15 May 2009

branches vs. infrared - art photography

i have really loved tree photos lately...those dead branches, scraggly and sometimes menacing, make for dramatic art. But since spring has sprung, and the once-dead branches are clothing themselves with bright leaves and flowers, the high drama is no more to be seen. I probably drove by a particular lake 50 times, telling myself I HAD to photograph how those dead branches looked when reflected in the water, but now they are full and green trees.

BUT today I was reinvigorated because I remembered that summer has a unique opportunity of its own, and that is the chance to do infrared photography. I've put a few IR pictures up before and maybe explained it some on Facebook, but IR photography is basically capturing a specific band of light on the spectrum in your camera - a specific band that our eyes can't see. So to see that band, you have to block out everything EXCEPT IR light. To do this in your camera, you just put an IR filter on the front of your lens (it just screws on) and then take a very long exposure to allow only IR light to find its way to the camera's sensor. (You can actually just alter your camera to get rid of the IR blocking mechanism inside it, which means you would only be able to take IR pictures, and you wouldn't need long exposures. Cost is somewhere around a few hundred dollars to alter a camera.) The reason you need a very long exposure is because your camera is (probably) fitted with an IR blocking filter already - I'm not real clear on why this is in there, but it's not perfect, and so as long as you block out most of the 'regular' light, the IR part of the spectrum will come through.

Where do you get this filter, you might ask? I ordered mine, a Hoya R72, from a very shady outfit in Hong Kong. It took several weeks to arrive, and I wasn't really sure that it would, but it did, and I paid quite a bit less than I otherwise would've. The Hoya brand is a very well known name in camera filters, and the Hoya R72 is pretty much THE infrared filter to get. I'd recommend name brand filters if you can afford them. I think I paid about $50 for my R72 - including shipping. Elsewhere you can easily pay $75-80. Just look around for the best deal.

There is a bit more to it than putting the filter on. First, you have to set a custom White Balance: take a photo of green grass using the filter and set WB to that image. This will keep your photo from looking helplessly bright orange. You will also have to do plenty of work in Photoshop - even with custom WB, the shots look pretty crappy right out of the camera. This processing is a kind of subjective part that I can't really advise about, because I do it differently every time and I am sure there is some 'correct' way to process IR photos, but I just play until they look good. :) Classic film IR shots are grainy and 'glowy' like the one here with the columns, so you could go with that look too. Basically IR work needs a lot of patience, before, during and after the shot.

Oh yeah, and did I mention you can't see THROUGH the IR filter? It blocks visible light, remember? So you have to set up your scene (use a tripod if you possibly can), THEN put the filter on and take the long exposure. You will probably want to use a remote too, to avoid camera shake from pressing the button. And by long exposure I'm talking between 5-20 seconds. So....it's best to pick a day that isn't too windy, unless that's the look you're going for - which is altogether possible! I've taken plenty of shots, IR and otherwise, that worked with the motion blur from windy days, instead of fighting it (see the windy IR grass here). Essentially, it all boils down to the fact that, unless you can spend enough money for a dedicated IR camera, you just have to spend lots of time getting used to the process of IR photography.

I think it's worth it... :)


elsiee said...

just discovered your blog on an etsy forum thread - wow this was really infomative and readable post I really enjoyed it! come on over and visit me sometime:

your photography is amazing and the magical effect isn't diminished a bit by getting the behind the scenes scoop either!

C. Wade said...

Thanks for directing me here- I really enjoyed the post! Your "Cloudtree" is beautiful, and your work is lovely in general.

I see you are on RedBubble and Etsy...what are your experiences with Red Bubble? I am thinking of setting one up, as fine art doesn't seem to do so well on Etsy. Advice appreciated!

Fernanda said...

You're a great photographer. Thanks for the Etsy post :) Good luck to you.