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I love dramatic-looking Infrared images, and I have found that quite often I can take an otherwise unimpressive image and make it pop by simply working with Selective Color and Hue/Saturation in Photoshop.
Here’s an example below
This is a Standard Infrared image at 720 nm. I shot this in St. Louis during my workshop last month.
The image is nice, but that’s the best I can say about it.
There wasn’t anything in the sky going on to help this image.
We can do more with this image with a little post-production.
Here’s what I ended up with after working with the image for just a few minutes.
So, would you like to know how I did it?
Rather than walk you thru the steps written out, I have a video that explains it better
So, how was that? Not too tough didn’t take too long and gave good results.
As an artist, what are you afraid of?
One thing I have learned over the years is that most artists are their own worst critics. Many times artists are slowed, or even stopped by their own insecurities. Often though, by moving from a place of comfort to the unknown they find they can do amazing things.
Craig Strong, the inventor, and genius behind the Lens baby lenses decided to explore this aspect of artistic life thru a new podcast series, called Moving Through Fear.
As Craig put it:
“The Moving Through Fear Podcast presented by Lensbaby is a space for photographers and creatives to come together to talk about their journey of stepping out of their comfort zone and into their extraordinary greatness. Hosted by Lensbaby Co-Founder Craig Strong, the Moving Through Fear Podcast is for those looking to be connected through the journey of struggle, success, and discovering self. “
If you’ve read much of our Blogs, you know I am a big fan of Lensbaby lenses. The Velvet series lenses will always have a spot in my camera bag. One of the best things about Lensbaby is their philosophy as a company as they not only want to make quality art lenses, but they also want to encourage and inspire people. Everything they do is about stepping out of the box and expressing your unique artistic views.
This podcast was a natural next step. Craig Strong got together with artists and said, “Hey, let’s talk” and these podcasts are that conversation. These podcasts are relaxed and have the feeling of two people chatting over coffee. I encourage you to give them a listen. I love the insight into how other artists see things. I was also thrilled to be a part of this podcast in episode 11. I felt very nervous at the start, but Craig is a great personality and puts you at ease.
If you like the series, be sure to leave a review on iTunes.
In the Caribbean Sea just south of Cuba is the island of Hispaniola. The island contains the nation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. While I can’t suggest visiting Haiti, the Dominican Republic is a tropical paradise.
For a photographer, it’s a dream come true. For an infrared photographer even more so.
Super Color Infrared at 590nm, Canon R5, RF 16mm lens
I’ve made several trips to “The D.R.” and in case you’d like to consider a visit and photo shoot, I’d like to pass on a few suggestions.
The DR is larger than you probably think. At roughly 18,704 square miles, it’s the equivalent of the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. To drive around the island would take you about 35 hours, non-stop. Most tourists tend to go to Santo Domingo, or Punta Cana. These are both resort areas, which is great if you want breakfast buffets and unlimited drink options, but not so great if you want great shots of empty beaches. It is for that reason that I fly in, get a car and get far away from the resorts. In my case, I developed an affinity for Las Terrenas. Located 225 km from Santo Domingo, it is an easy drive to get there. Once there, you will find everything from small, out-of-way places to several large resort hotels.
There are a few obvious things; it’s a tropical climate, have plenty of bottled water, wear a good sunscreen.
When I did my first day-shoot in the DR I wore myself out because I had so much to carry. I had a large backpack full of lenses and a full-size tripod.
That was a mistake.
Since the majority of what you’ll be shooting is landscape-type images, I use an ultra-wide lens the most. In my case, as a Canon shooter, I went with a full-spectrum converted Canon R5 with the Canon RF 16mm f2.8 lens or the IRIX EF 15mm f 2.4 lens with the EF-RF converter ring. Both of these lenses work well for Infrared, posing no problems with hotspots. The IRIX lens is a personal favorite of mine, but the RF16mm is very small and easy to travel with. About 95% of what I shot was done with an ultra-wide lens, the rest was with a 24-105mm. Because I am shooting Infrared, I prefer the EF 24-105mm f4 L as it has no hotspots. The RF 24-105mm f4 L can be prone to hotspot issues. If you want to be certain you don’t miss any shot, consider a lightweight telephoto. In my case that was the Canon RF 100-400 f/5.6-8 is usm lens. This lens is very light, moderately priced, and has no hotspot issues.
Now I’ve gone from a big bulky backpack to the ThinkTank Photo Retrospective 15 backpack that is small and manageable and doesn’t look like a camera bag.
Because I trimmed down my gear to just what I really needed, I had space for other things like a poncho.
Which is a good idea. Like most tropical locales it’s not unusual for there to be s sudden, quick burst of rain.
