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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Light, Heat And Life: Infrared Photography In A Digital Age


Infrared photography is an enigma—something that isn't as it first appears. It plays with the viewer's emotions and often brings out the whimsical side or the eerie, dark shadows in everyone's hearts.


A majestic great egret, its black beak and legs contrasted against the body‚’s bright white plumage. While the feathers remain a bright white, when going infrared, the beak and legs become a stark black. A majestic great egret, its black beak and legs contrasted against the body‚’s bright white plumage. While the feathers remain a bright white, when going infrared, the beak and legs become a stark black

I love to have fun with my photography, and infrared is no exception. When George Lepp lent me his Canon EOS D60 that had been converted to infrared, I went wild. I spent the afternoon trying everything—hot white agave reflecting the sun, brooding copses with weedy branches in the shade and the still water of a swimming pool surrounded by the exotic filigree of coconut palms and ferns. Later, I created startling images in Photoshop that would challenge the viewer to see again, asking the audience to confront reflected light and see beyond the red end of the visible spectrum.

The Digital Age

Years ago, I tried infrared photography with film. I gave up trying because it was expensive and difficult to get right. But I loved the results—sparkling whites, dense darks and delicate shadings along a broad spectrum of grays. Today, it’s easier. With a digital camera converted to infrared, it’s possible to experiment and see light in a way that you never imagined.

You can play outdoors in the mid-day sun because infrared is best in sunlight. But foggy moments in low light can also work well. The key is structure; "cold" nonreflective darks give arrangement and composition to "hot" life, as chords give structure to a melody. There’s no limit to the types of infrared photography you can try. Landscapes, flowers, birds, mammals, reptiles, travel photography and people are but a few subjects to explore.

I’ve used lenses from a 16mm fish-eye to a 600mm telephoto and traveled to locations from Hawaii to Alaska, Mexico to Europe and all over the continental United States. On my left shoulder sits my Canon EOS 5D, but on my right shoulder the infrared Canon EOS D60 waits for its moment, ready to stoke my imagination and uncover the serene beauty of undiscovered scenes.

The Eye Of The Beholder

You have to "see" differently for infrared. You must learn to visualize reflected light and heat, as well as shade and cold in different ways. First, the importance of finding structure, design and shape is paramount to your composition.

Cold objects in infrared abound. Tree trunks, patterns of shade, fences, rocks, ridges, still water, the legs and beaks of birds, and crevices in reptiles are prime examples. Even blue sky turns black because there’s no reflected light.

After you find structure, you add life—literally. Life is hot and white in the world of infrared.

Photosynthesis is hot. Leaves reflect sunlight and appear white, unless cooled by the shade. Palm fronds are delicate arrangements of pure, white-hot life against the backdrop of a clear blue (think black) sky. Clouds are shapes and shades of gray and white arranged on that same backdrop.





Left to Right: A surreal coconut palm grove on Molokai, Hawaii, stretches upward; The structure of a plumeria flower glows stark white as it opens in the sunlight; Bald cypress trees at Corkscrew, some approaching 600 years in age and reaching heights of 130 feet, reflected in a lake.



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