to lower the window completely because auto glass is treated to block infrared in order to reduce the heat load in the vehicle.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, some 230 million vehicles in the U.S. consume 7 billion gallons of gas annually to power air conditioning (AC). By reflecting the sun’s heat and maintaining a cooler cabin temperature, IR reflective glass reduces AC power consumption up to 20 percent, increase miles-per-gallon by up to 5 percent, and lower emissions. By the 2014 model year, all new cars and trucks sold in California must have infrared-reflective glass under the California Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction directive.

Information published by the Guardian Industries Corp. (Auburn Hills, Michigan, USA) indicates that IR reflective films block about 85% of the near IR light (about 3 f/stops) while reducing the visible light (what your meter sees) by 25% (half a stop). Grey tinted windows will reduce the visible light a little more. This means that the IR photographer who uses an IR-converted SLR camera will need to add at least 3 EVs of exposure compensation when shooting through auto glass. It also means that there will be about 3 stops less IR light in the vehicle when photographing interior objects with the windows closed. IR-converted mirrorless cameras will not have this difficulty because these cameras meter what the sensor sees.

The selective nature of the auto glass filtering – passing visible light and blocking IR – made me curious about the performance of the 590nm (SuperColor) conversion. The SuperColor IR filter passes some yellow, orange-yellow, and red visible light in addition to the IR wavelengths. To find out more, I took photographs through the partially lowered side window of a car (this time on purpose) towards a large photographic reflector. The reflector minimized any changes in luminosity due to the scene beyond the window (i.e., bright sky and dark foreground). All shots used a 20mm lens at f/8, with matrix metering, and focusing on the edge of the window. EV compensation was adjusted for each camera to balance the luminance values in the histogram. Cameras were placed on a tripod to assure the same field of view. My friend Vicki was kind enough to hold the reflector for me.

Effect of auto glass with different IR camreras
Effect of auto glass and different camera conversions
The composite photo shows the images captured with an unconverted D90 (VIS), a SuperColor (590) converted D90, standard infrared (720) converted D90, and a D90 with the deep infrared conversion (830). The visible light photograph shows very little darkening of the scene when viewing through the auto glass. The other images show significant darkening of the scene in the auto glass portions. While it is difficult to quantify the amount of near IR blockage, my visual assessment suggests that the 590 nm SuperColor conversion had the least IR attenuation of the three IR cameras and the 830nm deep infrared camera had the most.

Shooting IR photographs through auto glass will result require significant EV adjustments before one can obtain an acceptable photograph. This could be an advantage in extremely bright situations and when additional contrast is needed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five Remarkable Color IR Photographs

An important exercise for me as a photographer is to critically review the work of other artists. This examination helps me to determine what I like about their work so that I can incorporate some of those elements into my photos.  Trying to recreate these “pearls” is a learning process that improves my skills and helps me to grow as a photographer. I don’t slavishly reproduce the style of any photographer. My photographs have many influences but my style is unique.

Examining the work of others is especially important for color infrared photography because color IR requires more post-processing than visible light photographs. As you might expect, lighting, composition, sharpness, contrast, and tone are just as important for color IR as they are for visible light images. The additional element – the secret ingredient - is the post-processing.  This examination helps define my preferences as an artist and it shows me what is possible during post-processing. Some of these possibilities will fit my esthetic and workflow, some will not.
Fierce Defender. by Etownbeatdown
Fierce Defender by Justin Piercy
So with that introduction, I would like to introduce five remarkable color infrared photographs. The first photo is "Fierce Defender" by Justin Piercy. I love the composition of this photograph with the fence line leading your eye to the horizon. The diagonal cloud formations give an otherwise normal "vanishing point" scene a sense of tension and angular movement. The sharply focused post and chain in the foreground and the broken post provide visual interest. The colors are great. This type of coloration is often achieved when using a 720 nm IR filter and an accurate white balance.

"Sunset on Golden Pond" by KellyShipp
Sunset on Golden Pond by Kelly Shipp
Continuing with the red theme, we have the "Sunset on Golden Pond" by Kelly Shipp.This photo also appears to be taken with a 720 nm IR filter but this image features the more traditional white foliage. I really like the sunset behind the cabin and tree. The lighter band of sky accents the silhouette of the cabin. The light gradient on the pond and the darker land above create a wedge that draws my eye from left to right, toward the little puffy clouds. The curved shoreline at the far end of the pond nicely frames the cloud reflections. The tone and composition of this deceptively simple photograph are great.

Top Speed (Infrared) by 2121studio
Top Speed (Infrared) by 2121studio.com
Not all infrared photographs are landscapes and I wanted to review this one, "Top Speed (Infrared)" by Ali Shamsul Bahar of 2121studio.com.  This photo was taken in Negara, Jembrana, Bali, Indonesia. I love the lighting in this photograph and the sense of movement. This photo is a challenge for me because I don't quite know how it was captured. The animals and the wheels of the cart are in motion but the driver and the cart are sharp and motionless. Is this just great panning technique with a slower shutter speed? Maybe an off-camera flash with rear-curtain eposure? Could this be a composite image where the motionless driver is overlaid onto the moving cart? Whatever the technique, this is a stunning photograph in my estimation. 

