Infrared (IR) photography first really caught my attention in 2015, through looking at IR groups on Flickr. I loved the different ‘view’ it offered, making even familiar places and subjects fresh and new to my eyes. I began by using Photoshop, and trying the B+W adjustment layer, which offered infrared as an option. Disappointed I turned to the internet, and found a wealth of information, most of it too technical to help a complete beginner. I though about using a screw-on filter as the simplest way to experiment, but soon learned that Sony cameras were the least successful for IR shooting. I’m a Sony fan, so I had an additional problem!
Then in 2016 I learned about IR converted cameras. These are usually old cameras that have been modified to shoot ONLY in IR. I found an old Nikon D90 on eBay, and the adventure began.
The pages here follow roughly the stages or steps that I have followed as I gradually learned more, and experimented. The first 6 pages cover the 2 converted Nikons – a D90 with a 720nm filter, and a D80 with a Super Goldie 580nm
Infrared first steps The start of my adventure, from Photoshop disappointment to Nikon delight. First experimental shots.
Infrared second steps The next step in the adventure, learning what IR does to the colours we see with our eyes. A still life experiment with colour, B+W and IR versions of the same set-up.
Infrared third steps Taking my ‘new’ Nikon and its 720nm filter out and about shooting landscape, sky, trees and water. And comparing full colour, B+W and infrared shots of the same scene.
Infrared fourth steps Enter the Super Goldie! I buy a second Nikon, a D80 with the 590nm Super Goldie filter. This allows more of the colour spectrum in, and moves from the B+W realm into a fantasy land of surreal colour.
Infrared fifth steps FAUX post processing. Moving from the SOOC shots with a little Photoshop to tweak the shot to using a Photoshop Action (free to download) to apply colour inversions, and refinements to Goldie shots. I use the Khromagery action.
Infrared sixth steps FAUX processing taken even further with the Photoshop Supply action (free to download) which includes 9 separate action that you can use, mix and experiment with to create a range of surreal effects.
The next pages will be about using converted Sony A5000 cameras.
… the rain has gone” Last summer (2018) we had a long hot dry three months. The impact was felt all over the crop growing area of the N E of Scotland, where a great deal of the local barley crop was stunted and shrivelled. Personally it was our garden we struggled to save, taking every drop of usable water out to help the plants survive. In the cool of the evening we could be found with hosepipe watering cans … and of course with cameras too! My favourite for catching the water droplets on the plants was an old Russian Helios 44-2 lens that I found in the back of a cupboard. The lens is frozen at F2.8 but it is such a delight! Serendipity, on Flickr tells more of that story. So here is the original shot I took of the late light catching the leaves on a miniature acer
The slanting light, the water droplets on the leaves, and the light yellow of the entire bush – they are all there. But how will it change if I take away the colour, and transform it into B+W?
I did crop the right side of the image, which brings the leaves and the water droplets closer. But the overall effect of the change, for me, is to draw the eye more immediately to the sun falling on those leaves in the foreground, and to emphasise the cast shadow in the bottom right corner. There is more light and shadow, and more sense of the sun touching the leaves in the foreground. I feel that both versions are equally strong, and complement each other very well.
The best way to learn what any camera can do for you is, needless to say, to get out there and start shooting. And thanks to digital cameras that doesn’t have to be an expensive undertaking. Shoot as much as you can, and then ponder the results and see what works and what doesn’t. Then you can start figuring out how and why some things work and others don’t. You may waste a few shooting sessions – but only in discarded shots – they will be invaluable learning experiences!
So here’s a taste of my own first outing. I’d only managed a few shots of the house and garden and the field across the road with my converted Nikon D90 – nothing more daring! So this morning in July 2016 I set off to shoot one of my favourite local haunts – Fyvie Castle and the loch-side walk. Plenty of trees, water and sky – a place I am familiar with. That day I also had my little Sony RX100 in my pocket, taking a few shots of the lush greenery with it as I walked along. So here is the loch-side walk in full colour that July morning in 2016. The sky was bright, but overcast, with little or no blue at all.
And if I was to do a B+W conversion of the same shot, it would look something like this. (processed in Photoshop)
I like both versions, they both work for me. Here the lush eye-catching greens have gone, and the shapes of the trees and water irises are clearer. And the green algae floating on the surface is now an elegant white. There’s plenty of ‘punch’ to this B+W version – it is maybe even more dramatic than the colour version.
