Things close to home

Cold weather can be tough for photography, from the batteries and tiny buttons on digital to the adjustments and exposure for film.  The scenes can be interesting if you’re willing to deal with the chill.  And the almost monochromatic look to everything.

So winter is my time to look for B&W opportunities, including infrared.  The bare trees and drifting snow make for some wonderful shapes and textures, and the stark sun in a cloudless sky provides plenty of contrast for shadows.

I continue my education on Ansel Adams’ Zone system for exposure and snow covered landscapes are perfect to experiment with.  The dazzling white snow can through off exposure meters or at least lull you into a sense of complacency on how the image will come out.  Fortunately the dynamic range of my digital and film cameras is usually sufficient to simply place the mid-tone greys in Zone V and let everything else fall where it does.  Here’s an infrared image where I put the grey stones in the wall right on Zone V and was able to retain some detail in the shadow of the wall while holding the texture of the snow in the foreground.  Snow is an almost perfect reflector of all colors so it will be white in infrared just as with B&W.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I’ve had this image for a couple of months, playing around with it.  I really like the detail in the cattail “fuzz” against the dark sky.  I wanted enough depth of field to give a sense of the three-dimensions of the stalk but keep the background blurred so the subject stands out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve finally got our bird feeders arranged to keep the acrobatic squirrels out of the flat feeder we installed for the ground birds like juncos and cardinals.  The feeder is high enough to keep squirrels or raccoons from jumping over the baffle.  Surprisingly it’s also strong enough to support the larger feathered diners who have started coming by.  The snow is apparently deep enough to annoy the turkeys in their scratching for food, so they come by our place for an easy snack. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey are amazingly tolerant of us watching them through the windows.  I think we’ve had upwards of 10-12 on the deck at one time, vacuuming up the sunflower seed and corn I put out for critters who just like to crawl around and graze.  The squirrels don’t really like to mingle with these ladies so I usually put more out after they wander away. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turkey populations have really grown in my lifetime.  Driving around Door County a couple of weeks ago we saw a field with close to 50 of them, all scratching for the corn left from harvest.  Are these the next Canada goose for urban parks?

It’s hard being green (apologies to Kermit)

Weather here has been what passes in Wisconsin as a heat wave, with the usual warnings about high heat indices and drinking enough water.  When the humidity builds and the sun shines freely it means just one thing to me – infrared and clouds!

All that water vapor rising from the ground to hit the cooler air up high makes for wonderful big puffy cloud days.  Combined with all the full foliage, the still air and bright light, infrared is the tool of choice for strongly contrasting and dramatic images.

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ISO 100, 20 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Think of the first photographer who took out a film traditionally used for more utilitarian purposes, made some landscape images on a sunny day, and then processed them just to see what came out.  What a great surprise that must have been, to see what’s around through a different set of eyes.  And then to offer the world an expansion of photography tools to enable us to see the world in an alternate fashion.

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ISO 100, 15 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Some may argue that digital is not the same, that “real” infrared film is only sensitive to those wavelengths whereas the sensor is sensitive to a wider band but has the greens and blues filtered out.  My approach is not that of a purist.  I’m looking for interesting, novel and unique images that are recognizable as infrared and give the high contrast and detail I’m fond of portraying.  I will use infrared film at times, but not that much.  It’s more fun to process a digital image to make it appear just the right way rather than “guessing” how to expose the film and then waiting to see if it was correct.

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ISO 100, 25 sec., f/6.3, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

What’s surprising is you can’t always tell how the luminosity will appear.  In the picture above all the leaves on the trees are green, as is the surface of the tennis court.  Yet the trees all appear to be different tones, and the court surface is darker than most.  Funny – we see green but in the infrared there are a myriad of shades of which we aren’t aware.

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Again, except for the sky, clouds, tree trunks and service lines on the court, everything in this picture is green.  For infrared, not all greens are created equal.  Ain’t that cool!?

Trying a little of everything.

Wandering around a nearby state park, trying out some different techniques.  Nice day to be doing just about any type of photography.

First, with the strong morning sun and no cloud cover shadows were going to be black, but contain some interesting details.  So, go with HDR.

5-image HDR

5-image HDR

Nearing the top of the bluff with almost the whole lake spread out before us, good time to show the complete picture with a panoramic.

10-image Panoramic

10-image Panoramic

One of the most popular rock formations, and some clouds coming in for sky definition, along with a look at the rest of the lake.  Don’t want the distortion of a really short lens, so another panoramic.

7-image Panoramic

7-image Panoramic

More clouds coming in fast but still plenty of sunshine overhead.  With the contrast of rock, water, sky and foliage, time for infrared.

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On the way down, along a forested trail, turn from the grand landscape to the intimate one.

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All in all a nice walk through some varying terrain.  What better way to spend a holiday?

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.

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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.

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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.

Sunny fun

Now that the leaves are all back and the sun is high in the sky, it’s time to get out looking for strong contrasts to create some infrared!  Yeah – no more getting up at the crack of dawn to chase wonderful light.  Let it pour down in all the brightness and harshness possible.

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Renewal

Plants insist that spring is here now, in spite of the recent snow and chilly temperatures.  Yeah, flowers get all the attention with their bright petals and colorful throats designed to attract pollinators.  What does the beginning look like?  Who pays attention to the small sprout coming up out of the cold ground announcing the change of seasons?

Well, I did lately.  Playing around with a focusing rack designed for macro photography I made some really close images of early spring.  I’m still learning the ins and outs of focus stacking, both the mechanical and processing tricks.  Very short depth of field close-ups are perfect for this since you can control the viewer’s attention by defining what’s in focus and what’s not.

Here’s a crocus that’s made it up ready to bloom.

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And here’s a peony sprout pushing its way up to form a stalk that will be 2-3 feet tall and support a huge blossom.

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I liked the tones in this image.  It was a cloudy day with the sun over my right shoulder and the lighting turned out looking like a studio set-up.  But no, I’m down on my knees with my camera on the ground making a dozen images that will be blended into this broader depth of field.  But about those tones.  I thought this one would look better as a monochrome – let me know what you think.

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