Steps into Infrared (5 photos)

During a recent Google+ conversation about infrared (IR) photography with my friend Shannon Johnson, I mentioned that I hoped to try it one day. Shortly after, he sent me an email and asked me if I wanted to borrow his IR-converted camera for a couple of weeks. How could I resist? :-D

The camera is a Sony A7r, ie. a full-frame, mirrorless camera with a 36 megapixel sensor (with is probably pretty much identical to the one in the D800). Since Nikon lenses don’t fit on the camera and Shannon gave me his Canon lens adapter, my friend Frank Rodrick helped me out with two essential lenses. Yesterday afternoon I took the combination along for a walk with Toni, at the nearby Bluesky Ecological Reserve in Poway.

Five of the photos that I made are below. These are so-called “red-blue swapped” infrared images. In infrared, the sky is of a dark brown or orange, and for these photos, I wasn’t too thrilled with that look. Maybe it was just the name of the place ;) but I think the blue sky (even though it’s a strange blue) works better here.

Thanks you both, Shannon and Frank, for your generosity! For the more technically minded, I’m sharing a couple of observations below the gallery.

Some technical and otherwise relevant observations:

The camera. I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs for almost 10 years now. The Sony’s user interface and usage concept is, at least in parts, very different from what I’m used to – and I didn’t expect that it would be such a struggle. There’s no denying that, as I’m getting older, it gets harder to adapt to new stuff. For example, I haven’t figured out how to move the focus point around! :) (but to be honest, I didn’t bother to find the A7r manual online yet either, so that’s my fault).

I’m having some difficulties adjusting to the small and rather “edgy” camera body. Shannon left his L-plate attached which increases the size somewhat and makes it easier to handle the camera. Nevertheless, my hands are (very) used to the larger D800 body with its relatively smooth buttons and controls, and I think in terms of ergonomics, the DSLR design that has grown over decades into what it is today, is hard to beat.

One thing worth mentioning is the electronic viewfinder. Even though I’m not convinced by them yet entirely, in case of an IR-converted camera, it’s an insane advantage of mirrorless over DSLRs to be able to see the IR image directly in the viewfinder. Yes, DSLRs have live view, but being able to block all ambient light by using the viewfinder is great, especially with infrared photography – which looks awesome in brutally bright daylight with harsh contrasts, precisely the situation where “conventional” live view has its limits.

Post processing. The main difficulty here is white balance. On the camera display the images look as expected: foliage and greenery is white or light grey, the sky has a dark orange or brown color. I actually like that look! After importing the photos into Lightroom though, they look horrible, way, way too warm, and Lightroom’s white balance tool doesn’t have a wide enough range to normalize IR photos.

After a quick search I found a tutorial by Robert Reiser with the solution: a customized camera profile. Really simple. In addition to the recommended white balance adjustment, I also adjusted the blue hue, in order to get that orange/brown sky I’ve been seeing in the camera display. Without adjustment, it would be more of a mustardish yellow or ocher, which looked less ideal (mostly because it made the separation of foreground and sky more difficult – the reason why the above photos are blue/red swapped).

In the comments to Robert Reiser’s tutorial, another reader mentioned a custom profile that has the “red/blue swap” integrated, so it can all be done in Lightroom. I tweaked that one a little bit for better white balance, and now I have a “normal” IR profile and a red/blue swap IR profile in Lightroom to choose from. They both work pretty well.

That’s it for now. I’ll sure be posting more infrared photos, and additional observations when I see fit. Stay tuned.

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks for mentioning my article! I will try and use the information you provided here to update it at a later point, to make it more useful for everyone. Good luck with your journey into infrared photography :-)

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