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.



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