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.

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.

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.

Thinking in Black and White

I’m challenging myself with learning a new discipline in photography. The first step is having a digital mirrorless camera converted to capture infared light, and I’m learning about the techniques for capturing and processing these new types of images. But the camera won’t be back in my hands for a few weeks.

In the meantime, I was daydreaming about the places I would love to photograph with the infared camera — like the Florida Everglades and Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. With the limitations on travel during the pandemic, those excursions will come to pass down the road.

The scenery of Joshua Tree is fresh in my mind, since I visited the park in 2018. I decided to process one of my color photographs in black and white, as a first step in my journey to see in black and white. What do you think?

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I love the bold silhouettes as well as the textures in the Joshua Trees found in the high desert of California. A monochrome image makes the image more about shapes, textures and contrast, as it subtracts color. Processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Nik’s Silver Efex Pro.

Finding Reflections in Sedona

If you can find a reflection of your main subject in a landscape photograph, you will create a unique image that will hold the viewer’s attention even longer. Sometimes, you need to be a bit creative to find those reflections as big lakes don’t appear on command. When I noticed a few puddles in the red rock flats of Red Rock Crossing, I lined myself up to see if I could see a reflection. What I found was quite an interesting foreground.

While this puddle only captured a portion of Cathedral Rock, I liked the pattern formed by the red rocks in the foreground as well as the leading line (left to center) that links the red rock plateau with the trees.

A good foreground and middle ground leading to the focal point of the image leads the eye through the image and allows the whole image to work together for a pleasing visual experience. The soft side lighting of sunset also enhances the tranquility of the image.

I hope this scene inspires you to visit Sedona and explore the many trails and viewpoints. Sedona is just 90 minutes’ drive north of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Keep an eye on this online gallery for more of my unique Sedona landscapes. Prints of many different sizes can be ordered online.