Welcome! You’re probably here because you read the article on travel and vacation photography in The Bakersfield Californian. Hopefully the article has ignited a bit of a fire in you to do some cool photography that goes well beyond “snapshot” photography. As I tried to point out in the article, one of the best ways to make your photos different from everybody else’s is to do things that are not being done by most people. And not a whole lot of people are shooting infrared! It just might be your thing. Converting a camera is not too expensive – under $300 – and it can open a whole new world of photographic discovery and creativity for you. Life Pixel and Digital Silver Imaging are two great places that do infrared conversions. You can learn a bit about infrared photography on this blog, and if you want to learn a ton, visit my friends Mark Hilliard and Deborah Sandidge’s web sites. They are doing some of the finest IR work in the country.
In the meantime, here are a few of my recent infrared images for you to enjoy, which may or may not have been published with the article.
This is the scene I wrote about in the article that I waited more than six hours to shoot. It’s of Mt. Adams, Washington.
It took two trips from Portland to the Hood River Valley before I found a scene of Mt. Hood and the valley that I liked.
Don’t neglect your home area for nice infrared scenes. This old farm house is on East Panama Lane just outside Bakersfield.
Wanting to do something different in heavily photographed Yosemite National Park last summer, I compressed a section of Bridalveil Falls with a telephoto lens and photographed it in high dynamic range with an infrared camera.
Sometimes you find pleasant surprises, like this scene along a country road outside Portland.
This scene was found in a tiny town called Phoenix, between Ashland and Medford in southern Oregon.
Getting off the road and hiking a bit can put you in the middle of wonderful scenes that the average “snapshooter” doesn’t access. This is along the hike to Walchella Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
The combination of high dynamic range, long exposures and the effects of infrared led to this dreamlike look to one of the Columbia River Gorge’s waterfalls.
The Columbia River in infrared. This scene is easily accessed from the highway, so opting for infrared hopefully allowed me to record a scene not done by too many photographers.
Sometimes, what you’re not looking for and don’t even know about can provide the most pleasant photographic surprise. I found this scene in a beautiful southern Oregon town called Myrtle Creek.
I found this scene while driving to the top of Larch Mountain above the Columbia River Gorge, and thought the foreground leaves were a perfect infrared subject.
I did this shot during an IR photo trip to the beautiful Eastern Sierra in August. It is from one of the meadows surrounding the Owens River outside Bishop, California and is one of the images offered in my initial collection of fine art IR and HDR prints. You can see them all on my web site.
I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile. Here’s my first-ever high dynamic range infrared photo. This was a lot of fun, and pretty easy to do. It’s made with five versions of the same scene. One regular exposure with no exposure compensation, one picture at plus one stop over exposure, one at plus two stops over exposure, one at minus one stop under exposure and one at two stops under exposure. All shot in raw and merged using Photoshop CS5’s easy-to-use Merge to HDR Pro tool. Camera was my Canon EOS 20D converted to 665nm enhanced color infrared. Lens was a 20mm f2.8 Canon with a polarizer. Aperture was f16 and a tripod was used.
I haven’t done much IR work in the rain, so headed out this week to see if I could find anything interesting. A nice downpour left my windshield covered with rain drops, and I drove around Bakersfield for about 10 minutes without turning on the windshield wipers. I was turning around in a parking lot – of all places – right in the middle of the busiest part of Bakersfield, when I saw this scene, which I thought would make a nice “wintry” photo. I angled my car so that the scene I wanted to shoot was properly framed, then I turned off the engine because I knew I’d be shooting a long exposure, wanted to use the steering wheel as a brace to keep the camera steady, and knew the vibration of the engine would result in too much camera movement. Camera was my Canon 20D converted to 665nm enhanced color infrared, and a Canon 20mm f2.8 with a polarizer placed over the lens. ISO was 100, aperture f4 and shutter 1/5 second. Focus was on the raindrops rather than the background. Processing was pretty standard, a white and black point set in Photoshop’s levels, then a red/blue channel swap in the channel mixer. I guess if there’s a lesson here, it’s that there are pictures to be made almost anywhere, but you have to learn to look beyond the obvious, which in this case was a relatively full parking lot.
This photo (below) was shot on a stormy day along Highway 99 south of Bakersfield. Camera was a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6 point and shoot converted to 715nm standard infrared. This camera does not offer raw capabilities, so I leave it set to aperture priority with an exposure compensation of minus 1/3 stop, because blown highlights are just not an option for me. This is what I call a “half swapped” IR photo. In Photoshop, I set a white and black point, then went into channels. Instead of doing the full red/blue channel swap, I did just the red channel swap. I then went into curves and removed the slight green cast that is usually left when you stop at the half way point.
Here’s a primer on the importance of using a custom white balance in your digital IR photography. As you might imagine, “white balance” takes on a different meaning in infrared. In regular, visible light photography, white balance is a relatively simple concept: If you have equal amounts of all the colors in the spectrum, you get white (or gray, which is a luminosity, not a color, value.) So, the theory goes, if you can render a perfect white in the conditions you are shooting in, all the colors should fall into perfect balance. Pretty simple. In IR, however, we are not trying to balance color, because there is no color, except for the small amount of red at the end of the visible light spectrum. IR exposures depend on the reflectivity of light, so we want to set our white balance not on a white object, but on a highly reflective object. And the object of choice is brightly lit green grass or foliage, as these are among the most reflective objects for IR photography. An auto white balance gives an image with a heavy red cast that may require substantial post processing. An IR image with a custom white balance – I use a custom white balance set off bright grass – yields an out-of-camera image that is almost ready to go that needs minimal post processing. Here are some examples, shot with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS6 converted to standard 715nm infrared:
Here are the same images after a standard processing in which simple white and black points were selected in levels:
Here are a few additional samples of a tree line in my hometown of Bakersfield. This one is with an auto white balance and a white and black point set in levels:
This one is with a custom white balance set off green grass, and the same white and black point selected in levels. I should point out that I set this white balance off my front lawn several days before taking these shots, and do not think it is necessary to set a custom white balance for every shoot.
