The main attraction of a modified camera is that you are not limited to the long exposures needed for an IR filter. You can capture sharp images in any conditions, and can be more creative with your exposures (e.g. pick the perfect shutter speed for moving water). You can shoot handheld from any point of view without being limited by a tripod.
This photo (below) was taken with a Hoya 72 filter. It required a shutter speed of 180 seconds, even though the cliffs were lit by the light from the setting sun.
From here it is a matter of personal taste adjusting the light and dark of your image, the white and black points to suite the image, and maybe applying curves as appropriate.
I also don’t work on photography unless the weather is shitty.
Tips for Culling Your Photos – How to Throw Away the Worst and Concentrate on the Winners
After responding to this question, I am now wondering if you meant to ask me “why” I choose to render them in this style. The answer to that is very simple. I am looking for deep tones and stark contrasts, for ways to express silence, and for any opportunity to dramatize the beauty and simplicity of light. These often low key images are what I have come up with so far.
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That said— I, like many, had been taking photos for a long time but only with an instant film camera and only to record memories of vacations and parties and other personal experiences. However, I had also been, for quite some time, enjoying viewing the work of many of the more famous black and white photographers (Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier Bresson, Ansel Adams, Wright Morris, and Walker Evans to name a few). Until the advent of the somewhat affordable DSLR, I had never thought about the possibility of trying to work on my own images with the same careful attention as the photographers whose work I had long admired.
The technician places a filterin front of the sensor that blocks all wavelengths under 720nm (nm = nano-meter and is a unit of measurement equivalent to 1/1,000,000,000 meter used for measuring wavelengths of light). In other words, it only lets infrared light through. It’s the type of conversion best suited for landscape photography, giving you a color image that’s easy to convert to black and white. This is probably the most common type of infrared conversion and the one you should go for unless you have a specific need for one of the other types.
I went down the path of buying a modified camera off Ebay. You can buy anything from a point and shoot to a full frame DSLR, and everything in between. If you have an old body you can always get it converted, but it’s worth checking the cost against buying one that’s already been modified.
Nathan: This is a very easy question for me to answer. If you look at the landscapes and trees in my images, you will see the beauty and simplicity of these things (not because I am necessarily adept at capturing such beauty and simplicity but because these things are inherent to the scenes I am capturing— or, at the very least, this is how I perceive and witness them). It is that beauty and simplicity that inspires me. And I don’t mean that in a nifty, let’s-all-feel-good-about-ourselves Facebook meme kind of way. I simply mean that I am drawn to simplicity and beauty and, perhaps, also the form of things, their shapes and lines and convergences—and their inherent silences.
If I am being entirely honest, infrared images, mine included, border on kitsch. It’s very easy to let the gimmickry of it all overshadow the composition and general reason for the taking of the photo in the first place— and so much so that the focus of the image easily ends up being centered on the “trickery” of infrared and not on the composition, contrasts, and tones (the same is also true with taking long exposures). For some of my IR images, I still let those whites glow—but I still try to bathe them in an acceptable tonal quality that downplays the overly glowing whites commonly expressed when using IR—and always, always, always, always, I keep my attention focused on the composition of the image as much as I can— all in the hope that the composition remains the star and the IR effect is simply a supporting player in the mood of the image.
That said—I recently worked on a collaboration with the poet Peter Weltner (his poetry and eight of my images), Stone Altars, which features eight of my images. A South Korean publisher will be releasing a Korean translation of Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra, which will include sixteen of my images. I will also be included in the second volume from Kozu Books, a publishing company that seeks to highlight the work of long exposure photographers.
Infrared photography is wonderfully clean and crisp. But what if you love that IR film look with a ghostly flare? Don’t worry. PaintShop Pro has it in the bag. They have an “Infrared Film” effect that was probably created to make ordinary images look a bit infrared-ish.
What can infrared photography bring do for a landscape photographer?
I will also be doing a solo showing of images used in my collaboration with Peter Weltner. The reception, which will take place on September 19th at the Great Highway Gallery in San Francisco, will also include a reading of some of the poems from the book. My images will be available for viewing at the gallery until the 19th of October.
