Colour infrared – the early days

… actually, the very earliest of days as I’ve only had the one outing yesterday with the camera so far, despite having it almost a month, due to the paying photo-work and a week away.colour IR image #2

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So, first things first: What is it that I’ve got here? Well, it’s a conversion of a digital SLR camera to allow it to see infrared (IR) light, in addition to visible (to humans) light. The sensor can actually detect IR, but a filter is added to prevent this happening in normal use. In order to see it with the camera, this must be removed. There is then a choice of various replacement filters, depending exactly what kind of IR photography you are considering. This site explains it in more depth. You can get the same results with an IR filter on the front of the lens, but these are so dark that a tripod and long exposures are required. Not my style of working at all!

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Now, in the UK, the cost of such a conversion is around £250 plus whatever camera you supply. Or you can pay for a ready-converted one. USA prices are around $250 for the same thing, plus any import duties and taxes. So, not being sure about this whole thing, I found a very helpful guy on ebay, based in Lithuania (no import duties to the UK, I checked!), and contacted him. Now, he normally converts the low-end Canon cameras, which I don’t like, so I decided that an EOS 30D would be just right. Apparently, they go for more over there, so I sourced a pristine one from ebay in the UK for around £100, and shipped it over there using the Royal Mail 3-5 days trackable service, for £15. Which took over two weeks and isn’t. Still it got there, and more importantly, was returned after the conversion, which was $150 including delivery (around £93 at the time I had it done). Total cost: less than £210. A good deal, I think, but around five weeks total time, so not for those in a hurry. Oh, and I did the entire transaction outside of ebay, which you are absolutely not supposed to do. But sometimes, it’s good to just trust someone.

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It arrived safely home just before I was going away for a week, so playing has had to wait for a bit of spare time! Now the 30D is only 8.2MP, but I can use the batteries, charger and grip from my old, defunct 40D, plus it is of higher build quality than the plasticy low-end EOS models, even if they do have a higher pixel-count.

Now, I know from my research that the somewhat-clichéd snowy-white foliage thing is often what gets taken with such cameras, and yes, I’ve tried it! But I want to see what else it can do beyond that, having been inspired by the stark, beautiful photos of Iceland taken by Andy Lee. I wasn’t expecting that on my first outing by any means! More, I wanted to see how different settings, subjects, lighting conditions and materials work, so an hour or so at the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and another hour around Sheffield both provided a wonderful testing-ground for this.

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Now, being honest, it’s hands-up to a bit of a cock-up here: I forgot to set the custom white-balance on the camera, using green grass, and left it on auto. So, when doing the traditional red-blue channel swap in Photoshop, I had way too much blue present. But, it was relatively easy for me to dial it down in the channel-mixer and use the various Levels, Curves and Colour Balance functions to get some usable image out of my session. I know a few tricks!

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The following three images show the uncorrected (and auto-white-balanced) image from the camera; the colourised version; and also a b&w version I rather liked using my Google Nik plugins. And yes, it’s the clichéd snowy-tree look! I guess everyone does that at first, so I’ll do it now and try to move on rapidly!

colour IR image #1a colour IR image #1b colour IR image #1cIs it art? Not for me to say? But is it a worthwhile technique? Yes, I think so, depending on the subject and what you are trying to get from it. I will definitely be trying some more work with it, and I’m already thinking that Kinder would be good for a return visit, after my recent b,&w work there.

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Certain subjects, lighting conditions, and post-processing techniques seem to work really well, and I think that with practice, I’ll be producing some work that I will be happy with. And I am my own hardest critic (I think!). Any comments would be much appreciated, even if it’s just along the lines of ‘that one isn’t bad, but that one sucks’. Thanks for stopping by.

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About Chris Senior

Photographer, wit, travel-junkie, MSc student and practising eccentric! Prog rock nut and baker of tasty cakes.
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