Needless to say, my opinion is that digital IR photography must be done with a custom white balance and auto white balance should be avoided. If your camera does not allow you to set a custom white balance, the current thinking is to set your camera to the tungsten light preset, which will bring you much closer to a standard IR look than an auto white balance will.
My photographer friend Esther Duffy asked how it is possible that I am able to come up with versions of the same infrared photo in different colors. So I’m going to do my best to explain “false color” and what it means in infrared photography. Infrared light has no color, because it exists outside the range of visible light, which contains the colors we see. Depending on the IR filter you choose when you convert your camera, you can allow some of the color red, which exists at the end of the visible spectrum before we head into IR, to reach your sensor. Mixing this red light with the IR light allows us to place color in our IR photos. But the color will not match “true color,” which we get when we shoot regular photos because all the colors of the visible spectrum are not available. Other than red, none of the other visible colors are recorded in an IR photo. “False color” is generally color that differs from “true color.” False color has many scientific and tactical uses. An example: in military applications, sophisticated infrared cameras can photograph foliage and based on the amount of light it reflects, render colors that can show the difference between live foliage and dead foliage that is being used for camouflage. To the human eye, it all looks green. But in IR, colors can be rendered based on reflectiveness, and dead foliage will not reflect light the same as live foliage. In more traditional IR photography, “false color” is the result of how we process the image using software like Photoshop. What’s fascinating, and unknown until we get to work, is how the colors will render based on the reflectiveness or absorption of the light.
Above is a digital infrared image as it comes out of the camera. You can see the overall red cast. This is an image shot with a 665nm enhanced color converted Canon EOS 20D and a custom white balance. ( I’ll cover white balance in a future post. As you might imagine, it is quite different than in traditional, visible light photography.)
With my tonal range looking quite healthy, I now move the image from Camera Raw and into Photoshop (above.) I apply a classical adjustment in levels by using the eyedropper to click on a white point and a black point. This is no different than what I do with my traditional, visible light images. This is the result. It is a “false color” image because these are not the colors we would see with our eyes or a regular camera. But I have done no trick photography here. All I’ve done is set the white and black point and the colors were rendered based on the absorption and reflectiveness of the infrared light and the small amount of visible red light.
Now, I move into Photoshop’s channel mixer, which is probably the most popular tool for processing IR images. It is here that we apply the classic infrared “Wood effect,” which I have discusses in prior posts. The first step of a common “channel swap” involves removing all the color from the red channel and replacing it with blue. I select the red channel and set the red slider’s value from 100 to 0. I then change the blue slider’s value from 0 to 100. The result is this very cool pink color added to the highly reflective foliage. Sometimes this step adds a green cast to the darker parts of the image, but it did not here. I call this a “half swap” because it’s just half of the full channel swap process. But many times I will choose to stop here if I really like what I have. If I do stop here, and the image has a green cast, it can easily be removed with the Hue/Saturation control or in curves.
In the image above, I complete the “channel swap” process. I move to the blue channel and reverse the red and blue sliders as I did in the red channel, applying 0 to the blue channel and 100 to the red channel. And there you have it, a typically processed “false color” infrared photograph!
Of course, nothing says you have to process your IR image to a certain protocol. Experimenting is a lot of the fun with digital IR. For the above image, after setting the white and black point in levels, I bypassed the channel mixer and went right to the “Hue/Saturation” control. As I played around with the various combinations by adjusting the sliders, I noticed that only the reflective foliage, and not the rest of the image, was changing colors. I settled for this interesting green.
And if wild and crazy is your style, feel free to, as the legendary baseball announcer Jack Buck once said, “Go crazy, folks. Go crazy.” It’s not my thing, but it just might be yours! Experiment, play, explore, take chances. Have fun!
One of the coolest things about digital IR is rediscovering scenes that you’ve taken for granted or never given much thought to. I’ve driven past Pyramid Lake between Bakersfield and Los Angeles hundreds of times during the past 30 years, but never stopped to photograph it. I don’t like to shoot pictures that have been taken hundreds of thousands of times by other people, and I can guarantee this is the case for Pyramid and it’s wonderful view right along Interstate 5. How many people have snapped the scene from the passenger side window as they zoomed toward the southland? On this day, I loved the cloud formations and the stormy weather, so I drove off the interstate, took a pretty short walk to hopefully get a vantage point a little different than what most see, and took this shot. Camera was my Canon EOS 20D converted to enhanced color 665nm, 20 mm Canon lens with a polarizer. I decided to bypass the color opportunities here and went with a black and white version.
Another scene that has always intrigued me is the Fairfax Grange, a small country dance hall on Bakersfield’s rural eastern edge. I am struck by how the grange seems to be in competition with the symbols of a city’s encroachment as it continues to grow and expand with seeming abandon. I imagine this little country grange, which once had this intersection all to itself, will soon be surrounded by new housing or industrial developments. I think the ability of IR to make dramatic statements, emphasizing the starkness of the scene, comes into play here, particularly in its rendering of the sky and clouds. Camera was the same Canon EOS 20D converted to 665nm enhanced color IR, but I opted for full black and white. Lens was a Canon 24-70mm f2.8L.