Making the most of Infra-Red in landscapes

APRIL 2019

A couple of posts ago, in the blog on ‘Trees’, I showed a few of Beth Moon’s beautiful tree photos that were shot on infra-red film.

In 2012 Mitch Dobrowner won the Sony World Photography awards with his Storm portfolio. These were his amazing images of the giant supercells, tornados and rainclouds that can be found, mainly in ‘Tornado Alley’ in the American Mid-West, usually during the summer months.

‘Storm Chasing’ had been a pass time for a select bunch of American’s for a number of years but Dobrowner’s images introduced the phenomenon to non American’s like myself.

Here’s the most famous of his images I guess ‘Rope Out’:

Mitch Dobrowner: ‘Rope Out’ North Dakota 2011

and here’s another ‘Arm Of God’:

Mitch Dobrowner: Arm Of God Galacia Kansas 2009

I thought that some of these were taken with on infra-red film, because some of the pictures displayed the characteristic white foliage on distant trees or else perhaps he had used a strong red-filter on a monochrome camera, but I read Mitch used a Canon 5D2.

I wrote to him and he replied that he had a Canon that was a ‘full spectrum conversion’. I looked this up and eventually sent of a fairly unused Panasonic GH-1 to have such a conversion done here in the UK.

This conversion removes the infra-red ‘blocking’ filter that is usual in digital cameras. The cameras sensor therefore responds to a much wider range than is usual, giving the camera coverage from IR, through the visible light spectrum, right up to UV.

I realised that you couldn’t see through a DSLR’s viewfinder, only through the ‘live view’ screen but it would be more useful to use a converted mirrorless M43rds camera, like my GH-1, which had no mirror showing the image into a viewfinder, but instead had an electronic image viewfinder, plus it had ‘live view’.

To take pictures in the IR range, you have to fit a ‘visible light’ blocking filter to cut the visible spectrum away from the sensor. The filter goes on the lens now of course and I used a fairly common Hoya R72 to block the visible spectrum.

If though you wished to shoot with the camera as a normal visible light camera, you have to fit a special IR blocking filter, called a ‘hot mirror filter’. This is the filter normally inside the camera on the sensor and this blocks out the IR that your conversion is now going to let through.

Mitch Dobrowner wanted to see the effects of his filters and be able to say put on a red filter when using the camera in visible light mode.

I started taking straight forward landscape images, but in IR. Here’s one of mine taken with the GH-1:

David Taylor: Oak and gate | Kingcombe Dorset | November 2013

This is an oak tree at nearby Kingcombe on a dull November day and the IR enabled the foliage and grass to be lighter than would have been normal, without being totally white if it had been photographed in bright sunlight. I was happy about restricting it to use on days when the sunlit foliage wouldn’t look extremely white.

I got some OK images with the GH-1 but working in mono you are always rather degraded by the damn Beyer filter which is part of all digital colour cameras and can’t be removed. The GH-1 images were often noisy and I soon sent my oldest Canon 5D2 to Advance Camera Services for ‘full spectrum conversion’.

The 5D2 worked better, even if you did have to have it in live-view mode’ to see through the R72 deep red filter that was blocking the visible-light.

Here’s one of my images taken with the full spectrum 5D2: Once again I kept it from looking too ‘infra-red’.

David Taylor: Rain clouds and turbines | Royd Moor Windfarm Penistone S Yorks | March 2014

The blue sky has gone very dark, the rain can be easily seen and the ground is lighter than it otherwise would have been but a fairly similar result could probably have been obtained with a dark red filter on monochrome film I guess.

I have always loved photographing stormy skies, so Mitch Dobrowners great Storm photos and his book ‘Storms’, encouraged me to head of to the States and do some Storm Chasing myself. Mitch had said that he wasn’t really after Tornados but wanted those fantastic ‘Mother Ship’s’ of Supercells. I felt the same and in 2013 had planned to chase for only one week.

Alas I chose the week in May when no storms built up …..but the next year there was more luck and a two week trip ensued during which we covered 4000 miles:

David Taylor: Tornado Hog Back Butte – image 2 | Temple Peak New Mexico | June 2014

We got a tornado and some great ‘Supercells’ like this one:

David Taylor: ‘Spinning ‘ Supercell | near Malta Montana | May 2014

Even a heavy rainstorm is impressive in the Mid-West:

David Taylor: Thunderstorm | SE of Miami New Mexico | May 2014

Strangely I later sold off the converted Canon when I went back to using a film Hasselblad. I never was totally happy with how a colour DSLR rendered monochrome. I could always see the patterning that the Beyer filter produced when you enlarged a 24Mp DSLR image that had been converted into a monochrome picture.

So now I’m relying on a good old Ilford film, SFX200 that has a slightly extended spectrum. With this film I can block the visible light with the R72 filter and get an IR like effect. Alas I lose about 5 stops of exposure doing this. It does give me some lightness in the greys that make up much of the monochrome landscape. I’ll post some results of that soon.


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