Enchanted forest by David.Keochkerian 
Enchanted forest by David Keochkerian
The next remarkable color IR photograph is "Enchanted forest" by David Keochkerian. This is a lovely forest and water scene that also contains a woman with an umbrella. Can you find her? The image appears to be captured using a 590 nm IR filter and a channel swap was employed during post-processing. This approach produces blue skies and enhances the golden colors.The reflections are beautiful and the lighter trees downstream are framed by the arch of the trees. The arch and the brightness draw your eye into the photograph. I am not fond of the large dark branch in the upper left corner but this is still a lovely photograph.

Framed Reflection by McSnowHammer
Framed Reflection by Mattias Hammar
The final image, "Framed Reflection" comes from Sweden.The photographer is Mattias Hammar. This image appears to be captured with a 720 nm filter. Channel swap with color adjustments were problably employed to achieve the blue sky and the pink foliage. I really like the colors, the reflections, and the contrasts. The framing of this image is outstanding because it enhances rather than detracts from the far trees and the reflection. The black water is very nice. Black water occurs when you get reflections from a cloudless sky.  (A cloudless infrared sky is black.) This is a stunning photograph! The only thing I would do differently would be to remove the white leaf floating on the water just below the red tree reflections.

This is how I review images. Your methods will certainly be different.  I hesitated to include critical comments in this blog because I mean no disrespect to the photographers. These photos were featured because I thought they were outstanding.  I hope you do too.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Creative Infrared Photography - Chance Favors the Prepared Mind

Bald Eagle Sculpture - IR  Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena Michigan
Bald Eagle -IR  Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena Michigan
I was heading home from a visit “Up North” on Sunday evening when I noticed that the sky was begging for an infrared photography session.  The IR camera was in the back so I just needed to find an interesting foreground to make the shot work.  Fortunately, I was not far from the Jesse Besser Museum in Alpena Michigan. I pulled into the empty parking lot and got to work. 

Photo opportunities appear unexpectedly and when they do, I must be ready to capture them. There is nothing worse than a life full of regrets. 
To be ready, I must:   
1.   Be able to recognize the opportunity and understand which camera settings I should use to create the image. Aperture priority? Shutter priority? Manual? Matrix or spot metering?  Do I need higher ISO setting to achieve a faster shutter speed? Do I need to bracket for high dynamic range? Will I need a tripod? Flash?
2.   Have enough experience with my camera so that I don’t fumble to change settings, hunt through multiple menus, find and evaluate the histogram, and dial in EV changes. The technical operation of the camera must become second nature.
3.   Understand which compositional elements will help/hinder the photo. A church steeple, an architecturally distinctive building, or even a playground jungle gym could have provided an interesting foreground for these photos.
4.   Have some familiarity with the locale.  I try to scout out the areas I frequent.  I take note of where the sun sets and rises. What kind of light does it receive? Yes, I know these things are difficult to accomplish when you are in a new place, but in this case, I knew where the sculptures were and which way they faced. I also knew that there was enough open ground around them so that I could capture the sky and the statue foreground.
5.   Have my camera with me. None of the other points matter if I cannot take a picture.   

So, what did I do after I got to the museum?  First, I evaluated the eagle. The shiny metal on the sunlit side was far too bright and the detail would be blown out. I tried a couple of test shots with the sun behind the eagle but the bright sun created a detail-robbing haze that surrounded the beak. My flash did not have enough punch or spread to provide adequate fill lighting (the eagle was huge) so that approach was out. The angle shown here seemed to work but I was getting lens flare from the sun hitting the front lens element (the lens shade on the 20mm AFD f/2.8 lens is pretty shallow). Fortunately, the shutter speed (1/200 sec) was fast enough that I could hold the camera one-handed and shade the lens with my hand. I would have raised the ISO or used a tripod if the shutter speed was much lower. The test shot looked pretty close and I only had to dial in +0.67 EV to center the histogram. I also took a 3 shot bracket with 1 EV steps in case I had problems with the dynamic range in post. Electrons are cheap.

Unknown Soldker - IR Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena Michigan
Unknown Soldier - Jesse Besser Museum, Alpena Michigan
The soldier sculpture was easier to photograph because I had established the initial settings. I still had to move around to get the composition right and avoid some distracting elements in the background. The sun angle was slightly different with this photo so I did not have lens flare problems. I took some test shots and adjusted the EV. Shot a 3 image bracket just in case. I was able to get all the photos before the light changed appreciably.   

 I don’t have a pro-level of proficiency with items in the bullet list, but I am getting better. I clearly remember when I was so achingly slow with the camera that magic photographic moments faded away before I could do anything about it. How did I gain my current level of proficiency with the camera?  Practice, practice, practice.  I made mistakes, I took photographic risks, and I learned from the experience. 

In my future posts, I will describe my approach to gaining camera proficiency with a converted Nikon D90. I will also describe my “go-to” setups for different types of IR photography.

Sculpture Information:
Both sculptues were created by Tom Moran of Moran Iron Works in Onaway, Michigan.  The Bald Eagle sculpture was created in 2000 and the Unknown Soldier sculpture in 2007.  These sculptures can be seen at the Jesse Besser Museum in Alpena, Michigan.

Shooting Information:
Nikon D90 camera converted to Standard Infrared ( by LifePixel), Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 AFD, f/8.0, ISO 200.  The Eagle image was captured with a 1/200 sec shutter speed and the Soldier at 1/50 sec. Photos were taken on September 9 2013.