Considering how much I am now willing to process certain images, I find it especially curious that, at first, I was a purist without even knowing what that really meant. I thought any processing of an image was a sign of weakness, a sign that one did not have the talent or the skill to capture the light. I simply did not understand the limitations of a camera, nor that many of the images that I had admired over the years had been achieved via some dodging and burning and tweaking of the contrasts in the darkroom. Somehow, in the midst of all that reckless confusion and joyful experimentation and ill-advised ignorance, I found my way into my own particular style.
I picked up an Olympus EPM1 for around AUD $300 ($230 USD). The advantage for me was being able use the same lenses and batteries I already had for the EPL1.
Mirrorless cameras have an advantage over digital SLRs for infrared because they are able to focus from the camera’s sensor. That means that if you plan to hand-hold the camera and look through the viewfinder to take photos (rather than put the camera on tripod and use Live View) then a mirrorless camera is an excellent choice as you won’t get any focusing errors.
Digital camera sensors are sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light and infrared light as well as the visible wavelengths of light. Because of this, digital cameras have filters to block both ultraviolet and infrared light. The infrared filters on most cameras do let some infrared light through, but not enough to affect the image.
Nathan: First of all, I personally think nothing about my photos look dark (other than the specific tones and contrasts) and foreboding, but this has everything to do with the differences between how I see things and how others see things. The deep contrasts, from my perspective, are simply meant to further highlight the silence of light, to add drama and to add mood.
But if you like creating black and white images that stand out from the crowd, I’d suggest you have a crack at it. You’ll find it a challenge but also quite rewarding.
Some companies offer different types of conversion in addition to these, so check their websites for details.
Why would you want to do this? For me, the main reason is that it gives me a new way of working in black and white. Yes, infrared converted cameras can give you color images as well as black and white ones, but for me, the strange colors are more of a gimmick than a useful tool. With black and white, it’s different. In infrared photography, the tonality of the photo changes, giving you new and interesting ways to capture the landscape.
The infrared filter on some cameras is so strong that no light reaches the sensor at all. This makes using an infrared filter impossible. There’s a simple way to check to see if your camera’s sensor can detect infrared light. Do this test first before buying an infrared filter.
The strength varies according to the camera used, but don’t be surprised if you lose 16 stops of light. A tripod is essential. Luckily, this is not necessarily a bad thing for landscape photographers. If you are prepared to work within this limitation then an infrared filter could be for you.
So what processing should you use for infrared photography? The short answer is not much really. Experiment to find out what works for you.
Phoblographer: What’s the goal for Slices of Silence? A Book?
There are several types of infrared conversion. These are some of the most common.
Slices of Silence: Quiet Black and White Infrared Landscapes
As for landscapes, I have always been attracted to rolling hills and trees (and the sea). So, in the end, I simply wanted to use the possibilities of IR to explore a different tonal range than the typical long exposures I had been working on for the past five to six years. For, truly, tones are something that draw me back to image-making again and again.
Nathan: I just use cameras and lenses, ones that I can afford with the meager paycheck I make as a community college English teacher. I don’t think, in the end, gear matters so much. I would surely love to be able to afford a $50,000 dollar digital medium format camera, but I will never be able to—and I doubt very much that I would ever convert that expensive camera to read infrared light. For my infrared work, I simply converted two cameras that I was no longer using. For a couple of years, I used a converted Sony a100, but the shutter release recently died, so I recently converted my old a700.
Set your camera to Live View and focus on the end of a television remote control while pushing down one of the buttons. If you can see a light (the infrared communication in action) then it is sensitive enough to infrared light to use with a filter. It’s probably easiest if you ask somebody to hold the remote control for you.
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Not really. The only big drawback you’ll find is that you cannot use your favourite filters. Standard neutral density and polarizers do not work in the IR spectrum. If you sky is very bright and your subject is dark, you’ll just have to blend a few different exposures. Shooting in RAW of course gives you more leeway, but my Olympus files are not as forgiving as my Nikon files when recovering blown highlights.
PaintShop Pro has a “Black and White Film” effect that lets you apply a colour filter to your image. Changing your filter between blue, red, and green gives a different result.
