My first encounters with Infra Red was as a photography student in Southport College. I remember fumbling around in the dark room trying to load the film into my Olympus OM10 camera that could be fogged if not loaded in entire darkness. Nowadays all modern digital cameras have the ability to capture infra red light but they are fitted with an 'infra red blocking filter' which cuts it out as infra red light can degrade the quality of a colour image. If you have your digital camera converted (we at Aspect2i recommend Advanced Camera Services) then the infra red blocking filter is removed and replaced with a filter that cuts out all visible light and transmits infra red light. It is worth mentioning at this stage that when your camera has been converted to an infra red camera, then this is the only type of photography that you can then do with it and you would have to incur the expense of getting it converted back to take 'normal' colour images again. The results from an infra red converted digital camera are wonderful and it is a great adventure when you first head out and experiment with this type of photography.
This brings us to the question, what should a good infra red image look like? The most common results seen are images with blue skies that are rendered black with their associated white clouds as a stark contrast. Also commonly seen is any type of green vegetation such as trees and grasses are rendered white and present themselves in an almost ethereal glow. The main reason for these effects is that very little infra red light is emitted from dark blue skies and the chlorophyll which gives vegetation its green colour is truly fantastic at reflecting infra red light hence trees and grasses become white.
For years I headed out in what I thought would be the best conditions possible to achieve these types of results which was on days with clear blue skies and a lot of strong sunlight and I often found the best season to be spring time with a cold clean crispness to the air and the fresh 'lime-green' foliage of the trees and plants. The results of shooting in such conditions are somewhat stunning and the punchy contrast of the images are very appealing but coming from a rather puritanical background in black and white photography and following the Ansel Adams Zone System, this 'fad' soon wore off and I yearned for the subtleties of the standard black and white image.
Looking at the images taken in strong sunlight, I questioned if this was the only way to explore using infra red. I would certainly not just head out to make standard black and white images in one set of weather conditions and moreover, some of my most successful images to date had been exposed in inclement weather. Infra red light is out there at all times it is just that the human eye cannot see it. Even when the day is what we would describe as 'gloomy' or overcast, there is still an abundance of infra red light to work with and I made a conscious decision to explore this light and find the subtleties I was missing.
The results spoke for themselves. Images that had smooth tonal transitions without the harshness delivered by strong sunlight and worked beautifully for me. The clouds in the overcast skies showed structure and a presence and the infra red whites in the chlorophyll filled vegetation resolved the fine details I wanted to see without the harsh glow. I recently travelled to one of the quietest parts of Cumbria and only took with me my little Nikon D70 infra red converted camera. The weather was classically Cumbrian with its fair share of overcast days, bright spells and rain clouds. I relished working in the conditions and the resulting images where what I sought after and I now feel more inclined to reach for my IR converted DSLR with the confidence that the image files I get can be crafted and the tonal range finely tuned to get a finished image that speaks softly of the moment I took it as opposed to shouting at me in a rage of harsh contrasts.
I feel I have now gained control of my infra red image making as opposed to putting up with what if delivered to me and what I think all photographers should aim for is an image that looks like a truly crafted black and white photograph but with the gentle tonal shift and visual signature of infra red light that intrigues the viewer deeper.
© Paul Gallagher