Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Ideal Infrared Camera (Revised)

Many people who want to get into infrared photography convert one of their older camera bodies to IR. This makes some sense for the beginner IR photographer because he/she already owns the camera and the only real expense is the cost of the conversion and the shipping. After all, why should they spend a lot of money when they may not enjoy the experience? Other beginning IR photographers will purchase a gently used older camera for conversion. This may be a better approach if your older camera does not have LiveView.

What about those individuals who are committed IR photographers? What camera characteristics would be best? Like all camera choices, the right answer depends upon the photographer and what they intend to do with their IR camera. Most infrared photographers shoot landscapes and weddings. Yes, you can do much more than that with an IR camera, but those are the main IR shooting styles I’ve found while perusing the internet.

If performance, not cost, is the deciding factor in your IR camera choice, one would assume that the most expensive, pro-level cameras would be the ideal choice for conversion.  This logic has some merit but there are performance drawbacks. The Nikon pro camera bodies have an IR LED inside the camera body that is used to monitor shutter performance. This isn’t an issue when shooting at low ISO values (Issues and Solutions page

The Ability to Set a White Balance

White Balance (WB) is a much misunderstood process with IR photographers. In visible light photography, WB settings are used to remove unrealistic color casts so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo. In IR photography, WB is used to transform the invisible IR spectrum to a visible spectrum we can perceive and manipulate. This transformed spectrum is important for color IR post-processing and strangely enough, for black and white post-processing.  A proper white balance will also minimize red-channel clipping that occurs when the camera attempts to jam all the visual image information into the red channel. 

Most Nikon cameras have difficulty setting an in-camera white balance and the Nikon IR photographer often has to make these adjustments with software. You can learn more about White Balance and Nikon cameras by reading the white balance article on this site. My preferred IR camera would have the ability to establish an in-camera white balance, thereby saving time during post-processing. I know there is an acceptable workaround with software, but we are talking about the ideal IR camera.

Good Low-Light Capabilities

This is a camera characteristic I personally would like to see because I tend to shoot IR photos in a lot of challenging situations. The infrared photographer who never has to increase their ISO above base levels doesn’t have need this capability quite as much as I do.

The underlying problem is that the camera is designed to handle the entire visible light spectrum.  When you block all the visible light above 590 nm (SuperColor Conversion), the spectral irradiance of a daylight scene is reduced about 45%. Blocking all the light down to 720nm (Standard Conversion) will decrease the spectral irradiance by about 70%. The Deep Infrared (830 nm) conversion will reduce the spectral irradiance by 88%. These numbers assume that all your filters, lenses, and other optical components have perfect transmittance. Long story, short, an IR converted camera has to work harder to capture and render the IR spectrum because there are fewer microwatts of light hitting the sensor.

We can combat low-light conditions by increasing the sensitivity of the sensor (increased ISO values) but increased ISO levels will increase noise levels. A converted camera designed to handle higher ISO settings without noise is an advantage to me. Another way to address this problem is to install a filter that lets more light into the camera. By using a SuperColor filter, the camera has about 25% more microwatts to create an image than a 720 nm (Standard IR) filter.

An Electronic Viewfinder

Yes, I know that most Nikon digital cameras have LiveView.  But have you ever tried to use LiveView in bright sunlight?  Good luck with that. An electronic viewfinder that shows me what the sensor sees is a real advantage for infrared photographers. Imagine looking into the viewfinder and seeing an image as it will be captured - white leaves, dark skies, and other IR effects. Image pressing the EV button and being able to evaluate the exposure value while looking at the viewfinder image. 

Sensor-based Focus and Exposure

Better yet, what if the focus engine was based upon what the sensor sees? What if the focusing capabilities were a lot faster than our current LiveView capabilities?  Lens calibrations would be a thing of the past and we could use both ends of our zoom range with the same level of focus accuracy. We would also be able to use our lenses wide open for subject isolation without worrying that IR focus shift is going to soften the image.  Further, we could manually adjust the focus to get the perfect focus point.  Yes, we can do the last two items with LiveView and yes, LiveView allows us to zoom in on the focus point to make sure it really is in focus.  However, LiveView can be a pain when it is very bright outside.  Some of us compensate by using an LCD viewfinder or hood, but my ideal camera wouldn’t need one.

Other Nice-to-Have Features

  • FX sensor for more DOF control.
  • Ability to use my existing Nikon lenses
  • Smaller footprint. For many casual IR shooters, the IR camera is the second camera in their bag. This camera would get more use if they didn’t have to lug two large cameras. For the pro IR shooter, this isn’t such a big deal. 
  • 12 megapixel or greater sensor.  Dedicated landscape photographers will want more megapixels. I’m not sure what the right level would be for wedding photographers.
What does this all mean?
For the dedicated enthusiast and for some pros, the best Nikon camera available today for IR conversion may well be the Nikon 1 V3.  It is small, fast, and it handles low light situations better than the Nikon 1 V1. The ideal pro-level IR camera body probably doesn’t exist yet. 

