Everglades in Infrared

Processing a digital infrared image requires experimentation. Once the image has been captured, it can be rendered in many different ways. I adjust the hue, saturation and lightness of each color one at a time and make several other technical changes — like channel swapping, levels and curve adjustments. Let’s just say that processing is a lot like cooking. The chef adjusts according to taste.

Everglades
A colorful and unrealistic infrared photograph from Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.
Everglades
Infrared photograph rendered in black and white, depicting wind in the Everglades.

Why Infrared Photography Works in Florida

Green foliage, blue skies and bright sunlight are daily staples in southwest Florida, and all three of these elements combine to make strong infrared photographs. While the look of the final image and final print will vary with your processing style, green foliage can read as white, blue skies will go dark, and bright sunlight produces high contrast. If you like black and white prints, these qualities of an infrared photo will deliver greater contrast and drama than traditional film or digital photography.

Here is a recent infrared photograph that I captured at the Naples Botanical Garden on a sunny afternoon and processed to black and white, achieving the contrast I strive for.

Sunlit palms at Naples Botanical Garden, an infrared photograph by Cathy Kelly. Prints available.

Can You See in the Dark?

As an artist, I’m inspired to experiment. And so on a sunny afternoon in South Florida, I captured this infrared photograph in a pine forest.

This Infrared photograph, made on a sunny afternoon, simulates a nighttime walk in the woods. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, east of Naples Florida, 2021. (Copyright Cathy Kelly.)

Infrared photography is a ripe medium for experimentation, as I find so many choices are available in processing. Shall I go black/white, blue/white, cyan/orange? To fully embrace infrared photography, which only captures invisible light above the red spectrum, you need to let go of reality as your eye defines it. Then, you are free to see the world in a brand new way.

To see more infrared photography and order a print, please visit my website at www.cathykellyphotography.com.

Color Me Orange

The delicate curve and pattern of this palm branch and its sharp shadow that echoes on the ground drew me over to photograph this patch of ground. I chose to isolate these elements to emphasize the shapes I noticed.

Infrared photograph of a palmetto branch and its shadow at Naples Botanical Garden in southwest Florida. Infrared enables the use of high contrast and a single hue that stands out against black and white for an artistic interpretation of the scene.

When it came time to process this infrared photograph, I slid the hue for the foliage over to a hot orange. The hot orange against the white shelly gravel spoke to me about the heat of the tropics. It was a hot afternoon in sunny southwest Florida, the perfect time of day for a high contrast infrared capture.

Blue Sky, White Jungle

Does a blue sky automatically lift your spirits? Do you feel more energetic and happy on sunny days? I do!

One of the cool features of “Super Color” Infrared Photography is the way you can combine a bright blue sky with a black and white image. The black/white portion of your image can emphasize texture and shape and feel a bit timeless, while a blue sky paints in the happiness.

As you step into this Tropical Jungle, you wade through long, thick grasses, but your sights are lifted to the palm tree silhouette in the distance. Naples Botanical Garden in Infrared Photography by Cathy Kelly, February 2021.

As you look at this photograph more closely, you will notice that the black/white jungle isn’t like a typical black and white photo. The foliage is white! This Sony camera captures infrared light, and one way to process the image is to convert the foliage to white. The result is kind of surreal, but I like it!

For best results, take your infrared photographs on a bright sunny day and make sure your subject is in the sun, not the shade.

An Infrared Book Idea

Infrared photography can really open your eyes and unleash your inner artist. There are so many ways to process an image that captures visible and invisible light above 590 nanometers, that the creative possibilities for rendering a simple scene can be inspiring. Let me explain.

When I go out to shoot Infrared photos, I look for simple compositions (less is more) with interesting shapes, strong contrast and often, a sky. For example, a an image that includes sunlit foliage against the sky will be high contrast. Walking around your familiar environment, you can find these elements. (A perfect COVID-safe activity!)

Sunlit palm tree against a clear sky at the Naples Botanical Garden, February 2021. My high-contrast black-and-white Infrared photographs are the most popular images, since black-and -white photography is fully accepted and widely appreciated. This image makes a dramatic large print.

When you begin to process at the computer, the fun begins. Using some special techniques, you can render the image in black and white, or blue and white, or blue and yellow, or blue and pink, for example. The possibilities are not exactly endless, as they are derived from manipulation of the red and cyan color channels, but there is lots of space for experimentation and expression of personal taste.

