A Good Reason to Experiment

Over roughly the past year I have been experimenting with Infrared photography which on the very immediate level I have found totally engrossing because it is seeing the world in a very different way from ‘normal’ colour photography. However the possibilities are very broad and extensive in their scope so whilst I have started this journey and have a number of specific areas where I want to develop my ideas, it is very much at a starting point as far as I am concerned.

Because it is Different

I always shoot in the RAW format using digital cameras simply because it offers you the greatest chance to manipulate your images using post production photographic software. This is important because sometimes just a little extra work using masking and filters on your computer can transform an interesting but rather plain picture into one of the best photographs you have ever taken ! When it comes to infrared images, post production work on your images becomes crucial and a bit more complicated because different software packages will deliver different results.

It is possible to take the same image, manipulate it in different software packages and then blend the outputs using multiple layers, blending modes and so forth to produce a true composite. However this does take a lot of trial and error so ideal for me as we shortly will move into the darker days of Winter, something to keep me truly occupied with.

Less the Obvious

When I first got down to manipulating infrared images on my PC, my enthusiasm was for the ‘false colour’ results that are always so fascinating. Whilst I also quickly learned just how different the visual output could be of the same image from each software package and although this offers some exciting possibilities for photomontages yet another realisation set in, different images need to be approached in a very different way.

With normal colour or black & white images, pictures put simply are either ‘good, bad or indifferent’, its not as simple as this with infrared. You need to get your images on a computer screen so that you are looking at something of a reasonable size and then play around with the image particularly with regard to exposure etc as normal for any image but it goes a bit beyond this. Although it might seem a little odd, it is only by actually ‘working’ an image that you can see just how it may evolve into something special or not. Some images at first glance might seem ideal and guaranteed to produce a great end result and yet they don’t, others not so promising to start with turn out to have great potential.

A Feedback Loop

What I’ve mainly discovered so far is that shooting infrared demands greater effort and concentration at each stage. You must use the experiences you get from manipulating images in post production to change what pictures you take out in the field in the first place. Now whilst you might well say that this is true of all photography and it is, coming fresh to infrared it just happens to be more so and perhaps mainly because infrared is not the normal way we see the world around us.

For me who originally considered going down the 35mm infrared wet film route as opposed to the camera conversion one I decided upon, from a pure experimentation or trial and error perspective, I am so grateful for the choice I made. The main reason being that if I had gone wet film, the time lag and lack of immediacy as you await the return of each developed roll would have reduced infrared photography to a “novelty” experience compared to the immediate feedback you get with using a converted digital camera. In fact it is the converted digital camera and editing software that gives you your “feedback loop” and the path to improving your work.

The Unexpected

Focused as I was on ‘false colour’ images, initially I didn’t look beyond that, no pun intended nothing else was my point of focus. However infrared has delivered a huge bonus to me in terms of black & white photography because and odd though it may seem, infrared images provide a brilliant starting point for B&W, guaranteed to bring out your inner Ansell Adams !

I’m not sure why except the images even on the back of the camera are not black and white, because you are photographing heat there are warm dark, light and middle shades which describe the image in great depth far more so than just flat B&W could. Once on your PC and as you manipulate the image, the potential for truly engrossing monochrome images becomes crystal clear, I find the whole process totally enthralling.

Autumn/Fall seems to be coming in rather early this year which may or may not mean a hard Winter and although that doesn’t stop me riding and taking photographs it does reduce the volume of pictures compared to the months with better light and weather. To me this won’t matter too much because I have built up a fair library of infrared images to work with so my experimentation will not miss a beat.