Category Archives: Blog Posts

Q&A: Recommendation for a Full Frame Starter Kit

(This post is from an email conversation with a friend. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I suppose I should begin to look seriously at a good digital setup and begin practicing.

What are your recommendations?  Nikon has new FX models to replace the DX models. Apparently the FX CMOS has larger surface area. What is your recommendation about a multi-purpose lens?

Any acutal user opinion would be appreciated.

A:  First of all, if I were starting to put together a kit today, I would seriously consider a mirrorless four-thirds camera.  They are easier to carry in both size and weight, and have good lens options.  What you lose is a bit of AF speed (but nothing like the point and shoots of a few years ago) and low-light performance (again, not as bad as you’d think).  Here is a site with the formats illustrated.  The main players are full frame (what we were used to shooting 35mm; Nikon calls theirs FX), APS-C (typical for early or consumer digital SLRs; Nikon calls theirs DX), and four-thirds (which is about half the full frame in both dimensions, or 1/4 the overall area).  The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 is a highly rated example.  I’ve never used a four-thirds camera, but based on what I’ve been reading I would definitely consider it if I didn’t already have such a large investment in Nikon DSLRs and lenses.

It’s really amazing how much bigger DSLRs are than the SLRs we used with film.  And you’ll feel it even more since Pentax’s SLRs were some of the smallest.

Because of the strong capabilities of the four-thirds cameras, I wouldn’t mess with DX (APS-C) cameras.  To me, they are the worst of both worlds:  the size and weight of the full-frame DSLRs with the poorer low-light capabilities of the four-thirds cameras.  (The Nikon D7200 is a good one if you want to consider one though.)

If I decided I was going with a full-frame DSLR, I would choose one of two Nikon FX bodies – either the D750 (24MP) or the D810 (36MP).  The D750 is smaller and very quick.  The D810 is an incredible camera – decently quick (5FPS), but the highest quality images you can imagine.  I wouldn’t consider the D610 or Df.  They are all pricey.  The DPReview site has a good table comparing the D610, D750, and D810.

Another thing to consider is how large the files are that these bodies produce.  My D810’s RAW images are close to 50MB each, and nearly 250MB when converted to TIFF or PSD files for editing in Photoshop or other destructive apps.  They’ll eat up your CF/SD cards and disk space, and really tax your computer’s CPU and GPU.  On the other hand, you can make 4’x6′ prints from the D810.  Everything is a tradeoff.  Unless I need RAW files, I often shoot in low res JPG formats for 9MP, which is often still much more than enough.

Finally – on the bodies – I LOVE having a battery grip on the bottom of whatever camera I’m using.  Feels better (though bigger and heavier) and gives me another set of controls for shooting vertical.  And on the D810, it can bump you up to 7fps.

For lenses, the choices are endless, and I have most of them.  🙂  There are three main sets of lenses that’ll get you from very wide to at least 200mm.  I’ll not list the option of just using primes, but here are the other two:

Lowest cost, weight, and size:

Nikkor 28-300 FX
Nikkor 20/2.8

Those are the two lenses I carried up into the Himalayas.  28mm is not wide enough for many settings, so carrying the relatively tiny 20mm gets the wide end taken care of.

Considerations:  The zoom’s maximum aperture is usually f/5.6, so you’ll be a little hard-pressed to blow the background out of focus.  The zoom is sharp enough at f/8-f/11 to be perfectly fine on my D810, which is actually pretty amazing considering the 11x range.  It’s great to be able to go to 300mm, and not to have to switch lenses as much – especially in dusty (typical) locations.

Here are a few shots with that zoom:

Street vendor - Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Street vendor – Namche Bazaar, Nepal

Himalayan peak

Himalayan peak

Waiting to die - Kathmandu, Nepal

Waiting to die – Kathmandu, Nepal

Greatest versatility, and higher quality:

Nikkor 16-35/4 FX (optional – for wider reach)
Nikkor 24-70/2.8 FX
Nikkor 70-200/2.8 FX Mk. II

This is the kit I carry most often.  They’re very sharp, fast, and durable.  Often, 24mm is enough, so you might go without the 16-35.  Not sure what kind of mission activities you’ll be doing, but looking over my trips, 95% percent of my shots were (or could have been) shot just with the 24-70.

