Saturday, April 26, 2014

Infrared Photography

I hadn't thought I'd be going as deep into IR as I have when I converted the NEX-7 last year.  I had shot IR with a converted 1DsII in 665nm for about a year before selling it; then ended up missing it.  Last year a friend was selling his NEX-7 and I thought it was a perfect time to return to IR. 

The Sony NEX-7 (and now the A7r) has turned out to be a perfect platform. While I haven't yet converted a A7r (since beginning to write this I have sent a A7r to Life Pixel for conversion) I have experimented at great length with using various lens; much the same as I'm now doing with the NEX-7 IR camera. Both of these systems offer a platform where one can have either a 25 or 36 megapixel camera and use a huge assortment of lens from Sony to Canon, Nikon, Leica and so forth. My personal experience has been using Sony, Rokinon, and Mamiya/Phase One medium format lens; and in each case getting excellent results. I'm of the opinion now that you can put just about any lens on either the NEX-7 or A7r and get great image files.
Rokinon 14mm wide angle
f/8 1/125 ISO 100 Sony NEX-7 665nm IR
So what does all this have to do with shooting IR.  Great question.  Infrared photography can be one of the most demanding types of photographic work there is.  Understanding the color wave lengths, which filter is better suited for which type of work, using a lens filter vs. a converted camera and how IR changes the focal points over regular color photography are just a few to mention.

Converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro

First you need to understand that a camera (any camera) "sees" better than the human eye. In low light our eyes are less sensitive to color than normal; in brighter light the opposite occurs. In short, the human eye is constantly adjusting to the environment. Not so with a camera sensor. A camera sensor always has the same sensitivity. All this before we go into focal length, f/stops, and ISO. A long exposure photograph will bring out objects that are normally faint to the eye while short exposure will freeze action that the eye simply can't. This is before we even begin a discussion to infrared photography.
Phase One 80mm medium format lens
f/ 1/1600 ISO 100 665nm IR
The human eye (and brain that it's connected to) does not see in black and white.  It sees in color.  However there is a world of unseen colors/light that we are incapable of seeing.  IR photography opens a world of colors and textures; organic plant material, human skin and other materials reflect IR light.  The hotter the day with the sun shining down the more the difference can be see through IR.
Converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro
There's various filters to capture IR much as there's filters to capture normal color or black and white. 665nm is the range that offers enhanced colors, producing vibrant colors whereas 720nm is good for false color and well suited for black and white due to its good contrast.

I went on Google and did a web search to better explain what we see.  The following "Spectrum of Light" is a result of that research.  Infrared can be classed as "Near IR" and "Far IR" with the deeper into Far IR you go the deeper the red gets.  Holding an IR filter typically used on the front element of a camera lens will show you what this means.  The 665nm IR looks opaque until you hold it close to your eye and then you see everything in red.  Holding a 720nm IR filter close to your eyes you'll notice a much darker and deeper red.  As opaque as the 665 is the 720 is much much more.  The further into the FAR IR you go the more opaque and deeper red the filter will be; likewise going to the lower side of the Near IR the filter will be much less opaque while still being red.

Phase One 80mm
f/ 1/13 ISO 100 tripod 665nm converted to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro

My history of capturing IR began in the late 60's early 70's using film. I found IR film expensive and very difficult to use. You needed complete darkness to both load and unload the film and finding a proper place to develop was a huge hassle. Eastman-Kodak changed the world of photography as we know it when they introduced a digital camera in the mid 1970's. While the first successful photograph was made by Nicéphore Niépce in 1816, it took another 159 years for the first digital camera to be offered. The first digital camera weighted 8 pounds (3.6 kg), recorded black and white images to a compact disk tape with a resolution of 0.01 megapixels and took 23 seconds to capture the image.
Rokinon 14mm wide angle (full frame 35mm)
f/2.8 1/13 ISO 200 tripod 665nm converted to B&W with Nik Silver Efex Pro
I've always found the images converted to blank and white from an IR capture to be much better than one converted from any color digital camera I've used.  While a 665 and 720nm IR image offers unique color and textures, the black and white conversion is what sells it for me. 
We live in an ever changing world where it was just announced that we may soon have a medium format camera capable of video.  WOW!


