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. 

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