Since the 1930’s, photographers have enjoyed the use of infrared films for both scientific and pictorial use. The infrared spectrum is beyond the ability of the human eye to see, and objects viewed in light from the infrared spectrum often look quite different from visible light. Most living foliage will appear light or white in a final print shot with infrared film, and human skin can be almost translucent, with veins showing through the skin like magic. But with the advent of digital capture, most infrared emulsions have been discontinued. I know of only one infrared emulsion easily available now.
An initially unintended consequence of the digital photography revolution was that many digital sensors were very sensitive to infrared, to the point manufacturers put a filter over the sensor to block infrared light. With that filter removed and an infrared-passing filter put in its place, a new world was opened to digital photographers.
One of the main problems with doing infrared film photography was that there was no way to meter the level of infrared in a given scene. Exposure was a series of trials and errors (mostly errors for me). Many photographers bracketed exposures heavily, over and under exposing frames around what they thought was the proper exposure. There were a lot of other problems with infrared film that just made it difficult to work with. Handling was only in total darkness, the film was very heat sensitive, and it was very easy to fog the film.
I first became aware of digital infrared around the year 2000, at a workshop on Photoshop. The lecturer displayed a few images in their presentation that had been shot with a Minolta DiMage 7 camera. I was intrigued. I immediately bought a DiMage 7 and a deep infrared filter, and started on the road to digital infrared. One thing that immediately struck me was that I could see the infrared image – no more guessing if I got the exposure right. No more shooting six stop brackets to insure a good exposure. No more wondering how the scene will look – if the model’s clothing will render the way the eye sees it or not. Wow!
Fast forward 10 years. I’ve been shooting a converted Nikon D100 for over 5 years now. I had a showing in 2008 of my infrared work at Angelina College. The infrared world has been very good… but now, I wanted more. More megapixels, and with the now greater selection of infrared filters available for camera conversions, greater variance on infrared vs. visible light captured, and more color.
Yep, color. The only way previous to digital to do color, or “false color” infrared, was to shoot one of Kodak’s emulsions like Kodak EIR Ektachrome Infrared. Green plants turn shades of red, and Caucasian skin tones turn shades of yellow. Images with this film were stunning… but you still had the problems of difficulty in handling and exposure. With the current crop of sensors and filters, some rendering of color is found in the images captured.
I recently had a second camera converted to infrared by Isaac Szabo, a Fayetteville, Arkansas photographer (http://www.isaacszabophotography.com/). Isaac shoots a wide variety of photographic subjects, and does all of them well. His infrared work is great. I found him while doing an eBay search for “infrared conversion” – I was pleasantly surprised to see his price for a conversion. So after thinking about it for a few moments, I clicked “buy it now” and shipped Isaac my Nikon D200 body.
Not only did the camera get converted, but Isaac set the focus for the lens I supplied with the body. Infrared light focuses at a slightly different distance from the lens than visible light, so this can make some real difference.
My D200 came back converted in about 10 days. I opened the package and immediately shot an image through the window of my office. I was pleasantly surprised to find that at ISO 100, I was able to get a hand-holdable shutter speed. Surprised because my converted D100 would have had to be on ISO 400 or ISO 800 to get the same image. I took the camera to lunch that day (it didn’t eat much…) and shot a palm tree in front of a restaurant… and was again pleasantly surprised. There were shades of color in the obviously infrared image. Back at the studio, I opened the image in Photoshop, and ran Isaac’s action (I forgot to mention that Isaac provides this action and instructions to customers who purchase a conversion) to switch the red and blue channels. The result was stunning… blue sky in an infrared image.
If this sounds like it is for you, check out eBay… do a search for “infrared conversion” and look for the infrared photo of the lone tree – the auction will be titled “Infrared IR Conversion Service for Digital Cameras” and is currently priced at $200. (or click on the image of the ebay listing)
And, look for a follow-up article in a few weeks – I plan on shooting my newly converted D200 heavily on an upcoming trip to Mexico.