Can You Believe This is NOT Photoshopped?

I’m so excited to share with you my first infra red photographs! I’ve wanted a camera that could take infra red photos since I first heard that they existed. I know my readers have different levels of experience when it comes to photography, some of you are experts and some of you are, like me, just stepping out with artistic photography so it was hard to make this article readable without being too technical or patronising.

I decided to make  this my second entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Abstract because the challenge was to make the familiar unfamiliar, and it’s certainly done that. Scroll down for the two best photos (last two) or have a read of the journey behind this photograph.

For those of you who have never come across infra red (IR) photography, it’s not the heat-detection infra red (Far Infra Red) but it’s near-infra red, so it’s only a tiny bit outside the visible light spectrum (what we can usually see).  Infra red light comes from the sun and is reflected off everything just like regular light.

As you can see from the lead picture, it’s very different to the infra red cameras that the police use on those police chase shows, this doesn’t detect body heat and can’t see what you ate for breakfast (eww), this is MUCH more beautiful and artistic, and I fell in love with IR photography the first time I saw pictures, when I was putting a presentation together for a science lecture about 3 years ago. I swore that day that, when I had the money, I’d buy a camera that could do infra red (not the app on the iphone or the Photoshop setting that edits pictures to look like they’re IR when they’re not), and so when I bought my camera for Youtubing and photography, I made sure it would be able to do this by pointing the TV remote control at my camera.  I saw the red beam through my digital viewfinder, so I knew my camera could take IR pictures, now it just needed the right filter.

I bought a £10 filter for my camera and it arrived just before the sun left for winter. You don’t need a sunny day, but you do need bright natural light for IR photography to work – outdoors, natural features, midday-ish works best. A tripod isn’t mandatory but it will help.

Today, FINALLY, I got around to trying out my IR filter.
This is what the first picture looked like:

Infrared photography problem

Disappointed wasn’t the word. What was wrong with my camera???  Was the cheap lens filter I bought a dud?
So I fiddled around with the settings wondering why nobody on the internet seemed to have an article entitled: Infra red photography picture went black.
I changed a few things around and kicked myself.
It was too dark because, while I’d turned the shutter speed to max, I’d also dropped the ISO to 100 (the lowest on my camera).
When I wrote that presentation, 3 years ago, I remember reading that ISO has to be really really high for IR photography to work.  That’s why some cameras can’t do it.
So I flipped it up to 12,800 and hit the shutter to auto detect, and magically, I got this:

infrared photography problems
Okay so it’s not much but getting any image, however slight, proved that the principle was right and I was on the right track.

After fiddling around with the settings, refining the focus etc, I finally got both of these:

infrared photo canon eos 650d
I don’t think I could be more proud of this picture right now. It took so much trial and error. Taken on Canon EOS 700D with Infrared Filter.
Infrared photography of a tree in next door's garden. Taken on Canon EOS 700D (no modifications) with IR filter.
Infrared photography of a tree in next door’s garden. Taken on Canon EOS 700D (no modifications) with IR filter.

As you can see I need to practice – the hardest thing is focussing without autofocus or a viewfinder (you literally cannot see what you’re going to get) because the lens I’m using doesn’t have a “lock focus.”  Some lenses have a little graph on the side to help you focus accurately but this one doesn’t.  I think trial and error is going to be the case with every photo.

Another thing I want to improve about these pictures is that, as you can see in the last picture, distortion from vignetting is really bad when you tilt the camera at a high angle from the ground, I don’t know whether that’s down to the longer wavelength of infra red light, but it seems fine when the angle is closer to horizontal.

All in all though I’m really excited to be trying out this new form of photography to capture the beauty of the natural world, and if you’re looking to do the same, I highly recommend this £10 lens filter that I used (this one is for the standard 18-55mm lens that comes with the Canon camera, if you wanted to use a different lens, check the width of the front of the lens to make sure the filter fits; either way these filters are pretty cheap).

None of these images have been edited in any way they’ve come straight off my memory card from my camera and I resized them to fit WordPress; I’m so excited I want to do more and refine my technique!!!

Please ask any questions in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer them but I’m definitely not an IR photography expert!!

What I used for infrared photography:

Camera:  Canon EOS 700D (no special conversions or anything)

Lens: 18-55mm standard kit lens (here in the UK)

Lens Filter: 58mm infrared lens filter (US) available here in the UK

IMPORTANT NOTE ON LENS FILTER: IT MUST FIT THE WIDTH OF YOUR LENS, IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO BUY LENS FILTERS, MEASURE THE DIAMETER OF YOUR LENS BEFORE BUYING A FILTER! The lens filter is available in different sizes, it doesn’t need to fit the camera, it needs to fit the front of the lens because it screws onto the front!! Sorry for the shouty capitals but it would be a huge shame if someone got the wrong size lens filter by accident.

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Download 2015: Day 2: Muse, Apocalyptica and Marilyn Manson

I awoke early to the sound of it raining inside the tent.  The water was dripping on my face.  I wrung everything out and carefully placed it all in the centre of the tent – the only place that wasn’t submerged.  My friend appeared and we held a conference.  We would sleep in her tent and try and move anything water-sensitive in there, because hers was considerably less wet than mine.
Download 2015 Review Day 1: Slipknot can be found here.

Apocalyptica.
Apocalyptica.  Sorry about the stupid date stamp on all the pix; I only found out about it when I got home.

