Seeing what isn’t there

One reason I enjoy working with infrared is that I’m really not that good at composing very interesting photographs.  I look at a scene, see something appealing to me, make an image and then get back to my computer only to discover the image does not portray the scene I saw.  Something is usually wrong about the depth, the color, the lighting – the image just doesn’t equal what I saw.

Some photographers advise you to make images that embody the feelings you had when looking at a scene.  In other words, the image doesn’t have to be a faithful reproduction of what you saw as much as eliciting similar feelings in the viewer.  I have a hard enough time recognizing the emotional appeal of a great photograph, much less figuring out how to embody that in a scene I’m standing in front of.

Hence, infrared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sure, standing where I was to make this image you would see all the elements here – the stream, the grass, the trees, bridge and clouds.  But with infrared you couldn’t stand there and see this image, no matter how hard you tried.  Our eyes and brain prevent us from seeing infrared directly.  We can only see it after some tool that can see infrared processes the image for us.  And that means I can make it look anyway I want just to satisfy the way I “feel” about the look of infrared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Infrared images don’t care what colors you were looking at (OK, they do care but the final viewer is hard pressed to reverse engineer the image to know which colors make which “look” so really colors don’t matter), they don’t care about the soft quality of the light, they don’t care about pin-sharp details.  It’s all about the unearthly look, the glow of the foliage, the darkness of the sky and water.  The extreme contrast makes the image seem to have depth in a way the color version wouldn’t portray.  Getting rid of the color enables the photographer to draw attention to the tones; getting rid of most of the spectrum enables the photographer to point out a new world within the one right before our eyes.

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