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I Can See It For You Wholesale » Blog Archive » Infrared


In my post from a couple of days ago on black triangles, I mentioned infrared as one area where I’ve been struggling and making gradual technical progress.

I Heart Lake Merritt Channel (View Large)

I won’t go into detail on the underlying science, because there are far better explicators around than me. It was actually something that for quite a while held zero interest for me; it sounded like something goofy and technical. And certainly a lot of the IR stuff running around the internet (which is frequently of the false color variety) is less than inspiring — a lot of it suffers from the same syndrome as a lot of HDR — the technique become its own aesthetic, and people no longer want to make photographs that are good enough; they instead aspire to make photographs that are HDR enough or IR enough.

Trees and Columns

This is, of course, a pretty narrow view of this type of photography. (That’s what you get when you define a whole genre of art using just what you happen to stumble across online.) I didn’t clue into that until I noticed how Minor White used IR for some of his landscape work. (I have a note here in a prior draft of this post regarding plate 121 of The Eye That Shapes, in particular.)

Of course, I knew that slapping a Hoya R72 filter on my D40 would hardly turn me into Minor White. But it’s something that I had been wanting to try, and so a few weeks ago, I did. It’s certainly been an educational experience.

The nature of digital IR (with an unmodified camera) dictates the use of a tripod, thanks to typically long exposures and of course the need to correct focus using the IR index. (Thank goodness I use old lenses which have them.)

Lake Merritt Channel -- 28mm f/3.5 H Test Shot

Any time you’re shooting from a tripod, it forces you to slow down and think about how you’re composing and exposing a scene. This is doubly (maybe triply) so when you also have to focus, screw on a filter that blocks visible light, refocus using the IR index, and guess whether to boost exposure by eight or ten stops — then shoot, try to gauge the three-channel histogram with an eye toward the peculiarities of post-processing IR, and then repeat the whole process with the next subject.

False Color IR

This can all be very frustrating, but in some ways it’s also refreshing. The slow pace necessitated by the equipment can offer time for contemplation which isn’t present, or at least not in the same way, when shooting fast-paced subjects. And working with the camera procedurally, like a lot of darkroom processes, can become an almost meditative affair — provided you can maintain attention.

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