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Thursday, November 1, 2007

My Conversion!

Seeing the infrared light can take your photography to entirely new places

photo traveler: conversion
Experimenting with infrared opens up a whole new look for your photography. IR film was a finicky and difficult material to work with at the best of times, but a standard D-SLR can be converted easily to an IR came

I must admit, I always loved the look of black-and-white infrared photography. There’s something otherworldly and dramatic about the effect, yet it doesn’t look hokey and gimmicky like some other special processes. Since most of my work is for travel magazines, I didn’t have a lot of call for alternative-process techniques, and in the film era, I frankly didn’t have the patience to deal with infrared film. It had to be loaded and unloaded in total darkness and required filters, long-exposure times and special handling by the lab—all in all, too much trouble to shoot along with my color work on a casual basis.

But Elizabeth explained to me how most digital sensors are sensitive to infrared, and camera makers have to put a filter on them to filter out the infrared. There are shops in the U.S. (see the sidebar for a list), however, that restore the infrared sensitivity of select cameras by removing that filter and replacing it with one that allows some or a lot of infrared to strike the sensor, and voiliá you’re shooting infrared photos with the same ease and speed as regular color digital pictures.

Needless to say, as soon as I got home, I dug out one of my old D70s and sent it off to be converted. I took it with me on an assignment in Iceland and Scotland, and it was an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience! The landscapes of Iceland are often stark and otherworldly, and the light can be quite dramatic. Although my primary job was to shoot color, I found myself reaching for the converted D70 more and more often, and when I got back home, it was the black-and-white infrareds that really had me excited. I’ve since taken the camera on a few other assignments, and while I’m no expert in the field, I’ve picked up a few pointers that may help you if you should decide to convert!

Which Camera, Which Lens.
As in straight digital photography, a digital SLR will give you the highest image quality. Although I chose a 6-megapixel D-SLR, I could have sent a D200 or a D80 and gotten 10-megapixel quality. But I didn’t want to sacrifice one of my main machines for this grand experiment and, truthfully, I’ve always been pleased with the image quality from my D70s. Since I had a couple of them hanging around, I decided to convert one of them. (I have a tough time parting with my gear once I upgrade—call me sentimental; in the case of the D70s, though, I also kept them around because I have an underwater housing specifically for that model.)

You also can convert digital point and-shoots and EVF (electronic viewfinder) cameras. The specific models that you can convert vary with each shop that does the conversion; check their websites for the latest list of convertible models.

Choosing a lens to use with the camera is also important. Infrared doesn’t focus in quite the same way as visible light (older readers will remember the IR hashmark on the focusing barrels of old manual-focus prime lenses—it was just off from the main focus point), so lens compatibility is important. Life Pixel, where I had my D70 converted, calibrates its D70 conversions for the venerable kit lens that came with that camera, the 18-70mm ED.

I had one of these in my equipment closet and always was well pleased with its optical performance. It works like a dream on the converted camera, although I’ve also used the 18-200mm Nikkor VR with equally good results.

File Format And White-Balance Choices.
You can shoot either JPEG or RAW with the infrared conversion (provided your particular camera is capable of RAW capture). It’s a matter of your own shooting style.


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