Considerations:  Really the only downside of this kit is the cost and size / weight.

Here are a few shots with them:

16-35:

Young Kenyan girls - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan girls – Marigat, Kenya

London, UK

London, UK

24-70:
Young Kenyan siblings - Marigat, Kenya

Young Kenyan siblings – Marigat, Kenya

70-200:
Young lion cub - Maasai Mara, Kenya

Young lion cub – Maasai Mara, Kenya

I wish we lived closer.  I have all of this gear plus the full set of primes and would love for you to be able to try it out and see what you like.  I think I will be driving to [your state] in either two or three weeks and could bring stuff for you to get your hands on.  BTW, I have a D700 (12MP) body (discontinued, but a fantastic camera) I don’t use.

Anyway, if you want to move quickly to get a DSLR, I’d get a D750 with either the 28-300+20/2.8, or the 24-70/2.8.  And if you don’t have a preferred camera dealer, I’d strongly endorse Brad Berger at Berger Camera up in NY.  They typically meet B&H/Adorama pricing, but with much more personalized service.  He’s gone way out of his way for me many times.

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D800 First Impressions – Part 1

I finally had a chance to shoot with my new D800 on Tuesday. (I decided to delay travel into the night so I could have some daylight.)  I was just glancing at some of the pics while on a call and found one that illustrates some characteristics of the D800.  I’ll post more next time about my general impressions of the camera, but this pic will answer a couple of important questions – at least for me.

This is a (female or juvenile) Black-Throated Green Warbler:

2012-04-03-14-44-12

The technical details are:

JPG – Fine – L, FX crop (36.2MP).  300mm/2.8 AF-S VR, TC-20E III (600mm), F11, 1/200, ISO 3200, Distance 7.25’
LE NR – Norm, Picture Control – Standard, Active D-Lighting – Auto, JPG Comp. – Optimal Quality
Processing in Aperture:  Mild sharpening, added Definition and Vibrancy, slight White Balance, Exposure +0.5

There are two important things to notice here.  First is the incredible detail possible with this body.  The Warbler was quite gregarious and often came closer to me than I could focus!  I had to keep moving away from her, and had to switch from DX (my default birding configuration) to FX to fit her in the frame.  (What a great option to have available vs. the D300!)  BTW, the DOF at that distance is about 0.2”, or less than a quarter of an inch.  Check out the area around the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.01 PM

Screen grab of 100% view in Aperture.

Another note:  The 300/2.8 VR I w/TC-20E III would not be considered a super sharp combination.  After realizing how poor it is wide open (F/5.6), I’ve started shooting at F/11 to at least get acceptable sharpness.  Still it’s nothing close to the 500/4 (on my wish list) or the 600/4.  Bottom line, this is not the best you can get out of the D800!

Second, notice the noise.  This is an ISO 3200 shot, with exposure pushed another 1/2 stop in post!  There was no noise reduction except for what may have been done in camera.  (Not sure if there was any…)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.28 PM

This is much cleaner than my D300 at 1600, and as good or better than my D700 at 3200!  Wow!  I may have found a replacement for both.  Unfortunately, that means I’ll likely end up buying another one so I can continue to have two bodies.

As I said, I’ll try to do another post ASAP to present other thoughts about the D800, including overall feel, battery life, frame rate, focusing speed, controls, and accessory costs.

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HDR with an IR Converted D200

When I had my D200 converted to (deep) IR I nearly immediately noticed that the tonal range was significantly less than usual.  I was shooting RAW to make sure I captured all the data, but when I got it back to the computer it was totally unnecessary since the histogram showed the image was neither stressing the top nor the bottom of the possible 8-bit range, much less the 12 bits or so that the D200 could normally capture.