April 2014 Tucson, Arizona





Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shooting Infrared Landscape Part II

f/2.8 1/80 ISO 100 720nm IR
I ordered a Hoya R72 filter to put on my IR converted camera and began testing it last week.  The great folks at Like Pixel is where the suggestion came from after speaking to them about having my 665nm IR camera re-converted to shoot 720nm.  I had never thought of putting the filter on the lens and thanks to Life Pixel they ended up saving me several hundred dollars.
f/2.8 1/1000 ISO 100 720nm IR

f/3.5 1/1000 ISO 100 720nm IR

f/8 1/400 ISO 100 720nm IR
I was worried the R72 on the lens would slow the camera down to the point of no longer being able to handhold; however this is not the case.  Since the camera is already converted to shoot 665 IR placing the filter on the lens just changes the wave-length the camera is able to see and capture; use the same filter on a non-converted camera and I'd be back on a tripod.  Now I have the best of both worlds as I'm able to capture either "Enhanced Color" or "Standard Color" IR.  The differences are that with enhanced I get greater saturation and color range while standard offers better black and white IR with good tonal range and limited color.
Shot handheld inside the chapel
f/2.8 1/100 ISO 3200 720nm IR
There's a learning curve to what the image will look like and just what can be done with post processing.  I mentioned before my two-main processing software packages are Capture One Pro and Photoshop CC.  I also make extensive use of NIK software.  
f/9 1/160 ISO 100 720nm IR
The following 2-images shows the difference between shooting in 665nm and 720nm IR.  These are "as shot"
f/11 1/160 ISO 100  665nm no processing

 f/11 1/160 ISO 100 720nm no processing
The next 2-images show the affects of swapping the red and blue channels.
Swapping the red and blue channels on the 665nm

Swapping the red and blue channels on the 720nm
End result of the 720nm converted to black and white.
Processing a landscape image is very subjective with the results being what you want to express.  Landscape/nature photography should not (in my opinion) be an exact duplicate of the location.  The final image should reflect what made you take the image in the first place.  Photography is about feelings and emotions.  In the end I want people to see the image and wish they were there without going too crazy in post processing.  In other words create art.
Here are a couple examples of before and after.  The howling was cropped left and right before doing any post processing which include straightening, channel swapping, etc., with a final touch of NIK HDR Efex Pro.  The entire time spent was "listening" to what the image was saying as the various procedures were being applied.
f/9 1/250 ISO 100 720nm IR "Before"

While I use a tripod 100% of the time when using a technical camera, and about 60% when I use the medium format Phase One DF, I rarely use one when shooting IR.  One of the things I want to do with IR is being able to shoot and move fast.  Most of the times this works and sometimes it can create an image that's leans way too much.  When that happens I need to try and fix the affect using software or when I can't fix it I have to move on to another image.  The 2-samples address this.  I liked what I saw as I was standing there and I thought I'd be able to straighten the mission in post.  I also took 4-images to hedge my bet ending up using the last one as it was the best.

  Perspective corrected and converted to black and white using NIK Silver Efex Pro.
I have more of a learning curve ahead of me as I train myself to "see" the differences between the 665 and 720nm IR and what I want the finished image to look like.  Once again I recommend visiting Life Pixel's website for a much more in-depth explanation of the various IR filters available as well as processing the files.   I am not associated with Life Pixel, just a very happy customer.   

The following is an example of the learning curve shooting 720nm IR.  The first image is what was shot out of the camera, the second is the result of swapping the red and blue channels with the third the end result of an action I use that works on false color IR (it's a combination of using the Channel Mixer, Auto Levels, Auto Contrast, Auto Color and Hue/Saturation).  I normally compare the results of just using the Channel Mixer and the False Color Action to see which looks better.  The last image is the result of using the False Color Action and NIK HDR Efex Pro 2.

Thanks once again for visiting, and remember your thoughts, questions, and suggestions are always welcome.



I also want to add the following information.  My long time camera dealer, Dave Gallagher of Capture Integration is now also a dealer of Sony cameras.  What this means is that you'll have a one-stop shopping place for high-end medium format as well as 35mm cameras such as Cannon, Leica, and Sony.  Dave and his staff care so much more than just completing a sale, they want you to be happy as well.  Call them or visit their website.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shooting Infrared Landscapes

f/8 1/100 ISO 100 20mm lens combination of IR and HDR
Same files, the first is what the camera saw as it captured the image. The second is what C1 Pro and Photoshop "saw" as it was opened. Using Sony Image Data Converter we're back to the first image. The third image is the finished file after being processed in Photoshop and using NIK software to add a touch of HDR. I'll be repeating the same sequence with all the samples.

I want to give a huge plug to Life Pixel Digital Infrared Conversion.  I've written and shared information before on shooting infrared and thought it time to go just a little more in-depth.  I've been interested in shooting infrared (IR) for longer than I can remember.  First there was film and all the associated trials with using it; then along came the digital revolution of cameras.  The first camera I had converted was an older Canon 1DsII that was sitting around collecting dust; I had that converted to capture "enhanced color", equivalent to 665nm.  This range allows more color to pass and is well suited for IR photography.  I ended up using the 1DsII for a couple years before selling it. 


f/5.6 1/40 ISO 100 18-55mm lens (55mm)

Last year I was able to get a great deal on a gently used Sony NEX-7 and immediately sent it to Life Pixel to be converted to 665nm. 

