Infrared Explained

An Explanation into One of My Landscape Mediums

Infrared Photography

The Infrared World is best described by what it is not. My photographs are not color. We, as human beings live and see in a world of color. That is how we have evolved. Naturally, people are attracted to color in art just like children picking out penny candy. My landscape art, however, is black and white. Devoid of color – it is a palette of shades of grey. Black and white is timeless, but far more than that, it transcends reality and transforms the image into the realm lying between the abstract and reality. My black and white art breaks down a scene and reduces it to its basic forms and tones. Distracting colors are recast as subtle shades of gray that add to a composition.

Viewers are moved by good black-and-white images that have broad tonal ranges and deep, rich blacks. There's something about them that just draws the viewer in to experience the image. Add to that the characteristics of infrared and I firmly believe black-and-white has a strong place in today's photography. My use of this "restricted" palette allows me to look at subjects more deeply, expanding the possibilities of photography.

My self-restricted palette must make the image must stand on its own merits without the distraction of color. Black and white Infrared images result in a dreamlike diffused glow known as the "Wood Effect," an effect mainly caused by foliage strongly reflecting in the same way visible light is reflected from snow. The other attributes of infrared photographs include very dark skies and penetration of atmospheric haze. The dark skies, in turn, result in less infrared light in shadows and dark reflections of those skies in water. Clouds, as you will notice, will stand out strongly. The unmistakable characteristics of an infrared image are deep black skies with dramatic cloud formations, bright white foliage and that magical, sometimes eerie diffused glow.

My photographs are not the product of digital manipulation or “photo-shopping”, to use a term that has been ingrained in our vernacular. Although they have been captured digitally, these photographs use digital darkroom techniques that duplicate the original darkroom craft of my younger years - sharpening, contrast control and lightening/darkening. In my classes and workshops I do not teach post-processing or the use of Photo-shop. I do not even own a copy myself. Some people call me a purist as I believe firmly in exposing the scene correctly in the camera first.

My photographs are not in a visible spectrum. Infrared images deal with a light spectrum that is beyond the range of light visible to the human eye. They are not thermal imaging either. The peculiarities of infrared photography lie in its ability to record what the eye cannot see. Infrared photography captures reflected radiation wavelengths just beyond those of the deepest reds of the visible spectrum (700nm). To make my images possible, I must filter out the visible light and only allow the near infrared and infrared spectrum through to the camera’s digital sensor.

The selection of the Infrared spectrum of light was a natural decision as my chosen medium for capturing the Invisible Wilderness areas desperately in need of our stewardship.

The following images of the Meeker Ghost Ranch near Custer, SD demonstrate the obvious difference between color and Monochrome (black and white) and then the difference using infrared.

There are two methods of infrared capture, both employed in my work based upon the desired results. The first technique is using infrared filters on normal lenses. This means very slow shutter speeds, very often at lengths greater than 30 seconds. This smooths water, adds texture to skies and softens blowing grasses. My first infrared images were taken using a special filter in front of the camera lens. The use of this filter dictated that the image was composed through the view finder as would normally be done. Then the filter was placed over the front of the lens. This filter was extremely dark allowing virtually no light to pass. Focusing was then adjusted primarily through guess work and experience. This all resulted in exposures of 30 – 45 seconds at f8 on average on a bright sunny day.

After teaching myself the technique I had an existing camera modified with a different hot plate (digital sensor low pass filter) and focusing calibration to create digital infrared images. The camera functions normally with only slight adjustment needed in the exposure controls. This method allows the camera to be used at higher shutter speeds and without a tripod.