We went to see Apocalyptica around lunchtime.  We got there just as they were starting and got a place reasonably towards the front, where we could see what was going on quite well.  They played their cellos, got to the end of their set, then said “well, we were only supposed to be on for half an hour but f**k it; we want to play another song” and they proceeded to do so.  It was awesome.  I think there were more than a few people in the crowd who didn’t know who they were, so it was nice to see people discovering awesome electric cello industrial music.  They also played our national anthem which was amusing because half the people in the crowd started singing (myself included) and half of them kind of mumbled and blustered like they were in a school assembly.   It was hilarious to think that we must be the only nation in the world where we don’t all know every word to our national anthem, but it doesn’t get taught in many schools and is distinctly lacking from the national curriculum – as a child, I didn’t know what the words were until I was about fourteen after reading an article that is sadly not findable on the internet, which basically showed that in a random survey of 500 people, something like 25% didn’t know what our national anthem was (it’s God Save The Queen, natch), and only 46% knew any of the words!  But Finnish band Apocalyptica can play it on the cello and it sounds awesome (like all their music does).  I was particularly interested to read that they started out as a Metallica tribute band, and later branched into their own music.    I was very impressed by how much music they managed to cram into their half hour slot whilst at the same time talking to the audience, not long conversations, but just enough little snippets so you knew what they were playing and that they had noticed a rather large crowd had gathered in front of their stage.

Apocalyptica playing download 2015
Apocalyptica.

Later in the day (I’ll spare you the day), we got back very late, and had a few minutes to find a spot so we could watch some of Marilyn Manson before we went to see Muse.  Unfortunately, my friend wanted food, so we went to get her some food instead of getting a good spot, and while we were waiting for the food to appear, Marilyn Manson started.  We stood at the top of the hill and watched from a distance, we got two songs in, Mobscene and Disposable Teens (both excellent tracks) but then I dragged us away to see Muse, because from our vantage point, I could hear the bass lines from Chris Wolstenholme’s bass guitar and they were calling to me, compelling me, dragging me away from the spectacle of Marilyn to observe the performance of the masters.

All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.
All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.

Muse were as technically accomplished as you would expect (probably the only way they could be more accomplished at playing music is if they hired Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page on second and third guitars), and I think a lot of the reason for their credible, un-astonishing but significant popularity is because of their ability to play their instruments.  Oh God, they can play their instruments.  And the time flew by as they played a nice selection of their songs (and they have so many to choose from).

I didn't get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn't focus past the lights.
I didn’t get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn’t focus past the lights.

However, I felt that both Marilyn Manson and Muse were distinctly lacking in the kind of showmanship and character that I’d been expecting.  Particularly Marilyn Manson, although I don’t know if his show got better after I left, so I can’t say as much about it.

This could be an album cover...
This could be an album cover…
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Fireworks.
Fireworks.
Fireworks were part of Muse's performance
Fireworks were part of Muse’s performance
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.

Muse had some incredible pyrotechnics and the giant silver balloons they released into the audience were really fun and cool, but they barely said hello, and didn’t really interact (apart from the perfunctory ‘I can identify which venue I’m playing’ greeting) and this created a distinct distance between performers and audience that directly contradicted the song lyrics for the setlist and made their lyrical persona feel hollow and pretentious.  I would hope it’s just the kind of stage fright that comes with playing for such a crowd.  Still, they put on a damn good show and they really can play their instruments, so I know I’m being over-analytical.

Marilyn Manson also felt hollow for the same reason – as the founder of the performance theory that states the artists’ existence is the performance, I expected more.  A grand entrance that never came.  A stage with some sort of a set.  Backing dancers.  I probably should keep all these notes to myself for if I ever play in my own band because I’ve learned so much about performance from watching all the great masters at work on my quest to fulfil my bands bucket list.

Day two ended after a spectacular firework display courtesy of Muse.  They are clearly trying to establish themselves as an “alternative rock” band (a la their Wikipedia page), and they certainly deserve to transcend Britpop (where they languished for most of the 2000s, as far as most people were concerned – Blur met the same fate in the ’90s, it was terribly sad), but I feel they need to shake off the performance nuances that make you seem awesome in a pop performance but in alternative rock, just don’t fly.  Alt fans want interaction, they want to know that the words of the songs have a wider meaning and significance.  They want to feel that you care about the fact that they’ve driven hundreds of miles, put up with awful weather, slept in puddles of water, not to mention spent a lot of money, just to see you.  And while I don’t think bands necessarily owe their fans anything, at the same time, it’s polite to acknowledge the people who are paying for you to do what you love full-time rather than put up that wall of idolatry.  It’s clearly a trade-off between talking too much (so you don’t get to play as many songs) and not talking enough, but they could definitely have stood to spend 60 more seconds chatting to the crowd, to tear down that barrier that they put up when they went into their musical trance and played their songs.  They had all the other elements of being the best band in the world ever, but the distance between performer and observer was profound, although I only think it was noticeable when compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who.  If I hadn’t gone to so many concerts recently I don’t think I would have seen it, I would have just been left with a feeling of isolation.

Apocalyptica, then, won the day for their stage presence, performance skills and musical talent, all of which they had in buckets, and for 2016, I would like to see Apocalyptica headlining or co-headlining at either Download, Sonisphere or Bloodstock, because they deserve a lot more accolade for their work and I do think they would draw the same size crowd as Slayer, Within Temptation or Slipknot; I hope the half-hour slot was due to scheduling conflicts rather than because the organizers didn’t know how awesome they were, and I for one would love to see them do a longer set.  I was just glad we didn’t miss Apocalyptica, because they really made my Saturday.

The first part of Download 2015 Day 3 can be found here.

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.