Seaview Digital Infrared0000Digital infrared photographs of the seagrass lining the shore at Seaview, WA. The discovery trail runs from Cape Disappointment State Park north along the Washington coastline through the […]
I recently started a photographic lighting course at Photo Center NW which is a quick 15 minute walk from my apartment.
I’ve been wanting to get more into portraiture but all of my experience is using available light. After purchasing a few hot lights followed by some Alien Bees strobes I messed around a bit and then left the lights on my shelf to collect dust. It turns out that lighting is a bit more complicated than I thought. I’m also the kind of person who learns best when given a basic introduction to a subject so I don’t spend forever wandering around the starting line trying to decide which direction the race is run.
The first assignment was a still life using continuous lighting. I decided to use paper negatives run through my Super Cambo 4×5 for the assignment as its a lovely medium for taking photos of things that can sit very still. Using a view camera is tricky business so its often a good idea to take a number of digital shots first, chimp, and then try to convert seven stops of exposure between ISO 200 and ISO 3 in your head.
An amusing side effect of taking photos of an onion with a 600 watt light (at ISO 3 you can’t afford to diminish the intensity of the light in any way) held relatively close to the subject is that the heat given off by the lamp begins to cook the root vegetable. By the end of the 3 hour session required for the shoot my apartment smelled like fry up.
Here are a few outtakes.
There are any number of challenges to pursuing large format photography but one of the most pressing for the amateur is the issue of cost. Even if you go with the increasingly popular Eastern European film manufacturers such as Foma a single sheet of black and white 4×5 film costs anywhere between $1.10 and $2.50 even in quantity. Then there’s the processing costs which are not inconsequential even if you’re doing it at home. While a professional can write off the cost on their taxes or pass the costs on to their clients the amateur is stuck eating the expense on the vague hope of selling a print at some point in the future.
Personally I just stopped worry about the prospect of selling prints and have written the cost of photography off as not only cheaper than therapy but much healthier as lugging even a compact 4×5 field camera such as my Shen Hao PTB over hill and dale is excellent exercise. Yet, even for the bachelor who has no one to account to for their not insignificant hobby expenses blowing $120 per hundred exposures is difficult to justify.
Finding a way to control the cost of film was the primary motivation behind my initial experiments with paper negatives. An 8×10 sheet of paper could be cut up into four 4×5 sheets which very quickly reduced costs to around $.25 a shot. I also find tray development of paper much more pleasant than swinging a fully loaded two liter cocktail shaker of an 8-reel stainless steel tank around for 30 minutes between development, fixing, and washing.
This gallery represents some of my first landscapes. Living in Beacon, NY gives you immediate access to the Hudson River and a tidal marsh adjoins Madame Brett park on the outskirts of the city. The town of Cold Spring just a few minutes ride on the Metro North commuter line to the south and it boasts a spectacular view of Storm King Mountain across the river from its well kept waterfront (and unlike Beacon, its an easy walk to the nearest pub). Water and wetlands are ideal subjects for the long exposures required for paper negatives and the two towns had a great deal to offer.
As in most things finding a less expensive route often comes with its own costs. In the IT industry there’s an old saying that “linux is free if your time is worth nothing”. While paper negatives do have an appeal for the thrifty or budget constrained photographer there is a reason film is still the most common medium for large format photography.
We’ll explore some of my findings in the next issue.
I bought the Fuji X-Pro 1 the minute it was available in the US. My old Pentax K-x was a reliable camera but was growing long in the tooth and I was eager to replace it. The X-Pro came out at just the right time and the temptation of a digital rangefinder(esque) was too great, even with a strictly limited lens selection.
One of the things I had tried with the Pentax was digital infrared but I didn’t have very much success with it. Unless a camera is specifically altered to be a dedicated infrared device there are limitations on the effect. A few months after I had purchased the Fuji X-Pro I read on a forum that the infrared filter was weak on the X-Pro and that it would be a good candidate for digital infrared. After finding an article on the technique I decided to go out and give it a whirl.
The key techniques for digital infrared are:
- An infrared filter (I use a modest Hoya R72 filter)
- Sturdy tripod as exposures can be several seconds
- Setting the white balance in camera
- Post processing.
The most important part for me was remembering to set the white balance manually. The X-Pro does not allow you to use a custom white balance. This is typically done by filling the frame with a leaf (green shows up as white in infrared) and setting the white balance off of that frame. Instead the X-Pro requires you to set a manual Kelvin value so you must set it all the way down to 2500K. Not setting the white balance gives you a photo that’s shifted so far into the red (as the filter will cut out all other light) that it will be very difficult to work with. Even with the manual white balance setting the photos will be extremely red but the white balance can be managed somewhat in post-production.
As the infrared filter cuts out the vast majority of light you either have to crank up the ISO or use a tripod for long exposures. While the X-Pro has excellent high ISO performance I see no reason why you should have to add additional noise to an already noisy frame. Use a tripod with a cable release or the self-timer feature. Even at 200 ISO there will be some noise but not its not excessive. All the photos in the attached gallery were shot using a tripod at ISO 200. Typically the exposure was several seconds (around 2 seconds to 10 seconds).
Using the highest ISO settings can get something resembling hand-holding shutter speeds in bright sunlight but as the most typical infrared subjects are landscapes I don’t see much value. I haven’t tried shooting street scenes using infrared but it might be an interesting exercise. Several photographers including Weegee have used an infrared flash (see some DIY conversion instructions) but generally that’s been used with film, not digital.
Generally I didn’t find that the infrared effect was very strong with the Fuji X-Pro 1. While this was an interesting effect it doesn’t have the same impact as a converted and dedicated infrared camera or infrared film. Post-processing for digital infrared consists of opening the image in photoshop (or another image editor, I use Pixelmator), switching the red and blue channels, then setting the white balance on the color corrected photograph. This will give you a color infrared image. I don’t like that effect very much so I converted the color corrected image into B&W.
The output of the Fuji X-Pro is more like Ilford’s SFX-200 film which is red to infrared sensitive. It will give you a feeling for the infrared but in comparison with the output of a converted digital camera its just not the same. Just as SFX-200 offers the advantage of easier handling and processing, the X-Pro is relatively easy (assuming you remember to set your white balance) as it just involves screwing on a filter. R72 filters aren’t expensive even if purchased new so its a low-cost and zero risk adventure.