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.

Lasting signs of Irma

Hurricane Irma lashed Naples Florida in early September 2017, stripping and uprooting trees, knocking out power and damaging homes. Three and a half years later, the year-round tropical growing season has filled in the gaps and erased most signs of Irma’s destruction. The landscape looks lush and green again.

This mangrove preserve in Pelican Bay still tells the story of Irma, when she stripped the trees bare of leaves close to the Gulf coast. This infrared photograph shows some of those bare tree trunks along the boardwalk that leads to the beach.

Like bony fingers, the bare mangrove tree trunks tell the story of Hurricane Irma’s forceful winds in September 2017. Infrared photograph in Pelican Bay, Florida in February 2021.

Driftwood in Infrared

This driftwood stump caught my eye while I was walking the beach, as I noticed grasses growing out of the center. The scene spoke to me of both the passage of time and the regeneration of life, naturally occurring. Looking it over, I saw a simple composition that would be interesting to photograph with my Infrared camera.

Grasses growing out of an old tree stump on the beach in Naples, Florida. Infrared Photograph processed to grayscale and ochre with high contrast in the sky, creative choices of the artist.

Do you find this image both peaceful and intriguing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.

The Path Across the Pond

As a photographer, I’m always attracted to a scene that shows a path, because my mind questions, “Where will this path lead?” In this infrared photograph, the scene looks quite mysterious. A line of stepping stones provide a solitary path across a dark pond to a tiny Asian temple.

I feel a celebration of sunshine in the golden foliage and deep blue sky. The deliberate path to the little shrine is an invitation to personal meditation. How does this image speak to you?

Infrared photography shows stepping stones to a tiny temple in the Asian garden of the Naples Botanical Garden, February 2021.

Can this be real?

Fact or Fiction? In fact, you see the blue lake and the wind blowing the green palms in the soft light of dusk. In January, the blue water, green palms and white puffy clouds are quite agreeable. Yet, the scene is unremarkable in Florida.

But there is another true way to see this same scene in real time. See this scene with infrared light and the palms glow with golden light. The chubby palms emerge from the edge of a very dark lake. And the sky? I see white puffy clouds and a bit of blue sky. It’s a curious combination, but it’s real.

In this infrared photograph taken at the Naples Botanical Garden, the palm trees are rendered in golden yellow. Infrared light is real, but it is not visible to the naked eye.

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?