Thursday, September 5, 2013

Creative Infrared Photography - Subject Isolation and Selective Focus

Traditional wisdom for infrared (IR) photography states that IR works well in the middle of the day, when the light is harsh and the contrasts are maximal. Traditional wisdom also insists that you should always use smaller apertures to compensate for any unexpected IR focus shifts, especially when shooting at the longer end of your telephoto range.  This traditional approach, as you might expect, provides a good starting point for a certain type of photography. That is, high contrast – get it all in focus landscape photography. Unfortunately, this approach does not work well if you want subject isolation, selective focus, or subtle color variations. Does that mean that infrared photography a one-trick pony? Not at all. To enhance the capabilities of your IR camera, you have to seek another type of wisdom.
IR Daisy - Taken in the Blue Hour
Daisy: IR selective focus.Taken in the Blue Hour
In her book, Digital Infrared Photography (Photo Workshop), Deborah Sandidge departs from the traditional approach by suggesting that IR photographers should shoot at the golden hour. The golden hour is the first and last hour of sunlight in the day – when the lighting is softer (more diffuse) and warmer in hue. Selective focus images and focus-based subject isolation usually require soft light.  Ms. Sandidge’s wisdom provides that soft light and I want to thank her for opening my eyes and moving me to a new place in my IR photography. In building upon Deborah’s wisdom, I found that soft IR lighting extends beyond the golden hour and well into the blue hour – that period of twilight before sunrise and after sunset. 

Photographing in the blue hour can be a challenge because your auto exposure system will freak out. It will call for ever longer shutter speeds when there is lots of IR light available. Switching to manual mode can solve this problem and extend your shooting time. The daisy photo shown here was shot in the blue hour with a shutter speed of 1/640 sec when the camera was calling for a half-second exposure. There is that much IR light available!
Stepping Out Tree - Subject Isolation
Stepping Out:  IR subject isolation. Blue Hour.
Selective focus also requires a larger aperture and accurate focusing – items that are mutually exclusive to the followers of the conventional wisdom, especially when using a zoom lens. LiveView and LiveView focusing really help with the focusing issues. As the light gets dimmer, LiveView with manual focusing also works well. Yes, I know LiveView focusing is slow, but your patience will be rewarded.

And finally, I would like to say something about subject isolation. The tree shown here was photographed well into the blue hour at f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/50 sec. The combination of soft light and large aperture made the tree stand out and gave it a three-dimensional look. 

Infrared photography is not a one-trick pony and I am convinced that IR approaches and subjects can be as diverse as those found in visible light photography.

Shooting Information:
Daisy:  Nikon D90 (720 nm), Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR, f/3.0, 1/640 sec, ISO 800.  No channel swap.
Stepping Out:  Nikon D90 (720nm), Nikkor 105mm f/2,8 VR, f/2.8, 1/50 sec, -1.33 EV, ISO 800. 
No channel swap.

No comments:

Post a Comment