That didn’t make me real happy, but when I tried to tone map a single image in Photomatix, the limited data really became evident:

Single image tonemapped

Single image tonemapped

D200(IR), RAW, ISO 100, F8, 1/40

The banding in the clouds at the top is the proof of the narrow tonal range.  The range of IR is there, but just not captured in a single narrow tonal range image, as is evident when multiple bracketed images are used with similar tone mapping settings on an true HDR image:

Three stop bracket tonemapped

Three stop bracket tonemapped

D200(IR), ISO 100, F8, 1/40±1 stop, 3 frame HDR

No banding or any evidence of too narrow tonal range.

So, I’ve learned that with the D200(IR) I need to bracket at least three exposures to get an adequate tonal range for tone mapping.  Not sure why one exposure won’t capture a full range of data…

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Taking Photographs of LCD Monitors

Recently I needed to get some screen shots for a presentation. Normally I would just use the built-in screen grabber, but some of the images I needed were of startup screens during the boot process before the UI becomes available. So I figured I would just grab my camera and get on with it.

That was about the time I realized that it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought.

As far as absolute sharpness goes, my Tamron 90/2.8 Macro lens is as good as I have, so I put it on my D700 and set up for the shots. Here is what I got first at f/5.6, its sharpest aperture:

F5.6

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F5.6, 1/50

Even after fiddling around with other lenses and different distances, I could not get around the interference pattern between the pixels on the screen and the sensor. So I started trying different things to reduce the sharpness.  First I opened the lens up:

F2.8

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/160

Plan B. Since the pattern appeared to be chromatic, I thought maybe getting rid of the color would solve the problem:

F5.6 BW

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F5.6, 1/50

I was about to give up when I remembered two articles (here and here) I had read recently about the detrimental effects of using too small an aperture, and how that minimum aperture depended on the size of the photo sites on the sensor. It said that on a full frame sensor like the D700, the effect began to appear around f/16, but I tried the smallest aperture the lens offered, f/36.

F36

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F36, 0.8s

Interference gone! But the image was very soft, and since I needed as much detail as possible for my presentation, I tried opening up to f/22 to regain some detail, but hopefully stay below the threshold.

F22

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F22, 1/3

Better detail, but with noticeable moire. Next I tried f/32:

F32

D700, 90mm, ISO 200, F32, 0.6s

That gave the least detail loss without any visible interference. Finally!

So the solution was to leverage the reduction of sharpness due to diffraction. Not exactly what I expected when I began the project, but an adequate solution, nonetheless.

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Shoot RAW, Reduce Noise?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Shoot RAW and you’ll have less noise.  OK, you and I both know that among RAW’s many benefits over JPEG, lower noise isn’t one of them.  Or is it?  Well, yes and no.

Technically, the level of noise you see in a JPEG can (should) be exactly the same as RAW, depending on the RAW conversion, not on JPEG’s inherent noise.  But look at the following pictures, noticing specifically the decreasing noise levels between them:  (These are screen shots pulled out of Aperture, thus the red highlighting in a few places.)

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Correct exposure

Indicated exposure, adjusted in post

(Technical note:  All three shots are identical in camera except for exposure.  All three RAW files were adjusted identically except for exposure and recovery.  D300 @ ISO 400.  1/2500@f/5.6, 1/1250@f/5.6, 1/640@f/5.6)

Due to the Heron’s bright white feathers, the first shot is the greatest exposure I could get by with without blowing them out.  It’s actually a 2 stop underexposure compared to what the meter suggested.  Then in Aperture I gave it one stop boost and brought back the highlights with recovery.  In effect, this is the best I could have done with a JPEG.  (In fact the shadows are better due to the greater dynamic range maintained in the RAW file.  JPEG would not have had the same amount of data available.)  Note the very noticeable noise in the background.  Also, note in the pupils (and in many of the other background areas not visible in the crop) you can see a lot of dark areas that are pure black.