But when you apply it to a proper infrared image as a starting point, you get a wonderful controlled flare effect. It doesn’t quite match the often spooky and surreal results Simon Marsden achieved with IR film, but it does get you a lot closer than anything else.
You may remember that digital cameras have a filter that blocks most infrared light. An infrared filter is opaque, so the result is that not much light reaches the sensor. In effect, an infrared filter is a strong neutral density filter as well as an infrared filter.
The sensor is fitted with a filter that blocks all wavelengths under 830nm. This gives a more intense type of infrared effect, with very little color. It’s ideal for dramatic black and white landscape photography.
After all, what works works and what does not work does not work because it does or does not (though it does take some time and practice to realize such things).
Nathan: To be entirely honest, nothing about the traditional approach to or look of infrared photography attracted me. For my personal tastes, nothing about the overly showy whites of most infrared photography has ever had any real appeal to me; however, I wanted something different to experiment with, and I saw the potential to experiment with those infrared whites that come from the greens and the infrared blacks that come from the blues, so I set out to “squeeze” and manipulate them until I found the stark contrasts that I was interested in.
During an infrared conversion the technician removes the infrared filter so that the sensor can now see infrared light, and replaces it with a filter that blocks visible light, so the sensor can only see and record infrared. The process isn’t complex, and because of that isn’t particularly expensive. If you are technically minded you could even try it yourself. There are videos on YouTube that explain how. You just need the right tools and parts.
Are you a fan of black and white photography? Like many, I love a good black and white image. The mood you can exude from the shadows and light always fascinates me.
“I also don’t work on photography unless the weather is shitty.” says photographer Nathan Wirth, who was born and raised in San Francisco. He is a self-learned photographer that uses a variety of techniques— including long exposure and infrared— to express his unending wonder of the fundamental fact of existence by attempting to focus on the silence that we can sometimes perceive in between the incessant waves of sound that often dominate our perceptions of the world. This is partially the foundation for his project: Slices of Silence.
In the end, however, I don’t think much about the process of what I am doing while I am doing it or why I am inspired by it. I am far too enamored with the simplicities of just doing it and just experiencing it. I can’t help but think that many might think my response is mystical mumbo jumbo, for it is difficult to talk about the experience of silence (one, after all, needs to shut up to feel it). For me, it is not new age mysticism. It is simply a way of seeing things. I am far more interested in the experience of wandering around in the landscapes of Marin and Sonoma Counties and encountering things than I am in talking about or explaining it.
The one thing about infrared photography that can be a little bit tricky is that when you wish to work on long exposures with either a converted camera or an external IR filter (I used to use a Hoya R72), many lenses yield a fairly large hotspot in the image, which is a very annoying and often difficult to remove. So, one needs to do a quick bit of research to find which lenses do not have this problem (the hotspots are not typically a problem when you take a normal exposure). Sony makes a very inexpensive 16 mm – 105 mm. It is surprisingly sharp for its price (though it is— I must confess— not a very solidly built lens). Of course there are far more impressive lenses, but this lens has yet to yield a hotspot when I have used it for an IR long exposure.
Phoblographer: What attracted you to infrared photography and landscapes?
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Nathan: First of all, I personally think that infrared photography (and all photography) is really quite easy. I suppose one can make it far more difficult than it is by over-thinking everything— and there are complex ways to process things— but, in the end, infrared photography is just a matter of recording a wavelength of light that is not visible to our limited eyes. Plus— I don’t really think about photography in terms of mistakes. Everything I do, no matter how foolhardy it may be, is just part of my ongoing process of working on images. Looking at things in terms of mistakes implies that there is a set way things have to be done, that there are set rules, that things need to look a certain way or they are somehow wrong. I have never understood that part of the formal photography world. Such an approach seems far more bound to the teaching of photography—to presenting a set of approaches that will yield what many critics, teachers and writers think is the exact way a photo is supposed to look (and such experts often speak about such things in an environment where someone is trying to make money off selling a process or a look or an experience or to explain things that really aren’t necessarily explainable). The truth is: some things and or approaches never quite look right, yet, in certain situations, those same things / approaches could look quite right. One can’t really know until one plays around with the possibilities. For example, if I were to have followed the typical expectations of an infrared image, then I should have focused primarily on snowy white images of trees and grasses that glow (and, for some reason, there seems to be no end to the amount of IR images that feature palm trees).