Edited 7/9/2015.  I just got a note from a reader who had problems with a converted Nikon 1 V3.  She had her camera converted to the 830nm IR filter by LifePixel.  When she got the camera back, she noticed that the images had grid lines on them.  According to Daniel at LifePixel, all Nikon CX sensors have visible grid lines on them the but they don't show up due to the anti-aliasing filter. Daniel also told her that they haven't had problems with the J series or the V1 cameras but hers was the first V3 they converted.  Unfortunately, the only way to remove the grid lines is with post-processing.  I don't know if this is a filter-thing (830 nm deep infrared vs. 720 standard or 590 supercolor) or a V3 thing, but I am very disappointed.  I had every expectation that this would work well.   I was looking for a gently used V3 to convert...

Nikon 1 V3 Conversion: Pros

  • Decent resolution
  • Good dynamic range
  • On-chip focus is so much faster than LiveView.
  • On-chip exposure monitoring makes shooting very easy (Expeed 4A image processor)
  • Fewer problems with white balance
  • Changes in EV are reflected in the viewfinder
  • Eliminates IR focus shift compensation
  • The FT1 mount adapter allows you to use almost all your Nikon lenses. Your AF-S lenses will autofocus
  • DOF can be evaluated in the viewfinder
  • Handles low light situations better than the V1
  • Small, relatively light weight a (compared with a full-sized DSLR)
  • Viewfinder allows you to see the actual image, not the visible light analog you see in a converted DSLR camera viewfinder.
  • The smaller sensor gives you more apparent “reach” with your lenses.
  • Control layout is better for IR photography.
Nikon V3 Conversion: Cons
  • Small sensor presents some challenges when trying to isolate subjects.
  • Not sure how the electronic viewfinder will fare when banging around in my camera bag.
  • One reader reported image problems after the conversion (see above)

NOTE for those of you considering converting a Nikon 1 V1, my converted V1 (720nm Standard Conversion) works well for general IR photography, but it has some noise issues when the light is dim. I keep the ISO under 400 at all times. If you want to go this route, I suggest getting the SuperColor (590 nm) conversion. This will allow more light to reach the sensor and reduce the potential for generating noise.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

3 IR Channel Swaps - Comparing Photoshop Channel Mixer, CNX2 Hue Swap, & Photoshop LAB Color

In my previous post, I demonstrated how to perform a LAB color channel swap and discussed some of the workflow advantages associated with this approach. However, the unresolved question is whether the LAB color channel swap provides a different photographic output than the better-known channel swap procedures.  

For this post, I will take the same TIFF image through the Photoshop channel mixer swap, the Nikon Capture NX2 (CNX2) hue shift, and the LAB color channel swap using the Curves function.  
Image 1. Starting Point - Out of camera TIFF image.
Image 1 is the out-of-camera image.  It was taken into CNX2 honor the camera settings and to set the WB. The image was then converted to a 16-bit TIFF to standardize all the inputs. Photoshop handles NEF files differently than CNX2 so this levels the playing field. All of the channel swaps started with this image.
Image 2.  Photoshop Channel Mixer Channel Swap.

Image 2 shows the standard channel swap procedure in Photoshop. This procedure uses the Photoshop channel mixer to swap the red and blue channels. The resulting image was saved as a JPG and displayed here. No other manipulations were performed. The image has a teal-like hue to the sky and the water and the upper foliage has a magenta cast.

Image 3.  Hue shift using Nikon Capture NX2.
Image 3 shows the hue shift from CNX2. The sky and water are blue in this image and the foliage has a green-yellow cast.

Image 4 shows the LAB color swap output.  This image most closely resembles the Nikon CNX2 hue shift output. The colors in this image appear to be darker or more saturated than the CNX2 output, but the difference is minimal.  

Image 4. LAB color swap with Curves.
To the purist, the CNX2 resemblance may indicate that the LAB color swap might not be a true channel swap.  As a pragmatic photographer, I really don't care whether the channel swap is "true" or not.  I just want the sky to be blue and to generate an image I can work with. After all, all IR colors are false colors and it really doesn't matter how we get to the final image. The true power of IR photography is that there is no "right" and "wrong" way to approach or depict an IR scene.  We are free to follow our artistic inclinations.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Creating a Blue Sky with LAB Color and Curves

My tutorial on performing a LAB color channel swap can be found on YouTube.

