November 30, 2004

A n Experiment with Digitial Infrared Photography

In recent years I have developed a spontaneous habit of changing equipment in the winter; in 2001 I switched from 4"x5" cameras to a larger 8"x10", in 2003, I switched from 120 and 35mm roll film to using digital SLR cameras. With each of these transitions, I used the slower winter months to accumulate the new equipment and gain familiarity with it. This winter is no different, with the acquisition of a dedicated digital SLR for infrared photography.
Digital infrared original
When I replaced my roll film cameras with a digital SLR, the only area of my work that I knew would suffer was my infra-red images. While infrared film is available for view cameras, it is prohibitively expensive; this, combined with the unpredictable exposures, pretty much ruled out shifting my infra-red imaging to large format.

I have been carefully watching the world of digital infrared photography for the past couple of years with a plan to take that route eventually. My initial plan had been to adapt a Canon DSLR through an American website offering the service but when I learned that the Sigma SD-10 was easily modified to infra-red by removing one screw, I decided to look into that system as a way of returning to infra-red imaging. As luck would have it, I was able to purchase a Sigma SD-10 demo kit and, in short order, I was up and running with a dedicated infra-red camera.

My very first thought on receiving the camera was "When can I try this out with a model?" I immediately checked with Jesse to see if she'd be available anytime soon for a session and four days after receiving the SD-10, I made my first infrared nude in more than 18 months.
Digital infrared original
Normally, I wouldn't choose to test new equipment on a model's second session working with me, but because of Jesse's previous modeling experience and her positive response to our first session, I wasn't too concerned. As opposed to working in the kitchen, which has little direct light this time of year, I decided to spend the session photographing Jesse in the living room, starting with her reclining on the sheet-covered couch and then proceeding to work with the last of the day's sunlight falling across her body through the horizontal blinds.

On the whole, the first session using digital infrared was quite encouraging, both in terms of workflow and results. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to shift between the Canon 10D and the Sigma (the Sigma has a smaller sensor so the same focal length lens on both camera gave a slightly different composition) and how easy it was to judge the exposure of the digital infrared images.
Digital original
One of the distinct advantages of working with infrared on the digital is the post-exposure view of the image (with a histogram) which permits easy exposure judgements, without having to wait until the film is processed, hours later. The second difference was how little difference there was between the infrared and non-infrared images of Jesse - unless there was direct sunlight in the image, they looked practically the same. The greatest surprise, however, was how much difference there was between a film infrared image and a digital one: film has a distinct glow to the image due to the lack of the antihalation backing on the film. The digital image, however, is sharp and distinct with none of the glow inherent to film. It will take some time to become used to this different look but, on the whole, I am very pleased with my first foray into digital infrared nudes.

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