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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Invisible Light

Nevada Wier’s color infrared images show the people and places she photographs in an ethereal and surreal way

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With a camera that has been modified for IR shooting, Wier generates RAW files and applies a custom profile to get the tones and colors just right. Above: A scene from a Dong Tribe festival in Huanggang village, Guizhou, China, 2012.
Photographing with IR light has different complications than visible light. The sun is the primary source of infrared light; thus, the best infrared photographs tend to be captured in direct sunlight or bright, open shade. IR light has a longer wavelength, coming into focus at a different point than visible light, so it's difficult to predict exactly where the focal point will be in an image. It's possible to convert your camera so you can focus accurately with your LCD screen, but that isn't convenient for me; I need to work quickly, so using a viewfinder is my preference. Therefore, I keep my IR camera on Aperture Priority at ƒ/8 or ƒ/11, and I adjust the ISO, as necessary. It does mean that focus can be hit or miss, so sometimes I actually bracket my focusing. This approach has worked well for me so far.

Processing and printing an infrared image requires a deft understanding of technology in order to bring forth the subtle colors within. It's necessary to make a custom white balance for your converted IR camera. I usually use a white sheet of paper in direct sunlight; some people like to use green foliage. Unfortunately, most editing programs—Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Apple Aperture, etc.—can't read a custom profile for a RAW infrared image, as the temperature range is beyond these programs. If you use JPEGs instead of RAW, then you're in luck, as the white balance is embedded in your processed JPEG image. Since the image on the back of your camera actually displays a JPEG of your RAW image with the custom white balance, it looks great—there. However, as soon as you bring it into Lightroom or another program, it pops to a wild magenta. I've found that a lot of people get flustered by this and elect to solve the magenta problem by turning their IR images into black-and-white images. They then miss out on the subtle colors inherent in an IR image.

Initially, I photographed RAW+JPEG and edited the JPEGs in Lightroom. When I found an image I liked, I'd process the RAW version in the Canon Digital Photo Professional software, convert the image to a TIFF file and then work on the image in Photoshop. It was a laborious, but effective process. However, recently, I discovered that when I use the free Adobe DNG Converter application, I can make a custom profile for my IR camera. The profile is installed in the Color Calibration menu, and I can use it when importing RAW images into my library. Voilà! The custom white balance is revealed. It's a beautiful thing!

Infrared images make compelling prints. I currently have a show at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with 32 infrared images. I make all of my prints in my studio; I feel the same magic today as I did watching images emerge in the darkroom, although now they come from a printer. As with all of my images, I crop sparingly and never change any content. However, I do make choices about how deep or saturated I want the inherent blue, yellow and, occasionally, magenta tones to appear in a print.

I'm not ready to completely turn myself into solely an infrared photographer. When I'm traveling and photographing, I carry two Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras—one for visible light and one for infrared light. I increasingly reach more and more often for the IR camera. The resulting photographs are truly travel images in a different light. What's invisible becomes art—revealed.

See more of Nevada Wier's photography at www.nevadawier.com.

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