If you like creating color infrared photographs, you already know how to perform a channel swap. The classic channel swap using the Photoshop Channel Mixer usually generates a blue sky that is the hallmark of “traditional” color infrared photos. Unfortunately, the channel mixer is a rather crude implement. When I use the channel mixer, I am often left with residual blue and grey areas (in clouds and concrete) that require extensive hue and white balance adjustments. As I make more and more adjustments to remove these colors, I end up generating color noise and halos that are frustrating to remove.

Enter the LAB color channel swap. In its simplest iteration, this procedure can produce a good quality channel swap in seconds. The procedure for the simplified channel swap is shown below. The simplified channel swap provides a good starting point for generating a blue sky for most color IR photos.  With a little more work, I can efficiently generate a blue (or green) sky, adjust the colors in defined areas of the image, and improve the contrast - all in one workspace. The LAB color process also minimizes color noise. The video link at the top of this post will take you to a video tutorial on how to do the LAB channel swap. The tutorial will also show you how to efficiently improve color and contrast by using LAB color curves. 

When I talk about LAB color, most photographer's eyes start to glaze over. For most us, the LAB color space is a “Never Never Land” - a poorly understood place that doesn't play nice with printers and plug-in programs. However, the infrared photographer is, by definition, an extremist who needs extreme tools to manipulate the data generated by their camera’s image processor. LAB color, with its wide gamut and the ability to manipulate luminance independently of the color information, is becoming, for me at least, the workspace of choice for processing color and black and white IR photographs.

Simplifed Channel Swap - LAB Color

Simplified Channel Swap Method
Change to Lab Color:  
   Image > Mode >Lab Color
Select Channels > A channel 
Click the “eyeball” next to Lab (at the top)
Image > Adjustments > Invert
Select B channel
Image> Adjustments > Invert
Image >Mode >RGB

If you want to follow along with the tutorial, you can download the lake image from the following website: 

Please let me know if you find this helpful.  You can also use the Join This Site box to receive these posts in your email as they are generated.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Creative Infrared Photography - Inverting the Image

Leaves in black and white showing Wood effect.
I took this infrared photo of a weed growing in my flower bed. The image was captured with a Nikon D90 with a standard infrared (720nm) conversion. The day was quite bright so the camera settings were f/4, 1/2500 sec, ISO 200, and -3EV to keep from blowing out the highlights. 

The Wood effect which is common in IR photography, made the leaves white. The negative EV made the background black. The camera used the standard LifePixel white balance setting and final WB was established using the Nikon Capture NX2 software. I knew this was going to be a black and white photo so I didn’t perform a channel swap or alter the colors in any way. 

Inverted image after a little clean up.
The photo was still pretty bright at this point so I used the levels and contrast sliders to improve the tonality.  The photo was converted to black and white using the standard Photoshop layer function.  After a little cropping sharpening, and contrast adjustment, I got the first photo you see in this article.

I posted this photograph on the Nikonians Infrared forum and one of the members suggested inverting the image to get black leaves on a white background. I had to do a little cleanup after the conversion and adjusted the brightness and contrast to get the second image.

Diptych of the two images.
The final image is a diptych of the two  images.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Alternative Approaches for IR Post-Processing

Out of camera shot with WB established in CNX2.
As I mentioned in previous posts, all colors are false colors when shooting with an infrared converted camera. Therefore, the IR photographer has a lot of latitude to process their images. Sometimes a photographer will develop a certain look that he/she is known for, and they always process to keep their portfolio consistent. Others process images several different ways, depending upon the subject. The final group (which includes me) are either searching for a look that consistently appeals to them or they enjoy doing different things.  It's all good, because there is no right way to process IR photos.

Added white and black points and increased the contrast.
To that end, I plan to show some different approaches to IR processing that may, or may not appeal to you. The building shown in this post is the Upjohn building on the west medical campus of the University of Michigan. The first image is the right out of the camera image that was taken into Nikon CNX2 to set the white balance. 

Half channel swap with desaturated greens.
The second image (above) shows the effect of using a white and black point.  This step removes many of the unexpected colors in the grass and the leaves. I often stop here for many of my IR images. I like the tone-on-tone effect and the sepia colors don't clash or cause problems. This is almost like a half-tone image to my eye

Full channel swap, equalization, and increased saturation.
The third image has the green(ish) sky that is popular with some IR photographers. For this one, I started with image number 2 then performed a half-channel swap. That means that I used the channel mixer and changed the settings for the red channel to red=0 and blue=100%. The resulting image was quite green. To make things easy for myself, I just desaturated the greens to get what you see above.  I was taking the easy route and the sky isn't as green as some photographers would prefer. I set a white point on the cloud to remove any residual green tint. To increase the contrast, I used the Equalize function and toned the photo using the brightness and contrast layer.