Now let’s have a look at how Infrared can give us a different view, a different landscape, a different visual world. I happened to take one shot quite close to where I stood when I took the RX100 one I’ve used. It is essentially the same scene but taken from a slightly different point along the walk.
The first impression is of a much softer and gentler image than either the full colour or the B+W version. Different things catch the eye. The trees blend into the overall image, as the tones are close to those of the sky and the water. The tonal progress through the image is simplified, it moves from a dark foreground to a white background sky. Look closer and the subtle gradations of grey begin to emerge. From this position there is more of the loch in the frame, so we can see the way the trees darken as the far point of the water is reached. There’s even a strip of the distant hills many miles beyond – and, look the infrared camera has caught the slight hint of clouds in the sky! In the foreground the reflections are much more prominent, while the left-hand mass of water irises is less distinct. Now let’s take a step back and look at how this infrared image has reached this final state.
After 3 years I still find that shooting in infrared has the hit-and miss qualities that I found at the start. So let’s take a peek at some of the original infrared shots in their folder. A strange and bewildering mix of effects – some are blue, some have a distinctly yellow, slightly gold cast to the sky, and the final one is recognisably grey.
The very pale blue shots are pretty well blown out, and most probably destined for the bin! The others are all possible, with the slightly yellow sky, and white trees with a tinge of blue. Something I discovered during that first photoshoot is that it helps the composition and the shot a lot if you can: a) shoot from shade towards light b) have some darker areas such a stone, tree trunks and pathways in your scene. These help define the scene, especially when there is a whole lot of green in the landscape you are shooting! As you can see there will be work to do in Photoshop – post-processing is definitely an integral part of the Infrared experience! Let’s start with the shot I’ve selected in the preview pane. It looks promising. I think it will look good if I used a B+W treatment to remove those tints. So into Camera Raw first.
Here I can straighten the shot if needed and check the exposure. I can also try out options like de-saturating or converting to B+W. Personally I like to save everything except exposure and straightening until I’m in Photoshop. But if I open the photo into Photoshop as an ‘object’ rather than an ‘image’ it does mean that I can return to Camera Raw and make extra adjustments at any time. So on to Photoshop ….
And here is where the real magic of post-processing happens. I want the image to be in pure B+W – to give me a range of tones that take me from deep black to almost pure white. The reflections of the trees in the water will be my guide for the blacks, together with the bottom left corner. If I get them correct I should also see more definition in the tree branches top left, and the near tree across the water. I finally choose B+W Neutral Density from the B+W options. The sky and the leaves are not as white as some other options, but there is a lovely range of greys in those branches and foliage.
So that is the final Infrared composition, that you saw alongside the colour and B+W versions. That is quite different to both the full colour shot and the B+W conversion. It and makes for a very different visual and emotional experience. I find that this camera and filter combination can give me the most delicate and ethereal images. And it definitely hooked me that day.
A few general observations before I continue looking into the folder of shots from that first outing. The first thing you realise is that what is green will turn out white with this Nikon + 720nm filter. Add to that anything that is already white and the effect of bright sunshine – and you have a heady mix of light in your shot. The blown-out shots in my folder show this! I had the Nikon set as it came, with Aperture Priority, and the ISO set at 200 and the White Balance pre-set for the filter. I’ve mainly left the settings that way, as they produce some wonderful effects, and I am no expert on how the camera sensors have been altered and adjusted. I admit I haven’t messed with the setting much at all – just to change the ISO a little on really bright days. I know I’ll have some dud shots, especially as the EVF shows me the full colour version as I take the shot. But for every dud I can find a shot that works like magic – so it can balance out.
The old cabin in the woods. One of the shots showing in the folder is of an old storage shed that looks like it might be used as a wood store. The original shot looked really promising, with plenty of ‘dark’ objects – the path, tree trunks, gate, fence and the shed itself. After I had done the basic conversion to B+W in Photoshop I decided to try out a sepia effect, as it did already look like an old and abandoned shed. I sharpened the contrast, to give me deeper darks, and bring out the lovely definition in the trees, The full version is on my Flickr site: the log cabin in sepia
And now one that I have not worked on before. I recall thinking that the two strong tree trunks would frame the shot nicely – giving me a contrast between the shade and the bright sunlight beyond. I have used four stages or versions to show more of the process, and more of the options that are possible in post processing. Looking at the first shot here there is the original, which has a slight light blue tint to the sky, and a yellow tint to the water. There is a good strong variation of dark tones with the two trees, the branches arching over the top of the shot, and the actual bank at the bottom of the screen. When I took the shot into Camera Raw and applied ‘auto exposure’ there was almost no difference. The shot had not been either over or under exposed.