So, if I have to come up with an early mistake, then I would say I should have been much more willing to experiment and try odd things earlier on. For many photographers, the goal is perfection of technique and mastery of every move and complete knowledge of all possibilities. For me, the goal always has been to experiment and discover and evolve. If I ever know everything about photography and can predict every outcome, I will no longer be surprised and I will quite likely lose all interest in what I am doing.
We chatted with Nathan about his work for Slices of Silence and about how he almost didn’t become a photographer.
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The simple (non-technical) explanation is that infrared light is a kind of invisible light, formed of electro-magnetic waves that are undetectable to the human eye.
Nathan: When asked this question, I often tell the story of how my wife tried to stop me from buying my first DSLR back in 2007 because she thought I was going through a midlife crisis and buying a toy to compensate for the fact that I was no longer youthful (and clearly I could not afford a fancy, fast car like wealthier men). She was certain that I would be bored after a few weeks. This particular instance is one of the few times she has ever admitted to me that she was entirely wrong.
Note: shop for the Hoya R72 Filter on Amazon.com or on B&H Photo’s site.
The only other thing I notice is that some people get so enamoured by the white leaves and black sky effect that they forget to put their attention on the composition. Yes, everything looks cool in IR, but don’t take pictures of everything. Aim for strong compositions and uncluttered images. IR really shines with a minimalist approach.
The deciding factor for me was tone. I found the infrared monos gave me a wonderful palette of greys and blacks to work with, particularly for trees and vegetation. The balance between light and dark just seems easier to manage in infrared and really lets you produce some unique images.
All the other photos in the article were taken with a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 converted to infrared.
Anyway, after a while, I started doing more black and white landscape images, and eventually followed the urge to get into IR images purely for their unique monochrome potential.
If I can dare to offer advice to anyone out there, I would say don’t be afraid to experiment. Randomness and bizarre experimentation and a touch of uncertainty can be quite exhilarating (and, yes, other times it can be quite frustrating).
These images are entirely unreal looking. This is often a consequence of only using blacks, whites, and grays for highlighting contrasts in an image. Such images reflect a complete and intentional disinterest in recreating reality (and I would argue that no image ever captures reality—even those images in which the photographer tried to preserve the moment as accurately as possible). Infrared images, like long exposures, are, at best, a parlor trick, a visual sleight of hand that yield an illusion. I often hope that my illusion will express a mood of silence, of solitude, of contemplation, but, that said, I can only hope that this shall be the case. Many people see these dark tones as eerie and ominous, so I suppose that I have failed to fully express my illusion. But this failure reflects, I think, something that is very true about creating images. Once we have finished our image and we make it available for others to view, we cannot really expect others to see and feel the images in the same ways that we expressed them. Every viewer simply brings him or herself to every image viewed. This is just how it is.
Another consideration is that not all camera lenses are suitable for infrared photography. Older lenses in particular tend to show a hot spot at the center of the frame, especially at wide aperture settings. Before converting your camera you should check and see if there are any reported problems with the lenses you intend to use with it. Kolarivison have a comprehensive list of infrared compatible lenses.
This project features infrared landscape shot with a Sony camera–and while we think they’re quite dark and foreboding, Nathan personally does not.
Phoblographer: What inspires you to create the specific scenes that you do?
Another advantage of cameras with electronic viewfinders is that when you set the camera to its black and white mode the camera displays the scene in black and white in the viewfinder. This makes it easy to visualize how the photo will come out in black and white with the infrared effect applied.
The UV and infrared filters are removed. Your camera’s sensor can now see UV and infrared light as well as visible light. You control the effect by using filters (on the lens) to block different amounts of visible and/or infrared light. This may be interesting if you like to experiment, but the disadvantage is that you need to buy filters, adding to the cost. Filters also block light, so you need to use slower shutter speeds or higher ISOs to compensate.