The second shot was given an additional stop in the camera.  This is the correct exposure for most of the scene, with the white feathers being the major exception.  So, in Aperture I left the exposure flat and just dialed in the same amount of recovery as the first one to regain detail in the white feathers.  That couldn’t have been done with a JPEG, as there would have been no data available to help out the feathers.  Note the much lower noise levels.  Also, all of the dark areas have detail in them.

Finally, the third shot was exposed as the camera meter suggested, giving a one stop overexposure to the scene.  In Aperture I pulled back the exposure by one full stop and matched the same recovery setting of the other two pictures.  As expected this gives a near exact exposure match for the other two.  The 14-bit RAW file from the D300 sensor has plenty of headroom to handle the highlights which are blown out by 1.75 stops, so I am able to bring them back to be basically the same as in the other two exposures.  The real benefit here, though, is the further reduction in noise.  It looks pretty good!

So does RAW have less noise than JPEG?  No.  But it does give you the headroom to overexpose by one, one and a half, maybe even 2 stops and then pull the exposure back in post, effectively reducing the noise levels and increasing the amount and quality of the detail in your shadow areas.

Had I thought of it at the time I would have also shot this at ISO 200 to determine if the overexposed shot (final shot above) had lower noise than I would have gotten simply by reducing the ISO.  The difference seems more dramatic than the nearly invisible difference between ISO 200 and 400, so I think this is better, but I’ll have to try it out to be sure.

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Goodbye, Darkroom. R.I.P.

2008-02-15-07-48-49

All my life I’ve wanted to have my own darkroom, designed and equipped the way I wanted. And finally I had it. High-end gear, every tool, all the gadgets. (Thanks, Walt!) Full range of Nikkor EL lenses, every possible format carrier from 110 to 4×5. Densitometer. Additional enlarger for pre-flashing. Jobo processor with every possible tank for film and print. Lots of cool glassware like in science lab. Everything.

A bad pano of my darkroom.

A bad pano of my darkroom.

Until today. I’m having to dismantle it and tear it down. BTW, did I mention that I built it myself? Did the framing, the sheetrock, the electrical, the plumbing, all the finishing. Everything.

Well, we’ve had more kids than this house was designed for, so the basement has to become functional space. The darkroom is taking up space that will have to become my new office.

Does it sound like I’m taking this pretty hard. Well, I am. Having a darkroom was one of my few goals / dreams / splurges. And it was my own sweat and a little blood that built it over a period of about three years. And worst of all, I finished it a month before I bought my first DSLR. I haven’t actually printed anything in it!

I get a little consolation as I see how much trouble the contractor is having tearing it down. Let’s say I overbuilt it. Used screws for all the framing and sheetrocking. Lots of them! It was pretty sturdy.

Well, anyway. It is what it is. I miss it. I will miss it. There is just nothing like working in a real darkroom. And the craft of silver-based black and white printing is dying.

I guess I’ll have to find a decent scanner and printer for my old stuff.

Very heavy sigh…

[Update, 6/29/15 – I still miss it…]

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The Down Side of Using a Car as a Blind

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I’ve read a number of authors suggest the idea of using your automobile as a simple and effective blind for wildlife photography and I’ve gotten some shots I would have otherwise missed by doing it. The other day I learned that the idea is not without its own problems.

I was in Florida with only a little extra time before a flight and I was trying to grab a few shots of the incredibly numerous and varied birds there. It was therefore not only a handy form of camouflage, but also a practical necessity for me to stay in my car for some of the shots.

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 6.09.02 PM

Here’s a 100% view of the full-frame Snowy Egret shot on top. It was my first shot after I pulled up to this spot so I was just grabbing something in case it spooked. The framing was poor and the highlights blown out, but it also wasn’t sharp. I was shooting RAW so I wasn’t too concerned about the highlights, and I was going to shoot some more to get the framing better, but I just couldn’t get the thing sharp. In fact it got worse and worse!!!

