by Paul Gallagher Published 01/10/2016
Later that year I headed up to the beautiful Applecross area on the northwest coast of Scotland. At this time I had traded my full-time Ebony large-format kit for a Nikon D800 with tilt and shift lenses. I was also still carrying round the little D70 IR converted camera. I had had plenty of time to consider the results from my earlier trip to Formby Point and the conclusions I came to were that maybe if I could subdue the contrast of the infrared image then possibly it would produce photographs that were some way pleasing to me. I did try to do this with the first digital files from that day in Formby, but I found I was constantly grappling with the highlights from the beginning of the process that meant I was ‘rescuing’ as opposed to ‘refining’ the files to achieve the finished image tones. The problem was the light! As ridiculous as that sounds, that was all it was.
The brighter the day and the more prevalent the sunlight, the brighter the highlights and I would then have a struggle on my hands when it came to processing the files. The other aspect of infrared that fascinated me was because of the narrow bandwidth of light that the camera captured, the histogram was narrow, which lead me to consider the flexibility of such a file if exposed in more subtle conditions. One afternoon I was driving through Applecross when a storm was building across the Inner Sound, and the Isles of Rona, and Skye, were slowly vanishing in the approaching cloud. Although I had decided that if I was to explore infrared again it would have to be in ‘quieter light’, this seemed to be taking things a little too far, but I was wrong.
The composition was simple. Looking out over a small headland towards the Inner Sound in the background was the approaching storm and situated in the foreground was a small stand of pines. Without any filters at all, I placed the camera on my tripod and made the exposure. When I got back that evening I looked at the file. After it was converted to black and white I was faced with an image with beautiful tones and subtle greys.
The storm clouds were rendered wonderfully and the pines had a subtle pale glow as the low levels of infrared light had been reflected from the many green needles on the pines. It was apparent that if I had taken this same composition on my D800 and converted it to black and white, I would have had a challenge with retaining the brighter detail in the skies set against the darker shadow tones of the pines. What the IR camera had done was something similar to what my chemistry would have done to my sheet film in the darkroom, which was retaining all of the tonal variations in the highlights and offering rich dark shadow tones. This fascinated me because having used film for so many years with a wide selection of developers at my disposal, I was always able to produce a negative that was easily scanned with little or no risk of losing shadow or highlight detail. Now the IR converted Nikon D70 was not simply a tool to go out and make the typical ‘infrared’ images, but a tool that enabled me to take full control of many conditions similar to when I was working in film. In a way it was my pathway into digital black and white with a little seasoning of infrared tonality which I could control to my heart's content.
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