Inverted image and added a Nik Bi-Color User Defined filter blue and gold.
The fourth image shows a traditional red-blue channel swap.  I placed a white point setting on the cloud and black point on the reflected light pole. I increased the saturation for this one to give the photo an HDR-like look. 

The last two images are a pair. Once again, I started with image 2 but this time I inverted the image and applied a NIK software filter (Bi-color, user defined) to get the blue and gold (or maize and blue) look.  I increased the contrast and adjusted the brightness to get the image you see here.

Inverting the blue and gold image.
While the blue and gold image is interesting all on its own, the real reason to go this route is because when you invert in again, you get this image. Again, I did a few adjustments but this is basically how it turns out.

I hope this little exercise gives you some additional ideas on post processing looks for infrared images.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Creative Infrared Photography - Shooting Different Subjects

Rest stop near Pindonning Michigan - Infrared
Sometimes I want to create something different with my IR camera. In my experience, landscapes represent the normal starting point for most IR photographers.  IR  landscapes are appealing because they are visually different and yet familiar. Most viewers can connect with the image. I occasionally shoot IR landscapes and this photo is one recent example. This was taken this past weekend during a trip “Up North.” The subject is a rest stop along I-75/US23 between Saginaw and Pinconning. The interesting cloud was in the right place so I took the shot. As with most IR landscapes, white leaves are best when they are set off by some hardscape or water feature. Too much white gets boring. Processing was done as usual for color IR but I set a grey point on the walkway which gave the sky a green tinge. I liked the look so I didn’t mess with it. 

Lilac buds - Infrared
The next stop on the road to something different is this macro shot of lilac buds. The lilac blooms are done here in Southeast Michigan but they were just starting to open in the North Country. This image was captured with a Nikon D90 with a 720 nm standard IR conversion. I used the LifePixel white balance preset and deliberately underexposed the shot.  This photo is very close to the out-of-camera image. I adjusted the contrast and the levels and decreased the brightness a little but this is it. What makes this image different is the burgundy background and the green lilac buds.  The combination doesn't scream IR when you look at it. When shooting flowers, I often use a diffuser or a fill flash to even out the lighting.  In this case, I embraced the uneven lighting because it appeared more natural to me.

Steering wheel emblem - Infrared
The farthest departure from a “normal” IR photograph is this emblem from my steering wheel. It reminds me of a hot branding iron. The texture in the leather provides an interesting offset. This was taken with the LifePixel preset and the details were brought out using NIK Software’s  Detail Extractor and the Dark Contrasts filter.

I hope this will inspire you to try something different too. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Creative Infrared Photogaphy - Another Approach to Leaves

This post is a continuation of my article, Infrared Leaves Don't Have to be White.  Most infrared landscape photographers approach leaves and other foliage en masse using foliage to frame or highlight the primary subject. As a close-up and macro photographer, I am drawn to the interplay of light and shadow on individual leaves or on small clumps of leaves.

Light through the trees.  Infrared 
My previous post featured this photo which shows a beam of sunlight streaming through the leaves. The red sky provides nice color contrast and highlights the sepia and white leaves.  The dark branches provide texture and some visual interest.

While I like elements of this photo, it is not an approach that appeals to me because it is quite busy and the leaves, the focal point of the photo, are a little too small for my taste.

This photo does, however, reflect my approach to this type of shot. I look for highlighted leaves with dynamic shadows that are silhouetted againast the sky or are bright against a darker background. I meter on the leaves because they are the brightest thing in the photo and I let the rest of the photo go dark. I also use a camera with standard IR conversion (720nm) to get the cyan leaves in the shadows.

Infrared light and shadow.
The next photo shows an image that is closer to my goal.  The leaves are the subject of the photo and I am starting to see some 3-dimensional effects.

I set the white balance for this photo using Nikon Capture NX2 and the darker green leaves emerged from the photo. There was no channel swap. I did some toning to balance the luminosity and increased the contrast.

I added some microcontrast using the Unsharp mask function in Photoshop. The amount was 10%, radius was 40, and the threshold was 0. Microcontrast improves the three-dimensional characteristics of the image.

While this is a better photo from my perspective, there is still has too much going on in the visual field. There are too many dark branches and the bright leaves at the top of the image pull my eye away from the leaves in the center.  Finally, the center leaves don't have enough visual interest to hold my attention.

Infrared leaves, light and shadow.
This final image is my favorite. It has stronger composition and the cyan leaves are the major background color. This composition minimizes the number of branches and the diagonal foreground branch provides a leading line drawing my eye from one clump to another.

The bright leaves have more details than the previous image and they appear to pop out of the photo.  I really like this 3-dimensional illusion.

So that is my approach. I hope you find it useful.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Creative Infrared Photography - Martian Bridge

This is another example of the types of things you can do with your IR-converted camera during the winter months.