I also brought extra batteries and memory cards. Nothing is worse than being in the perfect spot and then running out of battery or storage. This brings us to the next point.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying the best time to shoot a vertical shot is right after a horizontal one.
Do it. You won’t regret it. There is no such thing as overshooting with digital photography. End up with images you don’t need? There’s a delete key for that.
Here we have a Standard IR image at 720nm and a Hyper Color image at 470nm
Along the same line as the previous one, try the same scene in Color and Infrared. Or, if you have the capability, try different wavelengths of IR. You will see a difference in the images. If you have a full-spectrum camera you just change the filters on the lens. If you have a dedicated conversion you can go up the spectrum. For example, if you are shooting Super Color Infrared at 590nm you can add a 665nm, or 720nm filter to capture IR images.
Here is the same scene in Super Color IR at 590nm, and Hyper Color IR at 470nm
Super Color IR at 590nm, and Standard IR at 720nm
The same scene can have a different feel depending on the nanometer of Infrared you capture the image in.
I often hear photographers say they wish they’d more time at a location. Plan for that.
Don’t pull up to a spot and say, “I’ll only be a minute”.
You are either going to miss some great shooting opportunities or irritate the person you are traveling with. I have found that the location I can park is often far away from the best image locations. Wander a bit, it will pay off.
This next part goes with this idea
Ever drive along and think, “I wonder where that road goes?” Find out! Some of the best images I’ve made where taken in such locations. One of my favorite images from this year’s trip to DR is a spot I found by following a road until it ended and I was faced with this. Just a few horses among the palm trees.
Super Color Infrared at 590nm
I never would have found this if I didn’t get off the beaten path.
Don’t be afraid to experiment while you are shooting. I always carry a 5-stop ND filter whenever I go out to shoot. In bright conditions, it will often improve the contrast.
Since I had it, why not try some longer exposures?
So I did. And it worked out.
This is a Super Color IR image at 720nm, ISO 50, f11, 15 seconds
And without a tripod!
How? I used a fallen tree to balance the camera. The image was slightly unlevel, but that was easily corrected. I liked the blurred water and the movement of the palm fronds helped created the feeling of movement.
So, what do you think? If you are looking for a great place to shoot Infrared, consider the Dominican Republic.
If you’d like to see the entire series I made on the D.R. click here
Let’s go through some simple steps to getting a great long exposure Infrared image.
#1. Get a good tripod.
Over the past few years, the quality of tripods has improved and the prices are reasonable. Carbon fiber tripods are usually best as they are very light and easy to carry. I use a tripod made by Sirui, The Traveler, and it weighs under 2 pounds.
#2 Get good quality, Infrared neutral density filters
If you’ve shot long-exposure images before, you know that not all ND filters are the same. Many will add a color cast to the images that you then have to deal with in post-production. When it comes to Infrared photography, some ND filters have little to no effect or only offer half the number of stops they are marked for when used for natural color photography. Prior to their release, I tested the Life Pixel IR ND filters and I can tell you that they truly offer both 5-stop and 10-stop reduction for both Infrared and natural color images. That’s great because you only need to carry one set of ND filters for all your photography.
The question that often comes up is, “Do I need a 5-stop or 10-stop, or both?” I carry both as it allows me to adapt to every shooting scenario. Depending on shooting conditions and the amount of available light, I’ve even had circumstances where I’ve stacked a 5-stop on a 10-stop because I needed it. On seriously sunny shoots, I will use a 5-stop ND filter and still be able to shoot hand-held to maximize my contrast in the images.
#3 Pick your scene to fit a long exposure.
The idea with a long exposure is to capitalize on the effect of keeping your shutter open longer. There are things that will help make these images look better, and a few things to consider not doing as well. If you are shooting a scene with water, especially running water, a long exposure will blur the water.
This is a Super Color 9-minute exposure with a 10-stop ND at ISO50, f22
Even a pond will take on a different look as the surface will get smooth and mirror-like.
This is a Super Color 4-minute exposure with a 5-stop ND at ISO 50, f22
Now, see what happened to the clouds in this image? Often times I will try long exposures on cloudy days as it adds a little to the images when the clouds show movement.
However, if it’s windy, that can blur your trees, which may or may not be the look you are going for.
#4 Set your camera properly
Make it easier on yourself by setting your camera right. Start with the lowest ISO setting you have available. Many new mirrorless cameras have a “Low” ISO setting which is the equivalent of ISO 50. By setting your ISO you now need more light. Next, take your f-stop to a higher number. The higher numbered f-stop requires more light.
Here’s a little trick; in a pinch when I didn’t have an ND filter I have dropped my ISO to 50, upped my f-stop to f22, and have been able to lengthen my shutter speed sufficiently to capture a long exposure.
