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Digital Infrared - part 1 of 1 2 3 4 5 6

by Mike McNamee Published 01/04/2012

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Infrared (IR) photography has been around since it was 'invented' by Robert Williams Wood - indeed the ethereal glow that characterises IR images is named the Wood effect. Wood was a prolific scientist and inventor in the field of optics, mainly working in the ultra-violet part of the spectrum but also known for making astronomical telescope mirrors with revolving pools of mercury (no health and safety in his day!). He is also credited with Wood's metal which is an alloy of bismuth, lead, tin and cadmium which melts at 70°C and used for a variety of scientific and engineering purposes (the example of using it to fix multiple tool tips into the heads of metal-working machine tools is your editor's first acquaintance with the metal). He was an American and lived from 1868-1955.

Prior to the invention of digital imaging, IR photography was quite difficult and certainly quite unpredictable. The film had to be stored in a freezer, in aluminium foil, used in metal-only cameras, with metal shutter blades and processed in all-metal developing tanks. Any plastic in the workflow allowed fogging IR rays to penetrate to the film base. Initially IR was troublesome for digital imaging also, causing over -reddening of skin tones and , in some circumstances the ability to see through certain types of otherwise opaque clothing to the body or underwear beneath (this unintended consequence caused Sony to suspend distribution of a movie camera and remove it from the market in August 1998). It is the removal of the blocking filter and replacement with a narrow bandpass filter that converts a digital camera into a true IR-imaging camera. The huge benefit that digital brings is the ability to check and control exposure before leaving the location, all the hit and miss and careful workflow is eliminated in an instant!


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And so it was that your editor found himself in the English Lake District 'assisting' on an Aspect2i infrared field course led by Paul Gallagher. Assisting consisted of providing a Manfrotto 303 VR head and a sturdy Manfrotto 535 Pro tripod to stand it on. ACS had kindly provided a couple of their IR-converted cameras and so the temptation to have a go at some personal work proved irresistible. While all this was going on there was an undercurrent of real work, testing both bags and clothing for the feature contained within these pages.

Images from delegates Paul Mills and Sheila Curzon are used in this feature and reflect the speed with which they caught on and the guidance provided by Paul Gallagher. Paul Mills made his first panorama ever (at any wavelength!); Sheila was a model of single-minded creativity. The boys sat in the sunshine putting the world to rights, wondering why she was spending so much tome in the cold water of Blea Tarn - the resulting image speaks for itself and few of the world's woes were settled! A little plug for Sheila's website - she manages www.letsgophoto.co.uk which is akin to a TripAdvisor for photographic holidays and is well worth exploring for anybody with an interest in such matters, either attending or teaching.


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1st Published 01/04/2012
last update 25/03/2020 12:33:21

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Updated 25/03/2020 12:33:21 Last Modified: Wednesday, 25 March 2020