Infrared Digital Style
Shooting Infrared Photographs With Your Digital Camera
I used to love to shoot Kodak High-Speed Infrared film. You never knew exactly what you would get until it was processed, but what amazing images could be made! Green foliage glowed white, people's skin could change to an ethereal complexion, and sunny skies could range from jet black to a rich silvery gray.
But exposure and composition was all guesswork. How much IR was in any given scene? Your camera's light meter didn't know. Even focus was a guess, as IR wavelengths focus at a different point than visible light. And the really effective filters blocked all visible light--a severe handicap for SLR cameras.
All that changed with the advent of digital cameras. Most have CCDs that are sensitive to that part of the spectrum known as "near infrared." Put the right filter in front of the lens to block visible light and the camera will automatically adjust its focus and exposure, showing you the resulting infrared image on your cameras LCD in real time. For those who have worked with infrared films in the past this is nothing short of a miracle.
Can My Digital Camera Do
Next, you will need to buy a filter that will block all visible light but allow infrared radiation to pass. Different filters block varying amounts of shorter wavelength light. In increasing degree of strength are the Wratten #89B, #88A, #87, and #87C filters. I have had great results with an inexpensive 88A filter from Harrison and Harrison (1835 Thunderbolt Dr., Unit E, Porterville, CA 93257; (559) 782-0121).
If your camera has no thread for a screw-in filter, you can buy gelatin filters and cut them down to fit over your lens and tape them in place. I find gelatin filters especially helpful for supplemental lenses like Nikon's CoolPix fisheye. I just cut a small circle about the size of the rear element of the lens and place it between the camera and fisheye before I screw it in place.
To compose really strong images in this netherworld requires close examination of your camera's LCD. This presents a problem since LCD screens are very hard to see in bright outdoor light. One solution is to use a screen hood and magnifier like the Xtend-a-View (www.photosolve.com). This clever device fits over your camera's LCD, blocking all extraneous light, and magnifies your screen by a factor of 2x. Or just use a digital camera with an electronic viewfinder, like the Canon Pro90 IS.
When I go looking for infrared images, I'll often walk with one eye to the LCD viewfinder and the other open to see what's around me. I shoot lots of images, as there are no expensive film and processing costs to deal with.
Depending on your camera's sensitivity, exposures can be fairly long, even in direct sun. The Nikon CoolPix 990 may need up to a 15 sec exposure. I usually shoot at around 1/15 sec with the more sensitive CoolPix 950, and 1/8 sec with the Canon Pro90 IS. If your camera allows you to increase the apparent ISO, that will help a bit. Features such as the CoolPix "Best Shot Selector" or the internal Image Stabilizer in the Canon Pro90 IS really help with long exposures. Each is so effective that I rarely need a tripod.
A tripod can be very useful, however, as it will allow you capture intriguing pairs of color and infrared images. Just shoot with the filter, then remove it and take a second shot. The two images will be in perfect register, and will allow you to experiment with mixing colors with your infrared image using a program like Adobe Photoshop or JASC Paint Shop Pro.
Choosing Your Subjects
People's skin can glow with a soft light, and occasionally a latticework of small veins can be seen just beneath the surface. Eyes can be quite spooky, as the iris can absorb or transmit infrared in unexpected ways.
Bodies of water can reflect IR if the surface is in motion but will tend to absorb it if it is still. Shallow water is often quite transparent.
The sky will range from a light gray to black, depending on the angle you are shooting relative to the sun and the kind of atmospheric particles causing backscatter. Clouds are often brilliant white, becoming strong visual elements.
Cityscapes can be richly varied, as buildings reflect and absorb different amounts of IR. Overall image clarity is often dramatic, as atmospheric scattering of near IR wavelengths is generally quite low.
Post-Processing The Image
Photoshop also provides the means to produce other classic infrared film effects. Kodak High-Speed Infrared film was quite grainy, and had no anti-halation backing. This caused the highlights to flare and glow with a soft, dreamlike effect. You can add both these effects to your digital images using Photoshop's Diffuse Glow filter.
Printing Your Images
For anyone who has any experience with infrared film, shooting digital infrared will seem like a dream come true. Being able to preview the results in real time is critical to composing the most effective images. For wedding photographers thinking of offering IR shots as an added feature, digital allows instant results as well as the ability to shoot color with the simple change of filter.
The Sony DSC-F707 Cyber-shot--The
Ultimate IR Camera
To see more of our digital infrared work, and a list of IR resources, please check out www.InfraRedDreams.com.
Chris Maher and Larry Berman are photographers, writers, and web designers, specializing in image intensive photography sites. For more information visit their web sites at: www.ArtWebWorks.com and www.BermanGraphics.com.
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