As for what I choose to render them, I am, in the end, simply a dodger and a burner. I start with my RAW file, which can look rather mushy and sometimes even fairly flat at the outset, and then I burn in the darker portions and dodge the lighter portions, often capitalizing on and further emphasizing the light. Some images I manage to process in a few minutes—others have taken me a few years to fully understand or work out (and they sit in a folder filled with other unfinished images for a long time). This, by the way, is the same exact approach to how I work on my long exposures—and even for those occasional times I dabble in color.
It also has a bit to do with Nathan’s recent studies involving Japanese traditions of Zen, rock gardens, and calligraphy– as well as the transience, impermanence, and imperfections of wabi-sabi. Nathan’s studies of calligraphy and Zen writings have led him to the practice of trying to achieve, while working on his photography, a mind of no-mind (mu-shin no shin), a mind not preoccupied with emotions and thought, one that can, as freely as possible, simply create.
The usual caveats apply. If your camera is still under warranty that will be voided, and bear in mind that you can damage your camera if you don’t know how to do it properly. You should only attempt it if you know what you are doing!
How to Enhance your Black and White images with Infrared Photography
That said—from the beginning I worked on intentionally avoiding the snowy glowy [sic] allure of the typically-expressed wintery-white world of infrared. This is, after all, how the converted camera typically captures the greens of the landscape. One of the odd, silly and probably “incorrect” things I do is: intentionally choosing odd white balance settings. The internal IR filter for my camera is 830nm, which captures a pretty deep contrast from the outset and provides a RAW file that works especially well with black and white conversions (or at least it does for what I am looking for). Typically, for this filter, one sets a custom white balance by photographing something green in the available light and then using that custom setting for the remainder of the time you are photographing in that quality of light. After some experimentation, I now have a series of saved white balance settings from bright light conditions and lower light conditions. I tend to experiment with those settings. For example, I will use a setting for lower light to photograph a bright scene and vice a versa. Knowing full well that via Photoshop one can alter most any settings that one uses, I still play with these various white balance settings simply to see what they yield. This process is probably meaningless and foolhardy and unnecessary, but I like the notion of playing around with things to see what I get.
How to do Surreal Digital Infrared Photography … 4 years ago
Perhaps the most striking characteristics of infrared photography are the typical white vegetation, black water, and dark skies. You can create punchy, high contrast images. The middle of the day works best for these type of shots. Perfect for those landscape photographers that hate early mornings!
When it comes to converting digital SLRs to infrared there is something you need to bear in mind. Infrared light focuses at a different point to regular light. Your camera is calibrated to focus visible light, which means that if you try to focus on something using a wide aperture (which gives less depth of field) then your focus may not be accurate. It is possible to calibrate a lens to focus accurately with infrared, so check with the company that is going to handle your infrared conversion for details.
Another option, if you don’t want to convert a camera to infrared, is to buy an infrared filter that blocks out visible light and just lets infrared light reach the camera’s sensor. The Hoya R72 filter is a great option and not very expensive, especially if you have smaller lenses. It blocks wavelengths below 720nm, just like a 720nm infrared conversion.
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Many dismiss infrared photography as an oddity; a strange niche that is a bit too left of centre for them. Others just think it is too hard and expensive to get into.
IR also gives you clarity. Any haze visible to the eye tends to disappear in infrared photography. So you can achieve a very crisp and contrasty look.
I used to take my IR camera with me for a run along the river. Without the need for a tripod, I could travel light and take quick photos whenever an interesting composition presented itself.
The flare can be applied to give a sense of mystery, mood, and surrealness that is hard to replicate any other way.
When I was new to photography, I mostly avoided black and white landscapes. I used it mainly a handy way to hide the sporadically bizarre white balance my old Olympus EPL1 used to occasionally surprise me with.
The infrared conversion on my camera was done by Protech Photographic in the UK (they also handle orders from mainland Europe). LifePixel and Kolarivision are US based companies that also do infrared conversions. If you know of any other reliable companies, please let us know in the comments section below.