The photograph is not from Mars, but it looks like something the Curiosity Rover could have taken. Sorry for the false advertising.  By the way, NASA says the Martian sky is a butterscotch color.

The image was taken as part of a "negative space" macro challenge. I wanted an unusual entry so I grabbed the IR camera.
Violin Bridge on a laptop screen.. Click for larger view.
The photo shows a violin bridge from a three-quarter size student violin. I placed the bridge on my laptop screen and photographed it with an infrared-converted D90 (720nm standard IR filter) and a Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8 lens. I used Aperture Priority mode at f/18, 1/13 sec, -2EV, ISO 200, and the LifePixel preset white balance. I used a tripod  to prevent lens movement.

Lighting was from two overhead halogen lamps. The initial post-processing was as described in my Before and After post except I did not use the NIK filters to darken the image.  There was no channel swap.

This image features the interesting tone-on-tone effect that is difficult to reproduce with other cameras.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alternative Infrared Subjects - Calculator Circuit Board

This is another post in my continuing series about things you can do with your infrared camera during the winter. If you click on the image, you can see a larger view.

Calculator Circuit Board - f/22 - Infrared
Today I would like to talk about taking infrared photographs of electronic circuit boards. Circuit boards often have an abstract beauty of their own and your infrared camera can showcase this beauty in ways that a normal camera cannot. The removal of the anti-alias filter during the camera conversion can allow an older camera to produce extremely sharp images that work well with chip photography.

This particular chip is from an inexpensive "give away" calculator that died. I took apart the case and found this chip with its interesting pattern of circuit lines. The finger connectors at the top were connected to an LCD display which I removed.

The photograph was taken with a Nikon D90 that was converted to a standard infrared camera (720nm) by LifePixel.  I used a Nikkor 105mm VR f/2.8 macro lens.  The chip is tilted away from the camera so I had to use a very small aperture (f/22) to get everything in focus.  Lighting was from an overhead halogen light.

You don't have to leave your IR camera in the closet during the winter or use it for a paperweight.  IR photography can happen all year long.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Digital Enhancement of Infrared Images

My Before and After post has raised some concerns about the amount of digital enhancement used to create the “After” image below.

Before - out of camera, CNX2

After Image
Ansel Adams, the consummate darkroom specialist said, "You don't take a photograph, you make it."

As an infrared photographer, I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment. In IR photography, all colors are false and the "true" image is invisible to the naked eye.

One of the great things about IR photography is that there is no visual standard for a "right" or "wrong" photograph. Who among us can personally vouch for the accuracy of the visual representation of an invisible spectrum?  We cannot perceive the light that illuminates the scene, the IR reflections, or wavelength (color wheel) interactions. This frees us to take whatever poor approximation of the scene our cameras provide, and make something interesting with it. Some people do this with color, others with black and white. It's all valid.

This concept is liberating for the artist and disconcerting for the technician who wants to create a "perfect" or "natural-looking" IR photograph.

Yes, we can create similar images using a visual camera and digital manipulation, but the public will know the image is “faked” or “Photoshopped,” no matter how interesting the image may be.  By telling the viewer they are looking at an infrared image, the viewer can suspend disbelief and evaluate your image as an image.

Liberating indeed…

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Post-Processing an Infrared Image - Step by Step

In this post, I will demonstrate how I approach my post-processing for IR photos. This photo was taken in Alpena Michigan at the Evergreen Cemetery. I used a Nikon D90 with a LifePixel Standard IR (720nm) conversion and a Nikkor 20mm AFD lens.  

The images on this page are pretty small. You can view larger versions by clicking on the image.  

Out of camera image.  NEF opened in Photoshop
This first image is straight out of the camera and converted to a JPG for this article. This is what the NEF image looks like when it is opened with Photoshop. All of these images started with the LifePixel preset white balance. 
Out of camera image. NEF opened in Capture NX2

The second image shows the same NEF opened with Nikon Capture NX2. The image looks different because CNX2 can read and apply the camera picture controls. My post on camera settings will give you my normal setup. This photo has more sharpness and contrast than the Photoshop image. This is the same image I see on the back of the camera.

White Balance set in Capture NX2

I set the white balance using CNX2 and saved the image as a TIFF. I normally do a channel swap at this point but I knew I did not want a blue sky for this image. 

Adobe Camera Raw Adjustments

I selected the TIFF in Adobe Bridge and opened it in Adobe Camera Raw. In ACR, I adjusted the recovery (5) to tone down the highlights, increased the blacks to 9, darkened the image by decreasing the brightness to -3. Contrast was 14, clarity 37, vibrance to 15 and saturation to 16. I opened the image as a copy in Photoshop.

Viveza 2 for structure and contrast.