I rather like the yellow tint to the water, it emphasises its difference – makes it stand out against both the shore and the trees. But I always like to see what effects I can achieve, before I settle on one interpretation of the image. My next stop was to apply a B+W conversion. Now the sky is whiter, which makes the branches and leaves clearer and a little darker against the new sky.
And as a final twist I applied a Faux colour action, which swaps some colour channels. I use this action mainly for the Goldie filter camera that I’ll be exploring next – but I thought I’d see what happened applying it to the original shot here. As I thought, the water is now a more ‘natural’ blue, and the pale blue tint is gone from the sky. I hope that this has given you a taste of what choices there are when it comes to processing your IR shots from the 720nm converted camera. Lots to play with!
I said earlier on “The very pale blue shots are pretty well blown out, and most probably destined for the bin!” But sometimes it is worth playing around and experimenting with the failed and blown out shots, before you finally give up on them. It’s always worth trying…
Here’s another shot from the folder
What I wanted to catch was the diagonal sweep of the leaves. The strong uprights of the trunks and the downwards diagonal sweep of the foliage really caught my attention. So I was disappointed that the result seemed past rescuing. I left it alone, reluctant to discard it completely. So I tried again with the knowledge I acquired over the last 3 years – and I think it was worth the effort and the wait. I first applied the FAUX action in Photoshop and was delighted at the increased definition it has uncovered. There are brown tints in some of the tree trunks, and gentle ‘blue rinse’ across the foliage that I really like. I then went on to take the FAUX version and convert that into B+W. It has kept the improved definition in the foliage nicely. Personally, I think there is more interest in the FAUX version, a greater sense of depth in the scene too. So – that is a brief look into one folder – one morning spent with the IR converted old Nikon D90 – warts and all! I hope that it has been an interesting adventure for you, as it was for me.
The next article will take a look at the second IR converted Nikon I bought that year, which can produce quite amazing images that show that ‘infrared’ doesn’t necessarily mean B+W. On to the Super Goldie
or “Adventures in the Infrared wonderland – part 1”
I’ve written about my reasons for wanting to shoot or process images in B+W here and I ended the piece with these words; “Infrared is rather like ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – it is a whole different world, just waiting for us to explore down the rabbit hole ……” I wasn’t joking, and I don’t think I was exaggerating either. Infrared can take us beyond the way that our eyes see naturally. Our eyes have been developed to see only part of the light spectrum. It’s not news to us – we all know there are X-rays we use to see inside the human body, getting beneath the skin, and seeing what the naked eye cannot. And we know there is ultraviolet light that can damage the skin, and we protect against it. Then there is our focus of interest, infrared light. Another part of the light spectrum that we cannot see with the naked eye, but another one that the camera can be adapted to ‘see’ for us. We tend to think of these invisible light bands in scientific and medical situations, to help with a diagnosis, to perform a ‘virtual’ autopsy on an ancient Egyptian mummy, to see beneath the paint to verify an art-work. The uses of infrared light are many – the most ‘everyday’ is probably to be found in the remote control for your TV. But we can also use part of the infrared light spectrum in our personal photography – and reveal the world in a very different way.
I first came across infrared (IR) photos in the B+W groups, and, ever curious, I started to explore! When processing a colour shot into B+W in Photoshop there is a drop-down menu of options for you to try applying to your image, and among them is infrared. The perfect place to start! The journey had begun ;o)
But I was disappointed in the results I got. They didn’t look very different to the B+W options.
Indeed, when I posted this shot on Flickr no-one realised it was infrared processing!
And as I continued experimenting, I found that using IR conversion in Photoshop often produced a grainy effect – degrading the quality of the image. An old shot of crab apples with autumn leaves can demonstrate what I mean by the disappointing degradation of the image.
I often take old images from my archives, and see how they look in B+W. Here a simple conversion gives smooth greys with the raindrops on the leaves even clearer than on the colour version. And there are white highlights and black spots too. So it is a pleasing, balanced conversion.
But try the infrared option in Photoshop, and even after adjusting every slider possible, the very best I can get is this.
This is most definitely not what I had seen online. The results I saw there were inspiring!