It is also much quicker. When using filters, you need set your focus before attaching the filter which can become tiresome.
Filters are a great and relatively inexpensive way to get into IR photography, but they have their limitations.
But for landscape photography, where most photographers use wide-angle lenses and stop down the aperture for sharp focus, it is not so important. If your camera offers some sort of contrast detect autofocus in Live View (where the camera focuses by taking a reading from the sensor rather than using the camera’s phase detection autofocus system) then you will have accurate focusing in Live View (just not when using the viewfinder).
Myself, I don’t normally use Lightroom or Photoshop, so my workflow may be a little different than yours. But the principles will be the same.
I import my raw images into Corel’s AfterShot Pro, which is a handy little raw file editor. Here I’ll straighten the image, adjust the exposure, and maybe increase the contrast if required. My infrared raw files come into AfterShot Pro displaying blue-grey hues, which is a good starting point for me. From here I export them as TIFFs into PaintShop Pro.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Nathan: I have no exact goal. I spend most of the free time that I have available for photography simply working on photography. If someone ever approaches me about a book, I will gladly accept the offer. I have looked into publishing my own, but, for now, I don’t have enough money.
How to Convert a Camera to Infrared for Black and White Landscape Photography
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Infrared photography (IR) also took a while to attract my attention. I wasn’t a huge fan of the typical false colour images, but quite liked the black and white IR photos, particularly the work of Simon Marsden. If you haven’t explored his portfolio of dark and atmospheric infrared film photography, you are missing something unique.
5 Creative Ways to Process Infrared Photographs … 4 years ago
Do you have an old digital camera that you don’t use much anymore? If you do, one way to make it useful again is to convert it to infrared for black and white landscape photography.
I am often asked how I process my infrared images, and I always respond by saying the following: in the same simple way that I process all my images. I am simply looking for pleasing contrasts and a decent tonal range so that I can express the silences that I am looking for. There are no secrets to my methods. They are the simplest of processing methods. I dodge. I burn. I tweak. There are many technical, processing wizards who know every twist and turn and trick in the book out there. I am not one of them. In part, this is because I truly am not interested in the potential complexities and time-consuming marathons of photo processing or the never-ending developments of camera technologies or even the evolution of photography as an industry. I am interested in mood, in tone, in contrasts … in making images and naturally evolving in whatever ways that I evolve. I am interested in staring out into the natural surroundings. And, most of all, I am interested in silence.
That concludes our overview of converting cameras to infrared for black and white landscape photography. Have you tried this yourself? What camera did you have converted and how did it work out? Please let us know in the comments.
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Phoblographer: Your scenes tend to be very dark and foreboding. What do you choose to render them in this style?
If you like capturing the complex patterns in clouds, you’ll find that the black skies really allow the clouds to stand out.
Interestingly, in a complete and absolute state of foolish ignorance, I began my foray into digital photography by setting the camera (a Sony Alpha 100) in black and white mode— thinking that, by doing this, I was somehow a tried and true black and white photographer, one who laughed at the color settings of his camera (and I only took jpegs, having no idea what a RAW file was). I must confess that I took images of everything I encountered with a curious blend of ignorant enthusiasm and reckless abandonment. I took no classes (and still never have). I did not read much of anything about how to operate a camera (including the manual for the camera). I just photographed and photographed and photographed and photographed. The idea of sharing my “cataloging of the world via a lens” never struck me as a possibility. I just wanted to see how the camera recorded light. I wanted to find contrasts. I wanted to find shadows. I wanted to see what I could fit in a frame and how it looked once I squeezed a scene or object into that frame. I didn’t know anything about rules (and still care little about anything formal or expected). I tried to find things as organically and freely as I could.
Phoblographer: Infrared photography can be very tough. What is the biggest mistake that you made when starting out that you wish you knew about? How did you correct for it?
This article will give you some tips on how you can enhance your black and white images by using infrared photography.
Human skin reflects a lot of infrared light, so does vegetation. These these things appear very bright in black and white infrared photos. Inanimate objects, such as roads, stones, and buildings, don’t reflect as much infrared light and can look remarkably similar to regular black and white photos when photographed in infrared.