My infrared cravings – foray #1

On January 16, 2010 by DaniLew

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While I’m very pleased with my very first DSLR (a Nikon D300) camera, I am absolutely in love with my infrared camera (a Nikon D200).  Infrared blocks visible light and therefore subjects such as foliage (grass and trees) show up as white instead of green in photographs, skies are darker, and clouds are bold and more defined.  To put it mildly, infrared is otherworldly!

For the life of me, I truly can’t remember the trigger to my current fascination for infrared photography.  Perhaps it was a picture on flickr or NikonCafé, or maybe a topic posted on one of my favorite websites, or one of my favorite photographers (Vincent Versace, Tony Sweet, Thom Hogan, and Bjørn Rørslett) regaling its benefits… whatever or whoever it was, I’m indebted to them for my most memorable existential experience so far.

Initial Concerns…

Oh, but there’s always a fly in the ointment; in fact there are three.

  • Cost: an infrared filter or a camera converted to infrared.  Either could be an expensive toy that sits on the shelf more than in your hands.  An infrared filter can run from the cheap ($30 on an auction site) to the very steep ($300) while a conversion costs an average of $350.
  • Filter type: infrared wavelengths range from 700 to 1200 nanometers. There are websites and books that go into depth about invisible light but needless to say 720nm is the standard and is best suited for false color while 850nm is deep black and white.
  • Post-processing: it’s a bit of a pain.


Choices, so many choices…

I had determined that infrared photography was something that I was willing to pursue long-term so decisions must be made.

  • First, I chose a camera conversion rather than purchasing a filter.  An infrared filter is very opaque and using it on a regular digital camera means shooting blind, light loss, grainy pictures, etc. while a converted camera is little to no different than shooting with a regular camera. This choice also meant that I had to purchase a second camera body.  Most vendors either will convert a P&S camera or DSLR for you or have already-converted equipment for sale. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, I was looking for an older Nikon model (lovingly used) not as advanced in features as the D300 but was similar in functionality. Fortunately, I found a nearly-new D200 whose owner had moved onto the new full-frame Nikon D700 camera and needed a quick sale to finance the required lenses. Lucky me!
  • Second, I chose the standard 720nm filter because color infrared intrigued me.  And after scouring the internet, I found a vendor who could convert my D200 for half the price of the other vendors and guarantee his work.  Jim Chen was very responsive to my email inquiries even before he received my money. So, I shipped off my D200 in early March 2009 and received it 2 weeks later.  Wow!  Since that time, Jim has converted cameras for several of my friends and every one of them is content with the product.
  • Third and last, the photo-editing software saga…  I have Nikon’s Capture NX2 software and Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 7 as my tools of choice and despite not having the widely-recommended very expensive full-fledged Photoshop or its “absolutely necessary to post-process false-color infrared” channel mixer tool, I had to look for an inexpensive alternative.


What did I find?

I found a few sequences on the internet for Capture NX2 to help solve the channel-mixer riddle:

  1. Go to “Adjust” in the menu bar, select “Color” and then “LCH”
  2. Click on the pull down menu that says “Master Lightness” and choose “Hue.” That will bring up a colored hue box. Below the box there’s another pull down menu. Click that and select 180. Notice that the hues have all slanted.
  3. Go to the triangular slider on the right side of the box. Slide it up or down until the red and blue channels are switched. Watch your image. You’ll want to experiment with the best place to put that slider.

Results

Stafford County, Virginia magenta marsh - infrared taken with a Nikon D200 IR-converted camera and Nikon 18-200 VR lens

Easter Sunday morning infrared at the marsh

Brooke, Virginia VRE train station - infrared taken with a Nikon D200 IR-converted camera and Nikon 18-200 VR lens

Easter Sunday infrared at Brooke station

Images above made with a Nikon D200 IR-converted camera and Nikon 18-200 VR lens

Eureka!

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