Contrast and clarity adjustments can produce noise so I used the NIK Define 2 plug-in to clean it up a bit. (I used the default settings.)  I wanted the image to have more structure in the foreground and the sky so I used the NIK Viveza 2 plug in. Structure setting was 60%, contrast was 30%, and the shadow adjustment setting was -48%. Structure adjustments also add noise so I used the NIK Define 2 program again to reduce the noise artifacts.  

Color Efex Pro 2 Low Key Filter to add moodiness.
I wanted this image to be dark and moody so I used the NIK Color Efex Pro 2 plug-in and the low key filter. I adjusted the glow to zero, Standard Low Key to 22, Dynamic Low Key to 56%, and Saturation to 40%.

Final image after color adjustments and final tweaks.

Now it is time to adjust the color. I opened a levels adjustment layer and used the black point picker and chose a point on the foreground fence. I used the white point picker and chose the brightest point in the image. I moved the mid-tone slider a little to the right to darken the image further. I applied a hue and saturation layer to further tweak the color. 

Final tweaks included adjusting the brightness and contrast, a little dodging, and I cropped a little off the right side of the image. I signed the image using the copyright brush (see my post on that) and applied the final sharpening using Smart Sharpening (15%) in Photoshop.
My normal workflow for IR photos is as follows:

1.  White Balance in CNX2
2.  Channel swap (not on this image)
3.  Adjust contrast and structure
4.  Adjust lighting and mood
5.  Adjust color
6.  Final tweaks and sharpening,

Friday, March 14, 2014

Winter IR Photography

This is the fifth post in my series on what to do with your IR camera during the “off season.” 

In this post, I will talk about winter landscape photography.  Winter landscape photography is very similar to summer photography except that it is cold and battery life is much more limited.  I always keep a spare battery inside my coat where it will stay warm. This gives me more shots than a battery kept in my car, camera bag, or in an outside pocket. 
It is also important to protect your camera and lens when you bring them in from the cold. Warm moist (inside) air will condense on and in your cold camera gear when you bring it in from the outside.  This will introduce moisture into areas that should never get wet. To prolong camera life, I seal the camera and lens into a gallon-sized zip-loc bag before I bring it into the house. The camera and lens stay in the bag until they reach room temperature. 
I generally classify winter shooting into three types of photography – sunny day shooting, shooting under overcast skies, and the crazy business of shooting in nasty weather. 
Sunny day shooting is the most logical type of IR photography. During sunny days, IR light is plentiful, shutter speeds are short, and you don’t need a tripod for most shots. Clear blue skies produce nice dark IR skies that highlight any puffy clouds that may be in the scene. Sunny conditions also produce lots of glare, especially from the snow. This is where IR photographers have an advantage over other photographers because IR photographers deal with glare from grass and other vegetation all the time. The same approaches and settings you use to deal with vegetation glare work for snow glare. Using a lens shade is very important under these conditions to reduce lens flare.
Gallup Park, Ann Arbor Michigan - Infrared
My first sunny day photo was taken at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The skies were beautiful and the temperature was 1 degree below zero Fahrenheit.  I wore over-gloves with silk glove liners to keep my fingers from freezing to the camera. To take a photo, I removed the over-gloves and handled the camera with the silk gloves. My hands got cold very quickly but they did not stick to the camera.  This photo was taken with a D70s with a 720nm standard IR conversion. Most people would not realize that this is an IR shot because it looks almost “normal.”  The real challenge for this photo was to remove the blue cast from the snow after the channel swap. I used a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer to remove the color cast.
Evergreen Cemetery, Alpena Michigan - Infrared
The second sunny day photo was taken at the Evergreen Cemetery in Alpena, Michigan. It was another beautiful winter day with a temperature of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  This photo was taken using a D90 with a 590nm SuperColor conversion. The major challenge with this photo was dealing with the high contrast caused by bands of bright snow and darker shadow. I kept adjusting the camera until the histogram was acceptable and the “blinkies” (blown out areas) were under control. As before, I used a Hue and Saturation adjustment layer to remove the blue cast that remained after the channel swap.
Curran Michigan Gully - Infrared
The next two images were taken near Curran, Michigan using a SuperColor converted D90. As you can see from the first image, the day was extremely overcast and the sky acted like a giant soft box. There is very little shadow and almost no contrast in the snowy areas. The blue cast was removed from the snow as described previously and NIK Viveza 2 control points were used to give the nondescript sky some structure and contrast. 
Snowmobile Path, Curran Michigan - Infrared
The next photo was included to show how I attempted to make a featureless snowy foreground a little more interesting. To do this, I looked around for an area that had weeds poking up through the snow. In this case, I also found an area where snowmobiles had torn up the snow and the ground. My intention was to create an image that had an interesting foreground, a middle ground, and a background. The foreground is interesting but the rest of this photo is pretty boring.
Taking IR photos in nasty winter weather has many challenges - some obvious and some not. Personal safety and potential equipment damage are some of the obvious challenges and I am sure we all can come up with four or five other reasons why we shouldn't be wandering around with a camera during a winter storm. The less obvious challenges have to do with light.   
We all know that the world gets darker when a thick, snow-laden cloud bank is overhead.  This is a world with little contrast and no color. Only the closest objects have any hope of producing a sharp image.
IR light is highly variable under these conditions. IR light can sometimes fall off faster than the visible light during winter storms. This is important because the metering and exposure system in your converted camera uses visible light.  Your routine camera settings may not work and when you find a cool shot, you may need a tripod or insanely high ISO settings to bring it home. Even with all these negative aspects, taking photos during a winter storm can be rewarding for the reckless, foolhardy, and naive. 
Snowstorm in Grand Rapids Michigan - Infrared
This photo was taken in Grand Rapids Michigan during a snowstorm. I drove over from Ann Arbor to attend a photo workshop and arrived earlier than expected. This was a Saturday and we were in an old industrial area that was being converted to lofts and studios. I decided to take the IR camera for a walk in the storm. Did I mention reckless, foolhardy and naive? 