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 6.11.49 PM

 

Eight shots later, here’s what I got (no adjustments of any kind on any photo on this page). I was rubbing my eyes trying to figure out why stuff was coming in and out of focus without me even touching my camera!

A great feature of shooting from within a car is the ease of finding sturdy stuff to rest your arms on, so I didn’t think I was having a camera shake problem. Seeing that my shutter speed was 1/3000 of a second, I knew that wasn’t the case, even at 500mm. And this wasn’t the look of camera motion.

I finally pulled back from the camera and looked at the scene. The whole thing was shimmering! The heat from the car was rising up right by the window I was shooting out of and ruining the view. That was then magnified by the lens. Because of the direction of the mild breeze I could have been shooting out of the passenger side and never had a problem. But on my side of the car, boy was it a problem!

So from then on I have kept in mind another consideration when shooting from the car. If the wind is blowing from the front or opposite side of the car, I need to get out to shoot or else the sharpness will be suboptimal.

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Using a Polarizer to Increase Color Saturation

Typically most discussions surrounding the use of polarizing filters center on how they are used to eliminate reflections.  Another less often mentioned benefit (actually just an implication of removing the reflections) is increased color saturation.

While setting up for a waterfall shot, I noticed people walking underneath and tried to grab a quick shot to show scale. I hadn’t yet finished composing or setting the polarizer. The left-hand shot shows how the scene looked w/o a polarizer (it was on the lens, but not rotated to the correct angle to get any benefit). Reflections are evident on the leaves and on the rocks at the top and bottom of the falls.

The right-hand image from less than a minute later is the same scene (zoomed in a little) and same exposure with the polarizer adjusted for maximum effect. The most obvious difference is on the foliage, where the removal of the reflected sky really brings out the color, and thus increases the color saturation in the image. Less obvious, but still helpful, is the removal of reflections from the rocks and water at the top and bottom of the falls.

Polarizer set for maximum effect

Polarizer set for maximum effect

Polarizer set incorrectly

Polarizer set incorrectly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Only post-processing was matching the color balance on the waterfall. Identical exposures (except zoom setting).)

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Infrared Photography with a DSLR

Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakeng (IR)

Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakeng (IR)

Plate 1

One of the neat features of the Nikon D70 is that it is probably one of the last DSLRs that can be feasibly used for infrared photography. Digital sensors are very sensitive to IR, but the designers put filters over the sensor to prevent that invisible light from messing up the image. As manufacturers introduce new models, the “hot filters” are getting better and better at blocking IR from the sensor.

BTW, when we talk about infrared photography, we’re really talking about near infrared.  Normal sensors are not able to image heat or see in the dark without artificial IR illumination. Visible light ranges from violet (around 400nm wavelength) to red (around 700nm). Mainstream infrared film (and digital) is sensitive up to 900nm or 1000nm. Radiation from heat doesn’t start until around 3000nm.

When you shoot IR, you are focusing (sorry) on the wavelengths of light from around 700 to 1000nm so you filter out the visible light with an IR filter. IR filters appear completely opaque to the eye, making direct composition impossible with an unmodified DSLR.

I’ve shot with the most popular black and white infrared film (now discontinued), Kodak High Speed Infrared (HIE), and really liked the unique characteristics of that film. The two major characteristics (besides its IR sensitivity) were its lack of antihalation backing and its very pronounced grain. The missing antihalation layer meant that the light from a highlight area of a scene could go through the film, reflect off the camera’s pressure plate, and add additional diffused exposure to the emulsion, causing the highlights to glow.

HIE was pretty difficult to use. It required special handling in your camera and darkroom, and the results could not easily be predicted, since you were dealing with invisible light and had no feedback.

Well, you can mimic the look of the HIE process in digital with less effort and instant feedback. There are lots of web references by people who are doing this with many unique processes and helpful pointers. I’ll discuss here the steps I took with the IR shots in my Angkor Wat Infrared gallery and use the photo “Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakeng” as my example.