So maybe Photoshop was not the way to go. What about trying a filter on one of my Sony cameras? I’m a huge fan of Sony, especially as I understand the on-board computer – something that turned me away from Nikon. An experimental play with a filter sounded good. But no – there were several articles mentioning that Sony was a really tricky choice for IR filters, and maybe for IR conversions too. Disappointment loomed! Then I came across eBay and found a seller in the UK who had modified old cameras so they would shoot ONLY in IR. And the old cameras were the Nikons I had used years ago! The sample shots looked exciting, so I decided to take a chance and see what happened. After all I could re-sell the camera on eBay if I found I’d made a miserable mistake. Looking back, I think I really lucked out! I knew nothing about IR at all, but my first buy was ideal for me. I didn’t know it then, but there is a broad range of filters that give differing effects – and I bought a gentle filter that emphasises the delicate greys, rather than a harsher B+W filter. So early in July 2016 I bought an old Nikon D90 with a 720nm filter. The pixel size is small (4288×2848 pixels) compared to the cameras of today and the technology couldn’t touch my pocket RX100 (5472 x 3648). So I was wary about the gamble. The Nikon was all set to go, with an instruction sheet to help me. I attached the lens I’d been advised to use and tried it out. Nothing fancy, just a few shots of the garden and the view across the howe (valley).
Yes! That was the delicacy I wanted in the leaves – and I felt I was on my way!
Of course, now I would do a little editing to the faint colour cast and maybe choose something like this …
This was what I wanted – what had attracted me to infrared photography that I had seen online and on Flickr. I knew I had the place to start from – to explore this whole new way of looking at the world around me. The adventure was beginning …. On to part 2
I shoot leaves a lot – put sunlight and leaves together and I am captivated. But choosing a shot from my store is more difficult. I need to choose carefully if I want to share it with others. The modern world is positively awash with images so if I’m going to add to the ocean of leaf images out there I want my additional drop to make a splash! In other words, I need to be clear about what it is I want to say about the image that I am offering.
This image from my store drew me.
I think the composition is good and needs almost no work. There’s a strong, dark tree trunk to the left, sunlight in the middle and bokeh to the right. The leaves themselves climb up the trunk and spread out and across the top of the frame. There’s a feeling of the ivy clinging to the tree trunk and growing up it, and then falling down in fronds. So there is a sense of movement, even within the stillness of the leaves! But there is something more I can add to the image in post-processing – working on it further on the computer. The area I am most interested in is the tree trunk. The detail and texture of the trunk is hidden by the natural shade, and this weakens the contrast between the delicate ivy leaves and the solidity of the trunk. I think that this might be a good candidate for a B+W conversion. Let’s see ….. I want a gentle silvery effect to maximise the quality of the ivy leaves – so my first move is to take the colour image into NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 and choose a treatment that emphasises the qualities I’m looking for.
That works really well. I can see the lines and texture of the tree trunk better already; some of the details in the leaves are showing up nicely; and the bokeh on the right-hand side is clearer. Even the old dead leaf in the centre has changed from being a bit of an eyesore into a useful eye-catching dark tone.
My usual pattern of working with post-processing is to save each step as a separate PSD file. It takes up storage space, but it does mean I can go back to an earlier stage and rework an image. So now I save this stage and then save a flattened TIFF file to move on with.
My next move is to sharpen the image to help the leaves stand out even more clearly, especially against the tree trunk. My favourite sharpening technique is High Pass in Photoshop. This is quite a gentle sharpening technique, and it can be manipulated as a layer – so you can apply it to some areas of the image and not others. First of all I duplicate the layer. The top layer is going to become the High Pass filter layer. So let’s locate the High Pass filter…
Then I choose the strength of the effect that I want. Looking close up and moving the slider I can try out, apply and then revisit and adjust until I like the result. I settle on a radius of 9.3 pixels – quite strong, but not obvious.
Having made my choice I now have a grey layer hiding the original image. I need to apply it as an overlay.
And the final result of the High Pass
The image might need some lightening later on but the sharpening of the detail is what I want. So I save this second stage as a PSD file, and then as a flattened TIFF file, which I open up as a PSD to move on. Now I am into the final few adjustments. I want to remove the twig that has been bugging me from the start. A quick use of the Clone Stamp tool and it is gone.Then a signature, hidden among the leaves.
And now I am ready to offer the image to the online world ;o)