One of the fun aspects of teaching photography is when a student inspires you to explore part of the medium you’ve left uncharted. After 5 years of teaching the subject, I finally had a student submit an assignment shot with a camera converted to infrared. It reminded me of how I’d always wanted to shoot in infrared, and while I wasn’t about to sacrifice my camera to such a conversion, I instead went out and got a Hoya R72 infrared filter for my 40mm STM prime lens. The resulting shots were all 30 second exposures at around f16 with an ISO of 400.
Rather than hibernate on Black Friday (unlike my brave wife), I packed up the boys, the sister-in-law (who’d never been to the battlefield) and headed down to Gettysburg. It’s here that I shot my first photo final in college, and I figured we had good odds at avoiding traffic (who goes to national parks on Black Friday, anyway?). I was right.
Post Production of Infrared in Photoshop
Since the filter basically makes the viewfinder pitch black, I had to compose and focus the shot without the filter, then maintain the camera settings and attach the filter to the lens. I’d have liked to experiment with more camera settings, but two little boys can really make you optimize your time.
Back in the studio, I was surprised that none of Photoshop books I own touch upon the subject. There are a number of tutorials online that recommend adjusting RAW files by desaturating them first (taking the temperature, saturation, and tint all down to their lowest values). While I found this worthwhile in some cases, it makes the photos black and white, which eliminates the surreal nature of recording infrared energy (rather than visible light, which the filter blocks). Making adjustments in of itself felt surreal, as trying to adjust channel histograms independently yielded unexpected results, and shadow, highlight, black, and white sliders seemed impotent without adjusting exposure or saturation, first.
I was also really surprised that all of the tutorials I came across online advocated desaturation followed by dodging and burning in Photoshop. I found myself using Camera Raw’s Adjustment brush liberally to make localized (non-destructive!) exposure adjustments.
Just for kicks, I tried comparing an infrared shot:
with a regular shot converted to B&W via Photoshop’s Image > Adjustments > Black & White conversion:
The Adobe RGB to sRGB conversion (you’re looking at sRGB, above) doesn’t do it justice, and while I think both shots are close, I prefer the infrared version. The infrared version was less noisy and benefited from some wind over the course of 30 seconds. The bottom shot had Shadow/Highlights run on it, as you can see some faint halos on the trees to the right. It also took quite a bit of dodging and burning to get the midfield colors right in the visible color shot (bottom), as infrared inherently takes green subject matter and makes it the highlight.
Unfortunately, Gettysburg isn’t very green this time of year, but that fact only makes me eager to shoot infrared in the spring. It was definitely a lot of fun.
I took this in my far-greener backyard, and hope to achieve similar shots with a greater presence of highlights.