For this photo, I was standing on an iron bridge that spans the Grand River. The snow was falling like mad, I could not see a soul, and the steel-gray water below looked awfully cold. I leaned against one of the steel uprights to steady the camera and shot back along the path I had just traveled. This is a color IR photo using a D90 with a standard 720nm IR conversion. I set the white balance with Nikon Capture NX2 but did not perform a channel swap. I liked the little bit of sepia coloration left over from the white balancing. It made the image look like vintage photo.
Iron Bridge, Grand Rapids, Michigan - Infrared
The final photo shows the same iron bridge from the roadway. As I was standing in the middle of the road, a snow plow came around the corner behind me.  I don’t know who was more surprised!  I got out of his way and captured the image after he left the scene. Once again, there was no channel swap. I did not like the sepia tone on this one so I converted it to black and white.
I hope I have demonstrated that you can take interesting landscape photos in the winter and maybe next year, your IR camera will join you on some winter excursions.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Interview With Photographer Kathy Cavallaro

My featured guest today is Midwest photographer Kathy Cavallaro. As you can see from the photos on this page, Kathy’s color IR landscapes are gorgeous. I first saw Kathy’s IR work in the Infrared and Ultraviolet forum of the Nikonians website.

DW: Kathy, welcome to the photoblog! How long have you been taking infrared photos?

KC: Thank you Dan for the opportunity to talk about my IR photography. I first became interested in infrared photography in early 2010 after finding a few images online that peaked my interest.  I started with an IR720 filter, not wanting to make the investment in a converted camera if I didn't enjoy the results.  The results were intriguing but it was difficult to get the results I wanted having to focus first, then apply the filter.  Also, the long shutter speeds with the filter made it difficult to obtain sharp photos.  I found I enjoyed IR photography enough to make the investment in having a camera converted.  Shortly after having my camera converted, I enrolled in Deb Sandidge's course on IR photography.  This was so helpful in every way from composition, to final processing techniques. 

DW: Which camera and lens combination do you use most often? 

KC:  I only have one IR body at the moment. It's a Nikon D200 converted with the super color filter (590nm). I chose the super color after many discussions with LifePixel. I didn't think I'd shoot many standard IR, and if I found the need, I could convert the Super Color easily to a more traditional Black and White with software. The camera was calibrated for a 18-55 lens, but have found the best results with the 18-200 VR lens. 

Marco Island, FL - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW:   Let’s take a look at the Marco Island photograph. I love this photo! What was your goal when you took it? 

KC:  With the Marco Island image my main goal was to frame the pool with the palm trees. I was lucky with the clouds. The wonderful thing with IR photography is that you can capture an interesting image at midday, when the light would not be very conducive to taking a regular image.

DW: Your Nikon D200 does not have LiveView but your photos are very sharp, even at longer focal lengths. Do you use any special focusing technique to make everything sharp?

KC: I use the hyperfocal technique, and focus about 1/3 of the way into the frame. This works well for me with all my cameras.

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW: The next featured photo shows the Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. Can you tell us anything about this image?

KC:  I was so excited to take my IR camera to Chicago. It's an infrared paradise! I shot the fountain from every angle, it's a wonderful subject.

DW: You always seem to get the sky blue and the clouds white and/or natural-looking in your IR photographs. This really makes the IR coloration stand out. The clouds in my photos often have a blue cast after the channel swap. Can you tell us how you create this type of sky? 

