In a recent Photofocus podcast, one of our readers asked: “I’m considering buying a used body and having it modified for infrared photography. I know that landscape is prime subject matter for this but are other subjects, such as portraits, cityscapes, night city streets, and macro worth considering?
First, I think purchasing a used digital SLR and converting for infrared capture is a great idea. Used bodies are often available at a substantial discount over new and I bought a used Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xt for $200 and had it converted by LifePixel (www.lifepixel.com.) Another path is having one of your older cameras converted after you’ve updated to a newer, more megapixels model. But the most important think to remember is that after your camera has been converted; you will only be able to shoot monochrome infrared images with it.
Second, and to answer your question, everything makes a great subject for digital infrared photography! Lest you think digital infrared capture is an esoteric photographic pursuit, a recent Google (www.google.com) search turned up 8,770,000 hits for “digital IR.” By comparison “Gum Bichromate” produced only 13,300 hits; now that’s esoteric.
The simplest reason for shooting digital infrared photographs is that this technique has the power to transform mundane visual experiences into something unforgettable. Everyday scenes you might walk right by and never think of photographing, take on a dreamy look when seen in infrared. Nevertheless, digital IR photography is not for everyone. I have to assume that dark skies, snow-white foliage and increased contrast appeals to your aesthetic sensibilities and what the heck, it’s fun.
Here are just a few possibilities:
Landscapes: This is the classical application for either film or digital infrared capture because tree leaves appear to be almost white. This is a common effect produced by deciduous trees and grass because they reflect the sun’s infrared energy instead of absorbing it. Along with the black sky, the effect is dramatic but I still shoot IR in the winter when there are no leaves and the grass is dead or snow covered.
Cars: Regular blog readers or podcast listeners know I’m nutty about cars and I used my other IR-converted camera, an EOS Rebel Xti, to make the above shot that was later digitally colored in Photoshop. Infrared images don’t have to be strictly black and white and that’s why I also like to apply digital toning effects to IR image files.
Architecture: The listener didn’t mention architecture but professional architectural photographers have long used infrared film to make images of buildings. That’s partly because IR photography cuts through any haze, adds contrast, and produces pure black skies—it’s even nicer when you’ve got some clouds—to make photographs of buildings look even more dramatic.
Portraits. In my book on infrared photography, I show a few portraits using digital IR-converted cameras but not everybody agrees with this idea. Some, like our own Scott Bourne, think it adds a creepy “Twilight” (the vampires ya know?) feel to the images because the subject’s eyes will look a bit odd and something only Bela Lugosi would love. But if you’re careful, aren’t too close, and have the subject looking off to the side, it shouldn’t bother you. If it’s doesn’t, then it’s time to move onto other subjects.
The listener suggested macro and I’ve never tried it but now I will. He also suggested nighttime city streets and while I’m doubtful there’s a whole lot of infrared light bouncing around at night, it would be fun to try. And that’s what infrared digital imaging is all about, having fun with photography no matter what subject you decide to photograph.
Joe is the author of “The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography” (http://amzn.to/dRVDOJ) as well as thirty-three other books about photography, computers, and digital imaging.
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