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!