Cottonwood Variations in Infrared (3×3 photos)

En route to a hike in the Warner Springs area, I of course had to stop at “my tree” to photograph it with Shannon‘s infrared converted camera. By now, I’ve got long exposure blends, night photos, dawn photos, storm photos, fog photos, black & white photos, color photos of that tree – there’s really not much left to add. Except for infrared. :-)

One of the problems that I’m facing with infrared photos is that I just can not make up my mind with regards to the processing and presentation. So here is a set of three photos of the Cottonwood tree, presented in all three variations: the natural, very warm infrared color, black & white, and the blue-and-red color swapped version (I add a little warmth to the highlights to the latter, with Split Toning, in Lightroom).

So pick your favorite. I love them all! The color versions a bit more than the black & whites, actually. :-)

From a technical point of view, these images were a real pain to process, and the reason is… sensor dust. I learned the hard way that, while the Sony A7r does have a shutter, it is open all the time except for that brief period of time when you actually make a photo. This means that yes, the shutter is open when you turn the camera off and when you remove the lens! By comparison, the shutter of any DSLR that I know is closed when you turn the camera off and/or remove the lens (unless you activate Live View and then pull the battery while the camera is on).

I have no idea why Sony made the A7 series of cameras that way – and the fact that a camera system with interchangeable lenses leaves the sensor exposed at all times has me indeed flabbergasted. Even more so since these mirrorless cameras do of course not have a large and deep chamber with a mirror, where the sensor is at least rather recessed, and hidden behind both mirror and shutter like on a DSLR. The filter surface is just half an inch or so away from the big bad dusty world.

So I’m happily changing lenses out in the open in the field just like I do it with our DSLRs, and I yes the thought for a moment “hmmmm is that black thing the IR filter?” (the IR filter that sits in front of the sensor really is pitch black) crossed my mind, but I dismissed it because I thought “nah, that would be silly – it just has to be the shutter, right?” …but nope! It’s not the shutter. It’s the sensor (filter) indeed.

The above photos were made on day two of using the camera, and when I inspected them on the computer at night I almost fell of my chair. Sensor dust hell! Because yes, it’s dusty out there no matter how fast you are changing lenses.

How did no one at Sony insist on a simple safety mechanism that closes the shutter when the camera is turned off, or the lens is removed?! I have no words for just how stupid I think this design is. There’s no other way to put it: this is a major drawback to mirrorless camera systems with interchangeable lenses.

The time I spent cloning away dust spots probably goes towards 30 minutes, maybe even more. Why? I clean up the first image, then clone the settings to the other images – easy, right? But I would of course miss a couple of spots on the first turn… and on the second turn… and third turn. :-P First rule of digital photography: there’s always one more dust spot… (and you’ll discover it only after uploading the photo everywhere).

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12 Responses

    1. It’s interesting how we seem to gravitate towards a more “normal” looking image, even though it’s the result of manipulation. Seeing that the orange-toned “real ones” are what’s coming out of the camera, I’m drawn towards those, even though I can see the appeal of the channel-swapped versions (which is why I picked one of those as the feature image for the post;-).

  1. I was wondering when (not if) your favorite tree would make an appearance in infrared. :-)
    I really enjoyed the series with my personal favorite being the faux color version in the 2nd row.

  2. I’m inclined to agree – it’s hard to choose between the variations :-) but if I had to pick one I think i’d go with the orange-sky ones. They feel more obviously IR, and the contrast is visually stronger too. Funny, as normally I prefer B&W IR images.

    Oh, and you mention that the filter is black – so the IR modification wasn’t simply removing the IR-block filter, but replacing it with a visible-light-cut?

    1. Yes that’s right. For an IR conversion, the standard filter (which blocks UV and IR light) is replaced by an IR pass filter. There is also a so called “full spectrum” conversion where the standard filter is replaced with an allpass filter. With such a conversion, you then use lens filters to make the photos you desire (IR, UV or normal).

  3. Love these! Do you know what IR filter Shannon chose? 720nm, 665nm, 590nm, or d. none of the above:)

    1. Hello Christy, I’m pretty sure it’s a 720nm filter. Colors are rather limited, in the orange/brown range mostly, and foliage can get slightly blueish, depending on the situation.

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