Archive for April, 2010

IR Flash — progress!

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

So, I finally leveled up with this IR flash mess I’ve been working on. I’ve got actual, honest to goodness results.

Warning: This is going to be very nerdy and tech-y. If IR photography isn’t your thing, just look at the pictures and move on, unless you want a serious soporific. I’ll put up a less geeky post on IR street photography later.

I’m not going to do a whole tutorial write-up thing on how to go about this, because there are already a couple of good ones here and here.

The first one does a great job of explaining how to go about putting a gel on your flash with a bit of space to prevent, you know, melting. However, the filter mentioned there has a non-optimal cutoff for IR film currently in production. The second one (which will be of particular interest to XA shooters) provides a film/filter pairing which is currently available and works great: Ilford SFX gel filters and Rollei IR400 film.

I tried this combination out with my Nikkormat FT-2, 2.8cm f/3.5 Nikkor-H (a great lens for IR work), and a Nikon SB-24.

Nikormat FT-2 with SB-24

Shooting wide open with the flash at full power produces usable exposures for subjects in the 8-15′ range, give or take, with some definite (but acceptable) overexposure for subjects close up.

This is reasonably consistent with the flash’s calculations for ISO 12 (which is what I normally rate IR400 at when shooting with an R72 filter), which suggests I may be able to engage auto mode — or, if subjects aren’t too distant, I may even be able to shoot safely at f/5.6, which would be lovely from a DOF standpoint.

With the Nikkormat and 28mm f/3.5, I’m shooting blind, because I’m working with an opaque infrared filter over the lens. (Note: for night photography, this can be omitted. However, since current IR films are sensitive to visible light, using them for flash work without a filter on the lens during the day is likely to be somewhat counterproductive.) However, with a 28mm lens, even wide open, I have enough DOF to scale focus reasonably well, and guessing the composition isn’t too hard.

BTW, if you’re curious about how scale focus works, this may be helpful:

Scale Focusing with the 2.8cm f/3.5 H

Anyway, after all that technical mumbo-jumbo, what matters is, it works!

BART, Richmond Line Commuters

I’m even reasonably pleased with that photograph as such — successful test aside.

The one downside to this setup is that it tends to let through a little more visible light than I’d like — the SFX gels are a little loose in that regard. Not so much that I’m blinding people, but it bugs me just a little.

So, I’m also still fiddling around with alternative options. One not-really-successful setup is this:

Bessa R with Sunpak 622

It’s a thick eBay 89b filter intended for Cokin-type filter holders which I’ve taped to the front of a wonderfully cumbersome and powerful Sunpak 622. This setup works quite well for digital IR flash with my unmod’d D40, and emits very little visible light, but is completely useless with Rollei IR400. However, initial tests on a less powerful flash provided some exposure with Eke IR820. (Which suggests that the eBay filter isn’t a true 89b equivalent.)

I was hopeful that the Sunpak (which I got specifically for this project) would enable me to shoot with this filter/film combination through sheer power. And it does, sort of, but unfortunately the working distance is still too short to be really useful in the majority of situations.


That was shot at f/1.7, and you can see that even just at about 8′ feet or so, it’s already significantly underexposed. So, while this is not a failure, as such, it’s obviously of very limited practical usefulness unless I’m willing to get truly in-your-face. I’ll continue experimenting with different filtration options and see what I can get on this front.


Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Laney Construction

Oh, hey. Look at that. IT’S NOT INFRARED. : )

I haven’t given up the IR experimentation (sorry, haters), but over the last several weeks, I’ve been slowly making my way through a couple of rolls of color film in the Olympus XA. I had them developed recently, and I’ve got the scans post-processed and uploaded now.

One of the rolls is Ektar, a film of which I’m not normally a superfan — but which seems to really be at home on XA. I think it has to do with the comparatively low contrast of the XA’s lens — it takes the edge off of Ektar’s contrast and saturation.

Laney Construction

One of the more successful subjects on the roll is this construction site at Laney College. Construction sites are one of those categories of subject which is inexplicably tricky to photograph well, and yet at the same time is hard to turn away from. The appeal is easy to understand, I think — sites and situations which are undergoing transformation sort of cry out for documentation, and unlike many natural landscapes, you can’t tell yourself, “well, I can come back another week or another season.”

Laney Construction

The difficulties are a bit harder to figure out, and I don’t think I have them all straight in my head yet. Part of it is that the great machinery and the huge quantities of raw material tend to lend a lot of drama to the situation — and yet, unless one is shooting an annual report for the construction company or the site owner, documenting that drama is probably not what the photographer wants out of the situation. One has to try to find a place to stand from which one can enforce a human-scale perspective…

Laney Construction

US and California Flags

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

US and California Flags

US and California Flags

I spent much of Saturday printing this image in the Laney darkroom. (This is a negative scan; I haven’t scanned or photographed the resulting prints.) I had a fairly pleasant time of it, despite still being in recovery from the BBC plague. One of those days when my instincts lead in the right direction and the negative isn’t outside my modest printing skills. I also got some positive feedback from some of the old hands there, which is always nice.

The essential draw of the photograph, which I am somewhat ambivalent about, is its resemblance to a calla lily.

On the one hand, one of the things I love most about photography in general and about infrared photography in particular is its ability to subtly transform the familiar — to reveal the known world in surprising ways.

This is an example of that, and I believe a rather successful one; there are few objects which are more strongly locked in to their customary symbolic use than a flag; the vast majority of representations of flags fall into either nationalistic/patriotic uses or into very blunt subversions of those uses.

But here, motion distorts the flags’ shapes, and infrared light obscures their markings. Together, they allow the flags to briefly become something else.

I like that — a lot — but I worry a bit about the fact that the typical response to the image is, (a), “What is that,” and, (b), “Cool, it looks like a calla lily.” Not that I dislike the resemblance, but I’m always a bit nervous when I stray into the territory of “picture puzzles” and “fuzzygrams.” I don’t think the purpose of a photograph should be to befuddle or confuse (note: this is not a general rule for judging photography, just a personal preference for my own work).

I value the fact that this photograph documents the temporary transformation of a flag into a flower; however, that value is as dependent on the ability of the viewer to perceive what it “really is,” as it is upon their ability to perceive the way it is being transformed. And of course to say that it depends upon the viewer’s perception is also to say it depends on my ability to connect to the viewer…