The body of work I have created with Infrared photography and creative processing at the Naples Botanical Garden gave me the idea of putting together a book that includes a variety of processing applications. When I share a single print, I get mixed reactions from people who don’t know what to make of this imaging style. I find myself explaining that black and white photography is “not reality,” but it is revered, and has been a part of our art culture for a hundred years. And consider this: fine art painters take liberties with colors, making choices express feelings and moods, rather than literal “photographic” reproduction. In contemporary art, painters have been freed from even a literal rendering of form when they paint in the abstract, right?

I find that most people don’t understand Infrared Photography, as it is uncommon. I am proud to be an Infrared pioneer, and I hope you will join me and enjoy it.

What Creativity Means

I’ve been thinking that Creativity really means that you let your mind go. Let it spin. Close your eyes and wonder where can you go next. You try something new and find out if it works. You give yourself freedom to experiment. It comes from having time to reflect and the guts to try a new path. Selectively, you embrace some rules and discard others.

With Infrared Photography, the new path I’ve chosen, I continue to embrace the rules that define strong composition, but I throw away the rules that tie photography to the way things truly look to the eye. Realistic color goes out the window. Green trees can be white…or yellow…or gold…or magenta. Just like they can be any color in a painting. But you say, “This is photography, and photography is realistic, journalistic, a witness to truth.” I say, “Before we had color photography, we had black and white photography, which was not true to life. It was and is widely accepted as an art form.” Right?

In that spirit, I present my latest Infrared Photograph: “Isle de Jaune.” I love this image for reasons I’m not sure I can explain in words. It is one of my favorite images of the past year. The complimentary colors and composition work for me. Are you with me?

Infrared photography at the Naples Botanical Garden. “Isle de Jaune,” combines complimentary colors and a balanced composition with interest in the sky and the lake. I find the image peaceful and meditative.

If you are interested in a Fine Art print or even better — a metal print of this image, please visit my website and place an order online. Thanks for joining me on my creative journey.

Beauty of High Contrast

Having admired the landscape photography of Clyde Butcher, I love to create my own photographs of tropical Florida with high contrast. Infrared photography is one method to use in making high-contrast images.

This Infrared photograph emphasizes the texture of the spikes foreground shrubs, while contrasting a mostly monochrome scene with vivid blue of the lake and sky.

An Infrared photograph can be processed in many ways. It is the artist’s choice to use white, yellow or magenta for the green foliage, and to dial in a light or dark hue of blue or cyan in the sky and water. Of course, the image can also be rendered in pure black, white and midtowns. Does this recipe work for you?

Creative Possibilities

Having converted a Sony mirrorless camera (a6300) to “Infared and SuperColor,” I’m now learning how to process these odd images. When you capture an image with infared light and visible light only 590 nanometers and up, you get some unique color effects, so you need to adjust white balance, swap blue and red, set white and black points, adjust the tonality of each color and adjust hue and saturation. While that sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, the process becomes interesting because you learn about what each individual color (red, green and blue) is doing and how each individual color looks as it interacts with the others.

While you may or may not find that color study interesting, you will probably like the creative possibilities in the different results one can achieve. Here are some examples:

greyscale infared photograph
This image is essentially black and white with a blue filter applied. Processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik’s Silver Efex Pro. Infared is known for giving you the raw material for a high contrast greyscale image.
Infared photograph
I like the effect of showing the foliage as white while rendering the sky in a deep blue hue. I find it ethereal.
Infared photograph
Since I like images that are somewhat realistic, and I love Fall color, I also like to render the foliage as yellow or golden, while maintaining the sky an attractive shade of blue. I could render the foliage as light pink or magenta, but that’s not my style.

The Swimmer or the Water?

You know the age-old question: what came first, the chicken or the egg? You can’t have one without the other, right? In the same vein, I ask you, “What is this photograph about, the swimmer or the water? Without the water, we wouldn’t have a swimmer, and yet the swimmer adds action and purpose to the image. I could argue that the water has the strongest visual interest. But the water without the swimmer might not be eye-catching or meaningful.

This infrared photograph processed as a cyanotype stops action of a girl swimming in a pool. The monochrome nature of this infrared photograph allows us to really focus on the water’s texture.

So do you think this image is more about the swimmer or the water?

I hope you are enjoying the rest of your summer.