2006-01-26-17-47-54

Plate 2 is the view in visible light right before the IR shot. The sun had already set and the sky was completely overcast. In addition there was a pretty heavy haze. Compare with Plate 3 below to see the absence of haze on the IR shot.

2006-01-26-17-42-10

Plate 3 is the unedited photo in IR. Note the required exposure increase. (1/125s @ 2.8 vs. 20s @ 5.6.) That’s about a 9.5 stop increase, and is pretty typical with the D70. Of course, in the daytime with an ISO bump to 800 it is still marginally hand-holdable, but this post-sunset shot required a tripod (actually a rock…).

Getting Started:

To shoot IR, you’ll need a camera with some IR sensitivity, a filter, and probably a tripod. You can check the web to find out about your camera’s usefulness before you invest in a filter.

There are a number of filter options. As you go from red to infrared, you’ll find the following Wratten filter numbers:  25, 29, 70, 89B, 87, 87C, 87B, 87A. I use the Hoya R72, which is equivalent to the Wratten 89B. The R72 filter is the first in that sequence that is visually opaque, but it still transmits a significant amount of red light. That’s why the unprocessed shots are red. Stronger IR filters reportedly produce nearly monochromatic images and give a stronger IR effect, but they also require more exposure.

Since I bought the filter to fit on my primary lenses I used back when I shot 35mm film, I have to use a step-down ring to use the 62mm filter on my 18-70. At its widest setting there is serious vignetting. Not a great idea, and very tough to hide. It’s useless on my 12-24. I used my 180/2.8 for this example and I had to hand-hold the filter on the end of the lens since it’s way smaller than the 180’s 72mm ring and I don’t even have a step-down for it. The filters are very expensive, so get the largest one you will ever need and then buy step-up rings for your other lenses.

A tripod is really necessary for IR photography, but this particular shot is the only IR photo I took in Cambodia that wasn’t handheld. Bad practice, but I took multiple shots of each to have a better probability of getting one sharp.

When you’re shooting a DSLR, you are shooting blind just like with film, so that’s another reason to use a tripod. You can frame with the filter off, and then add the filter for the IR shot. If you shoot hand-held it’s a guessing game and you end up making a lot of exposures before you get one that is framed right, aligned with the horizon, and sharp.

Shooting Tips:

Shoot at a relatively small aperture. IR light focuses on a different plane than visible light (with most lenses).  (See the cocam link for a visual illustration.) In the old days lenses had IR marks on the focusing ring to tell you how much to offset your focus. Few do today. Since I’m shooting blind anyway I let the AF focus with the filter on and shoot at a smaller aperture to get greater depth of field, in case the AF accuracy is lower in IR. I haven’t tested it, but logically it seems like the AF should work fine with the filter in place. Until you test yours, stop down.

Get plenty of exposure. On the D70 with the R72 filter, most of the exposure is on the red channel (as evidenced by Plate 3). Since I usually get most of my data from the green channel for the B&W image, I want to get enough exposure in that channel for a usable image. You may need to overexpose by a stop or two.

Block the light coming in the viewfinder. I usually have the camera set on auto exposure, aperture priority. Unless you set the exposure manually, you will definitely need to cover your eyepiece for the exposure. Otherwise the relatively bright unfiltered light coming in through the viewfinder will make the meter underexpose the heavily filtered light coming through the lens. (It can make a three stop difference or more on my camera.) Better cameras have an eyepiece blind for this situation. I use my thumb on the D70. If you are using manual exposure, this won’t be an issue.

Consider using a faster ISO setting. I usually set the D70 to ISO 800 for IR. One of the characteristics of the old HIE film was its very noticeable grain. On my D70 the noise caused by the higher ISO, longer exposure, and frequent underexposure of the green and blue channels looks a lot like the grain of the film. Alternatively, this can be simulated in post-processing.

Try white balancing with the filter on. After returning from Cambodia, I read about someone who does a custom white balance with the IR filter on the lens. I’m eager to try that, as it would make the initial images much more neutral in color. It would probably also make any overexposure bias unnecessary to get adequate exposure on the green channel.

