Why Infrared?

I first saw infrared images in a photo magazine article in the 70s. I was so blown away, I wrote to the featured photographer and he wrote back! He was very generous and put me on the path while saving me a bunch of time by warning about the pitfalls. I began shooting with IR film and an R72 filter. It was tricky at best. The filter was so dark, it was impossible to see through it. It only allowed infrared light to pass. So, the camera had to be set up in advance of each shot with compensations for filter. It really was a pain in the neck. But, the results were glorious!

Infrared light is invisible to the human eye. When we have the equipment to expose its effects, we see the world in a different way. Plants become bright and almost look as if they are covered in snow. The sky gets much darker and clouds seem to pop out of the picture. Color is gone in the wavelengths that I shoot and the images take on sepia tones that are reminiscent of early photography by such historic figures as Edward Curtis. There is a mystical quality to infrared that in my mind and heart is the way the Colorado Plateau and the Four Corners states should be seen.

I went to Africa on safari (shooting only pictures) carrying film in a cooler soon after I learned about infrared. I had a changing bag. The film could not be exposed to light, so I had to blindly reload the camera in the confines of the bag. It was worth every bit of the hassle. Eventually, I drifted into digital photography and tried using the IR filter. I wasn’t excited about the results I was getting. Then I heard about converting a digital camera sensor to IR full time. This eliminated all the problems of the IR filter. I was now able to see the subject before pressing the shutter. I couldn’t wait to get back to Arizona and the rest of the Southwest to begin shooting all those wonderful subjects in IR.

Every subject I tackle, I think of in terms of IR first. Many of them work. When they don’t, I still have color. And, there are times when I convert color images to monochromatic tones. Frequently, when I do, I aim for the look of infrared.


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