#5 Use a remote or delayed shutter
When you are capturing a long exposure, the last thing you want is anything that negatively affects the image. No matter how careful you are, pressing the shutter button can jar the camera slightly, affecting the image. Most cameras allow for some sort of remote shutter activation by a wireless remote or a cellphone app. If you don’t want to do this, instead consider setting your camera for a delay. Then when you press the shutter button you can move your hand away before the shutter actually opens.
#6 Budget more time for long exposures
One thing that always amuses me is how long it takes to capture such a small number of long exposures. I have had a one-hour shoot time generate only 6 or 7 images. Give yourself enough time to try different things and to shoot different exposure times. If possible, try a location at different times of the day for a different look.
#7 (Most Important) Enjoy the process!
I watch some people shoot and they get so serious I wonder if they are actually enjoying themselves? This is your art form, and for many, your hobby…. it should be fun. Enjoy the process! Try different things, different exposure times, camera heights, and camera angles. Don’t stress over the results, focus your energy on enjoying the image capture experience. If the images don’t turn out the way you want, ……… don’t show them to anyone and go back and try again.
Below are a few more examples of Infrared long exposures.
I have a portfolio of IR long exposures you can see here.
Like most photographers, I love black-and-white infrared images. There is a purity and intensity to a well-crafted monochrome image, and there are many software options out there to help convert an image to black-and-white. In my experience, the best way to convert an infrared image to monochrome is a method that gives me the most control over how each color is translated. Filters that automate the conversion process often don’t allow for fine control, or end up creating images that are noisy, grainy, or just look too “cookie cutter.” I don’t want someone to see my monochrome infrared images and respond, “Oh, you used that ‘insert name’ filter.”
I prefer to convert each image manually, taking into consideration the unique characteristics of the image.
I’ve developed an easy, three-step process that works well with infrared images.
Let’s start with this image.
This is a Super Color image at 590nm.
We want to start with an infrared image that’s been corrected for exposure and color, so begin by making these basic adjustments. If you are not proficient with levels and curves, consider using Photoshop’s auto-corrections under the Image menu: Auto Tone, Auto Contrast, and Auto Color
Then complete a red/blue channel swap. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, watch this YouTube video of mine.
Now you have an image that looks like this.
This completes step one.
Once you have an infrared image that looks natural and properly exposed, select Image / Adjustments / Black & White.
This opens the Black and White dialogue with six color channel sliders: Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, and Magentas
These sliders control how each color will be rendered in your black-and-white conversion. By moving a slider to the left, you darken that color, and by moving the slider to the right, you lighten that color. Here you’ll begin to create a unique interpretation of your image based on your personal artistic preferences. Take your time with this step and remember that each color will become a different shade or tone.
As is the case with Super Color Infrared, we have four color tones, Red, Yellow, Blue & Cyan. I chose to darken the Blue and Cyan tones to add intensity to the sky. I then proceeded to lighten the Red and Yellow tones in the foliage to make it pop out against the darker sky. There’s no right or wrong amount of adjustment here—you’re simply experimenting to find the look that you want. When you’re done, click “OK”. Now the image looks like this.
Now for the last step.
The last step is to fine-tune your monochrome Infrared image for even more control over the tonality.
For this, we’ll use Selective Color: Image / Adjustments / Selective Color
This step really makes a big difference in the final look of your image.
In the Selective Color dialogue, you’ll see four sliders: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. We’re going to use the Black slider exclusively.
You’ll also see a Colors drop-down menu. This menu allows you to select the colors and tonal ranges in your image and adjust them individually (Figure 8). Since we’re adjusting a monochrome image, we’ll only be working with Whites, Neutrals, and Blacks.
Select these from the drop-down one at a time and then move the Black slider to make your adjustments. Moving the slider to the right adds more black and moving it to the left reduces the amount of black.
When adjusting your Whites, reducing black will make the whites pop, but you lose detail. If you add black, you’ll see more detail in the highlights. Adjusting your Neutrals will have more of a global effect, lightening or darkening the image overall. Finally, increasing the Black in your Black channel will produce intense, deep shadows which is what creates the drama in a black-and-white image that most people look for, especially with infrared images.
In my example image, I chose to increase the Black in the White channel to bring more detail into the palm fronds. Next, I increased the Black in the Neutral channel to slightly darken the image overall. Then, I increased the Black in the Black channel just a bit to add a touch more contrast.
Here’s the finished image.
And here is a side-by-side comparison, before and after.
Now, wasn’t this easy?
Creating dramatic black-and-white images doesn’t require a difficult process. Examine the colors and tones present in your original image, decide on what elements you want to emphasize, and then use these quick steps to create images with visual impact.