Choosing a Subject:

You never know what will be a good subject. Certainly most scenes with foliage are potential subjects. Blue skies with some puffy or wispy clouds can really add drama. The haze-cutting ability of IR will often add depth to landscapes with distant vistas. And don’t shy away from portraits either. The best advice is just to shoot a lot of pictures and learn what catches your eye and produces the look you want.

Post-Processing:

1. The first step for post-processing an IR shot is to balance out the three channels with an auto-level in Aperture or Photoshop (Image > Adjustments > Auto Levels). In our example, Plate 4 is the result. (Compare Plates 2 and 4 to see the dramatic reduction in the haze.) (Note also that this step would probably be unnecessary if you do an auto white balance before taking the picture.)

2006-01-26-17-42-10 (2)

Plate 4

I do the remaining steps in PS. I’m using PS CS2 in this example.

2. Convert the image to B&W. I use the Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer to both convert to monochrome and strip out the channels I don’t want. First I select the monochrome check box. Then I use the sliders to obtain the desired effect.

On the D70 with R72, usually the red channel is the softest and has the least noise. The blue channel has by far the most noise, but can offer darker skies and water. The green channel is usually the sharpest with moderate noise.

Each image varies, but a starting point is 100% Green, maybe 25-30% Red, 0% Blue, and a “Constant” adjustment of -20 or so to get the brightness right.

Make sure that you keep any highlight tones where you wish to keep detail in the final image a little darker than usual since the last step will blow out the brightest highlights.

3. Take care of spots, tonal range, and any other retouching if needed. Often I’ll use Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlight to bring up detail in the shadows and get detail back in the highlights at this point.

4. Sharpen the image. I use Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask to sharpen the image at this step of the process.

Depending on your preferences, you might want to stop here. I like the look of HIE, so I continue with one last effect to mimic its glow.

5. Convert down the image from RGB/16 to Gray/8. Image > Mode > Grayscale, then Image > Mode > 8 bits/channel. Necessary because the final filter step only supports 8 bit depth.

6. Use the Diffuse Glow filter. Filter > Distort > Diffuse Glow. You don’t need much. I already have the grain, so I leave Graininess at 0. As a starting point I try Glow Amount 2 and Clear Amount at 17. I can’t describe exactly what each one does, but you’ll see it as you play with the sliders.

The result is Plate 1 at the top of the post. It’s fun to play with and sometimes the results are very nice. And it is definitely much easier than the old film method using HIE.

Other Ideas:

For those who do not have a suitable camera or filter, or just don’t want to shoot blind, there are options. Of course, one option is to buy an older camera like the Nikon Coolpix 9xx and a filter for it. Since point and shoot cameras typically have a live LCD viewfinder, you can see the scene just like with visible light.

Check out http://www.nickgallery.com/web_pages/technical%2020.htm for a simulated IR effect PS process that doesn’t require any filters or special camera techniques. I don’t expect that you would get the same haze-cutting ability as true IR, but otherwise it might produce similar results.

If you get really excited about IR photography, then there’s really only one thing you can do. Convert your DSLR to an IR-only camera! A number of sites on the web discuss how to remove the hot filter from your sensor and replace it with an IR-pass filter. Or there are others who will do it for you or sell you a camera with it already done. That gives you a dedicated-use IR camera that needs no filter, is sensitive enough to IR to allow normal exposure settings, and retains the use of the viewfinder for composition.

Links:

You can find many web sites discussing digital IR photography.  Here are a few good ones I’ve found:

http://www.naturfotograf.com/UV_IR_rev00.html#top_page – Bjorn Rorslett’s excellent site

http://www.wrotniak.net/photo/infrared/- just about every aspect of IR photography

http://www.cocam.co.uk/CoCamWS/Infrared/INFRARED.HTM – another good IR site

http://www.nature-photography-central.com/infrared_photoshop_tutorial.html – IR post in PS

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