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Art Commentary Photography

Infrared Photography

The switch from film to digital photography has benefited people who desire to shoot images in infrared.  Infrared photography was born in the First World War as an aid to aerial photography that was used to film troops and equipment on the ground.  Where infrared photography aids in this is due to the fact that when tree leaves or grass is photographed through a deep red (visually black) filter on infrared film, it is plainly different (lighter) than buildings, metal vehicles or camouflage nets that appear to our eyes to be the same green as the foliage.  This difference in tone makes it relatively easy to visually separate real foliage from artificial camouflage as used by the military.  Military intelligence specialists love it.

Following the First World War and up to recent times, non-military film users who sought to use infrared film for design or aesthetic reasons had to use an appropriate filter, and a tripod with their camera to shoot (mostly landscapes) with long exposures.  The filter used is very dense in order to cut out the visible light while permitting infrared light waves to pass through it. It is necessary to focus the camera first because the photographer cannot see through the filter, then to attach the filter to the lens before making the exposure.  Because of the density of the filter and the low sensitivity of the film, the exposures were quite long‚ hence the tripod and usually non-moving landscape subjects.

In a digital camera the sensor, the "chip" that receives the image, has a much higher sensitivity to infrared light than has film.  In fact, that sensitivity is so high that the camera manufacturer must add an infrared-subtracting filter inside the camera body in order to remove the effects of infrared on the visual subject.  Photographers who desire to photograph subjects in infrared have camera repairmen remove the infrared-subtracting filter and dedicate the camera to infrared shooting alone.  Once modified, the camera is suitable only for producing black and white infrared images, it would no longer be possible to use it for normal images.

Britt Stokes is a corporate photographer who uses the unique quality of infrared cameras to bring his personal work an otherworldly and fantasy-like quality.  Using the characteristics of infrared-modified digital cameras, he utilizes controlled aspects of the infrared process to give us a different view of the everyday world.
In infrared, greens appear light in tone, blues become black, and reds and yellows appear as various shades of gray.  It is not a negative image but rather a curious combination of positive and negative that occurs.  Skin seems to glow, blonde hair produces halos in the air and an apparent graininess overlays almost everything.
Britt Stokes brings his perceptive and selective vision to landscape and portrait images, and gives us his somewhat different view of everyday things.

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Digital Infrared Photography by Cyrill Harnischmacher

One of my colleagues is an architectural photographer who shoots digital infrared images a great deal of the time.  Unfortunately, he lives several hundred miles from me and when we are together (which actually is seldom) we spend our time talking about our lives and clients–and lately, hurricanes (since we both live in areas that are affected by storms).  That means that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about infrared photography, which I would really like to do.  For me, that’s unfortunate because I am actually very interested in the “look” of the infrared photograph, and years ago in my film days I actually spent some time experimenting with black and white infrared film and the appropriate filters.  So the theory is not unknown to me, but the practical aspects of digital infrared photography is very new to me.

But a new book crossed my desk.  It is Digital Infrared Photography by Cyrill Harnischmacher,published by Rocky Nook Press.

The author, (as I quote the book cover) is Cyrill Harnischmacher a photographer and designer who lives and works in southern Germany.  His first book, “lowbudgetshooting” won the prestigious Fotobuch-award of the German Booksellers Association in 2005.  He is a studio photographer by profession and a nature and infrared photographer by passion.

It has been my previous experience that picking up a book from Rocky Nook press is to experience a book-lovers joy.  Digital Infrared Photography is printed on acid-free paper and laid out with clean, uncluttered, linear design and printed with wonderful concern for the accuracy of color and the depth of the black and white illustrations, so it certainly does not disappoint.

While the volume is attractive enough to simply be a small coffee-table book; its content filled me in on the state of the art with modern digital cameras and had enough theory to refresh my memory and probably enough to satisfy the casual reader. Mr. Harnischmacher begins with the basic theory of infrared photography and then discusses the specialty cameras that make the process of digital infrared photography possible.

He introduces us to modified cameras that have had their infrared cut-off filters removed and to cameras like the Canon 20D and Fuji SLR S3Pro UVIR models which are specifically designed for areas such as scientific use by astrophotographers.

The clip filter system for the Canon EOS system cameras is quite interesting in that in selected EOS models (300D, 350D, 400D, 10D, 20D, and 30D) which have had their IR filters removed, a clip filter can be inserted into the camera body to enable the body to perform specific scientific functions.  The insert filters are manufactured by Astronomik (www.astronomik.com).

The Sigma SD14 camera is capable of infrared photography right out of the box but has some specialized problems of its own.

Astrophotography is a field with its unique problems, specialized equipment, and equally unique rewards if the reader is willing to commit to the learning experience.

The practical aspects of infrared photography are discussed through the introduction of While Balance, Exposure, and Settings.  This is followed by some very practical thoughts on Composing and Setting up shots.

Tabletop and Still Life photography as well as the use of an infrared lightbrush (suitable flashlight) can produce suitable images in infrared when patience and experimentation are utilized.  Macro photography and the suitable filters for infrared as well as using on board camera flash and external flash units are discussed briefly.

The Digital Darkroom is the key to the processing of digital infrared images because it is extremely seldom that digital infrared images do not require specialized post-processing.  Photoshop or similar processing software is needed. One of the techniques described in converting infrared into a black and white image is through the use of the LAB color space. Grayscale conversion via the channel mixer is also demonstrated.

I think the book examples for adjusting the color levels with gradient curves produce some of the richest and most striking images in the book.  The use of layers and layer masks, techniques that should be familiar to the usual Photoshop artist, are of real use for infrared photography. Partial Colorization with the Channel Mixer, Color Effects via the Channel Mixer, Channel Swap Variations, Colorization, Duotone Effects, and Soft Lens Effects round out the offerings.

A last page gives you access to the sources for information to modify digital cameras for infrared work, where to find infrared filter information, and the Clip filter system.

While almost any of these effects are worth prolonged study by the interested digital infrared photographer, the brief overview presented by Mr. Harnischmacher will get the viewer started and provide the basis for understanding the possibilities of these effects.  At 105 pages, it’s not a large book, but the information is good, the illustrations are rich and varied. This book is a nice addition to the photographers’ bookshelf and a good introduction to digital infrared photography.