KC:  After I put the image through the channel swap, if the image has a color cast, I'll run it through camera raw and play with the white balance. Sometimes I'll need to use a mask to work on the clouds with Hue/Saturation in Photoshop.

Charleston SC Pier - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW: The sky in your "Under the Pier" photo has is totally unexpected and the image does not scream INFRARED! Can you tell us something about this photo?

KC:  I was surprised by the results of that image as well. It was taken in early morning with the sun low in the sky, and slightly underexposed. I was inspired by framing the scene with the different angles of the pier. I was lucky to have a few wispy clouds and the two joggers entering the frame worked perfectly. I had hoped to capture more detail on the wood, but decided it may have distracted from the soft feel of the scene. This was processed in the same manner as my other images. This was taken in Charleston, SC.

Charleston SC Beach - (c) Kathy Cavallaro
DW:   With our especially harsh winter weather this year, this final beach scene is especially appealing. What made you use your IR camera rather than a standard camera?

KC: This image was taken in Charleston as well. This highlights the reason I chose the super color filter. I just love how it renders the foliage, helps to make something interesting out of the scrub in the foreground. The single beach chair, the fishermen, and the architecture of the building in the distance were the inspiration for this image. 

DW: Kathy, this has been great. Do you have any closing thoughts you would like to share?

KC: Thank you Dan for giving me the opportunity to share some of my photographs. For me Infrared photography always has an element of surprise. I'm never quite sure how the final image will look before running it through the channel swap. I find that aspect very enjoyable and exciting.

DW: Kathy, thank you for taking the time to share your infrared photo experiences. Your photos are inspirational.

You can find more of Kathy Cavallaro’s photographs at  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Digital Workflow 3 - Black and White Conversion

This is a continuation of my Digital Workflow series. In my previous posts, I talked about camera settings and the importance of white balances. In this article, I will discuss one of the optional approaches to IR post-processing – black and white (BW) conversions. 

Initial Photograph without (left) and with (right) the LifePixel
White Balance.  Nikon D90 830 nm converstion
My initial motivation for shooting IR photographs was to use them as an entrĂ©e into black and white (BW) photography. I was enamored with the sharp contrasty photos and the ability to create surreal images.  These effects can be obtained with any IR conversion but if you are a dedicated BW photographer, the 830nm Deep Infrared conversion seems to be the ideal solution.  With this conversion, you will get BW images right out of the camera if you use the LifePixel white balance preset.  However, this filter will produce extremely red images if you do not use the preset WB.  

Cropped image without any post-processing.
Here is the initial cropped image. Right out of the camera, these images usually lack contrast and appear to be visually flat. As I mentioned in my Camera Settings post, I set my Picture Controls to +1 contrast, Vivid, and Sharpening at 6. This image was brought into Nikon Capture NX2 (CNX2), cropped, and saved as a TIFF file.  The camera settings are applied during this process.  

Autotone in Photoshop
The first step in post-processing is to use the Autotone function in Photoshop or the Auto Levels function in CNX2  

Image > Autotone (Photoshop)
Adjust > Light > Auto Levels (CNX2)

This step makes a big difference but the clouds and some of the grasses still don't have much detail.

One process I find extremely useful when processing Deep Infrared photos in Photoshop is to increase the microcontrast using the unsharp mask functions.  The Detail Extractor filter in NIK Color Efex Pro 4 the Clarity brush in Lightroom will produce similar results with various levels of post-processing control. I happen to like this approach because it works with my workflow.

For increasing microcontrast:
   PhotoShop Unsharp Mask:
      Amount — 5-20%
      Radius — 30-100 pixels (smaller radius enhances smaller scale detail)
     Threshold — 0

Unsharp Mask 20% and radius 30
My normal workflow is to duplicate the background layer and apply an unsharp mask at 20% Sharpening and a Radius of 50 pixels. If the scene starts to look too contrasty, I adjust the opacity of the layer to make the image look right. If I want to increase the local contrast in certain areas and not others, I change the duplicate layer to a layer mask and paint in the local contrast with a black brush. When processing a color IR photo, I set the blending mode to “Luminosity” to prevent local color saturation changes.

Choosing the proper radius is the key to this approach. High resolution images or those where light-dark transitions are large, require a larger radius value.  Very low resolution images may require a radius less than 30 pixels to achieve the effect. 

This process can produce noise in some images so this is a good time to do a noise reduction treatment.

Adjust Levels, noise reduction, and sharpening.
This final image is after adjusting the midtone levels to 0.81 to darken the sky and adding 10% Smart Sharpening.  

Processing of color IR photos is very straightforward because you have more color information in the image.  The Photoshop, CNX2, and NIK SilverEfex Pro 2 software will do a nice job with the conversion. Many people increase the saturation of the images before BW conversion but I have not found that necessary with a properly white-balanced image.