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!    

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