Cropped  f/4.8 1/160 ISO 100 20mm
Why 3-samples of each image?  It has to do with White Balance.  Sadly neither C1 Pro or Photoshop can recognize the white balance of the file and since IR has strong red tones they immediately convert it to red.  That's one of the catches to shooting IR.  However it isn't a deal breaker as you simply run the files first through the software supplied by your camera manufacture; in my case it's Sony Image Data Converter; it could easily be software from Canon or Nikon.

f/16 1/100 ISO 100 18-55mm lens (50mm)
Shooting IR is interesting and can be time consuming.  The time consuming aspect (and here I'm speaking to just a converted camera) is having to run your files through a separate software before doing any post processing; much like washing the files.

f/4 1/60 ISO 100 20mm combination of IR and HDR
IR can be shot by placing an IR filter on your lens which then slows the shutter speeds by several seconds; actually to the point that you can no longer handhold the camera.  The alternative is having your camera converted to shoot IR.  I'd strongly recommend visiting Life Pixel for more information on this.  The short story is that with a converted IR camera you can handhold much as you did prior to the conversion.

Cropped f/13 1/125 ISO 100 18-55mm lens (18mm) combination of IR and slight HDR
Shooting IR opens a new world to a photographer.  Colors are different; I find the files are just a little sharper and the end results can be extremely dramatic.  The skies can be almost black with dramatic clouds and vegetation can take on other colors that we can't see with the naked eye.  

f/11 1/160 ISO 100 20mm
 IR is also well suited for Black & White conversions as demonstrated above.

Don't be afraid of a little experimentation and take your time. I've found not everything I shoot is well suited for IR. However there are times when opening the file and beginning to work you "just know". Listen to the image. It'll tell you whether or not to continue. Likewise it'll let you know if it's better suited for B&W or Color. Likewise don't give up on it either.  Above all don't force it.
f/8 1/200 ISO 100 12mm
Shooting IR also opens up more of the day to you.  The normal optimum time to capture landscape is when the colors are at their softest; an hour close to sunrise and again near sunset.  Not so with IR.  I've shot in the heat of the day which as it turns out is great for IR as the more the foliage soaks up the heat of the sun the better it is for IR.  I've also shot early in the morning and late afternoon/early evening.  Again, don't be afraid to color outside the lines.

f/5 1/160 ISO 100 12mm
I actually prefer the image as it was captured over the processed one.  This is a good example of where you'll have an image right at capture and post processing dilutes it.  Listen to the image...
Cropped f/5.6 1/200 ISO 100 12mm combination of IR and HDR with a little painted effects.
Any type of serious landscape photography is expensive.  The right camera and lenses (notice I say more than one) are expensive.  If you become interested in IR photography you can add the cost of either good filters or better yet the cost of the conversion.  Here's the kicker on converting your camera.  Not all cameras are well suited so you need a reputable place to go; and that's why I recommend Life Pixel.  But do yourself a favor and check them and others out yourself.  While we're on the subject, once you convert the camera to IR that's all it'll capture.  So if you also want to capture color you'll need 2-cameras. 

B&W IR conversion f/11 1/200 ISO 100 12mm 12:33PM
Once you get past the initial cost of the camera/conversion you also have software to contend with.  As a professional landscape/nature/wildlife photographer I use more than one software package to do post processing.  My main software is Capture One Pro followed by Photoshop CC along with the great filters offered by NIK Software.  These are just a sampling of the various tools I use to process a file. 
It isn't easy.  It isn't fast.  However the end result can be amazing.   If you're anything like me or the other landscape photographers I know you want to share the beautiful world we have with those who can't see it either because of time, distance or physical capacities.  We live in a beautiful and ever changing world and we need to capture it so others can see what there is before it's too late.  This is where IR photography comes into play. 

Inside Valley of Fire
B&W IR conversion f/2.8 1/20 ISO 100 9:01AM
As I said above, I've captured IR using film as well as digitally and by far enjoy digital so much more.  I've attached filters to my lens of 35mm and medium format and had limited success; the reason I don't like this route is that it's very slow.  Put an IR filter on a lens and you can no longer focus/compose through the lens as you normally do with a DSLR.  The filter on the lens slows down the camera so much that you need a rock solid support in order to capture an image that'll take several seconds.  This long exposure will also make or break a landscape where there's a fast moving sky causing the clouds to blur.  While I enjoy "smoking water" (long exposures that make the water look like smoke) I don't like that affect in the sky.  The upside to all this is it's an inexpensive way to be introduced to IR; just make certain you have a good tripod.

Hoh Rain Forest
f/5.6 1/200 ISO 200 12mm 10:36AM
Shooting IR with a converted camera solves much of the problems stated above.  A converted DSLR will allow you to focus and compose much the same as you did before the conversion.  The better option is a mirrorless camera like a point and shoot.  The reason I choose the Sony NEX 7 was it allowed me to change lenses and it's mirrorless.  What you see as you compose/focus is exactly what the converted sensor sees; what you see is what you get.  As much as I enjoy the NEX-7 I'm also making plans to have a Sony A7r converted as soon as I can get a good deal on one.
Thank you for allowing me to share.  Please remember your comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome.