by Paul Gallagher Published 01/10/2016
The difference with using this type of film was that the resulting prints showed a marked tonal shift, making the greens of trees almost white and the blues in skies almost completely black. If you made your exposures with a polariser the results were even more extreme! As a very young photographer I thought these extreme tones and high-contrast photographs were fantastic and it also felt like an adventure trying to load your film in complete darkness (otherwise you could run the risk of fogging it).
The fascination soon wore off as I was eagerly studying the work of Ansel Adams, Paul Strand and Edward Weston, and their photographs oozed with smooth, subtle tones and overwhelming three-dimensionality. I remember looking at Edward Weston's classic photographs of peppers and thinking how much infrared would have ruined the tones. I left the world of infrared photography behind and set out to test my own film speeds and practise fastidiously on my darkroom skills both at college and at home.
About six years ago Tony Howes of Advanced Camera Services contacted me and explained that they were converting DSLR cameras into infrared cameras. He explained that the basic process is to remove the infrared blocking filter and replace this with an infrared narrow pass filter that allows certain wavelengths of light through to your sensor. The long and short of the conversation was that Tony asked if I would like to try one of his cameras out as he knew I was dedicated to black and white photography. Of course I agreed, but when the camera arrived all I could picture in my mind were the hard blacks and bleached whites of the infrared photographs I had made as a student, and if I am to be honest, this did not really appeal to me very much at all.
The camera I was sent was the Nikon D70 with a 6-megapixel sensor. At the time all of my photography was created using an Ebony 45SU with Ilford Delta 100 5x4-inch large-format sheet film, and after processing the films, the scans could easily produce a file in excess of 100 megabytes so the appeal of infrared and only six megapixels was even less! The camera resided in my bag for several months and I had never mustered up the enthusiasm to get it out and try digital infrared. Having agreed to do this for Tony, one day I headed to a place were I often went as a student, Formby Point in Merseyside, with the sole intention of exploring infrared again. It was spring time and there was a lot of sun about and fresh leaves on the trees and blue skies with white clouds which in general terms is regarded as good for infrared photography as the clouds will be white set against a blue skies that will be rendered black and the chlorophyll in the new green leaves would reflect a great deal of infrared light rendering them almost white. I arrived home and uploaded the files to my computer and got exactly what I expected. After each image was converted to black and white and the levels were fixed at either end of the histogram, the results were just the same as they were when I was a student. The tones where very hard and contrasty and I was not particularly impressed or inspired to take the camera out again.
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