Unseen Light Learning Curve.

Infrared (IR) images have been something I have been working towards for a little while now. This time last year I set myself a goal to own and know how to use an IR camera. That dream is now a reality but it has come at a cost.

Combined-comparison-webI fell in love with the image capability IR can give with a cheap IR filter. I had to have my own real IR camera. Not only Is it harder to find a camera with IR capability but you also need to learn through trial and error how to control such a camera. You would think that knowing how to use a normal camera in your sleep would be enough but the truth of the matter is it’s much more complex than that.

Problem one was once I had bought a camera I wanted converted I needed to get it done. There is a couple of places that are highly recommended like LifePixel (now Kolari Vision) but they are over in America and for an Australian artist the cost can be hard to cover.


So next would be an Australian company. If you are a little fussy with how far you are willing to send your camera from you then this could also be a tricky one. The only store I have found that is highly recommended in Aus is Camera Clinic down in Collingwood Victoria. The only other options you have are those small dodgy ones over on Ebay who are cheaper.

So you cringe a little at ether forking out more for a recommended conversion house or getting it done cheaper through ebay and hoping you don’t pick a bad egg.

IMG_0047Next you have to choose what type of conversion you want. See there is not just one standard conversion for IR like there is for Ultraviolet and normal visible light. Questions you need to be able to answer are things like, what conversion do you want? The answers to this depend on your own likes. I found Kolari Vision has a great write up on the types. I don’t like the weird color you gain from the likes of false color or lower nanometers (NM) and so I went with a “Deep Black and White Filter” that is an 830nm filter.

Now the hype hits you. All you have left is to wait for your new camera. You start looking on the web at all the amazing images people have taken with your chosen filter. you get the camera back home, take it out on the first ideal day and BAM your dreams are shot down. Maybe you can’t get exposure right, or maybe it’s blurry, or heaven forbid you can’t find something great to shoot.

This is where I was at about six months ago. New camera in hand and I just had to plunder through with trial and error. I was prepared for this to some extent but it was like you had turned up to do a course on your camera and the teachers didn’t know what to do. This thrilled me but I found I had to sink a lot of hours into the camera before I could just take it out and shoot what I wanted quickly.



Visible Veins, Zombie eyes, slight see through top

I broke it down into parts. 1) Green is my new white so that must be exposed correctly. 2) Sky is supposed to be black or mostly black. 3) Skin is supposed to be white not grey or with veins visible. 4) Hotspots, dead looking eyes (Zombie Eyes) and overly soft edges are not good 5) Editing is harder and takes more time 6) Clothing does not mean you are covered in the final picture.

The next six months I learnt how to control the outcome of my images. After many hours, notes, failed images and tears I got a feel for what I needed to do. I am sure my husband hates the fact I got my IR camera. I have had it all about that camera since I got it. There is no real one way to use these cameras. They are so unique and even how one camera interacts with the same lens at different aperture and stuff your whole image. If there was ever a camera you needed 10,000 hours on to master I would have to say this is it.


I am far from a master at this point in time but I am also well on my way to mastering the camera I have fallen in love with as well.


Color Correction without a Spyder

I have seen a few people on Facebook and the likes asking about color correction and vibrancy.  These things are interesting subjects on their own but can cause a lot of drama together as well. Before I get into how I color correct an image in Photoshop without any added software please remember that sometimes a “color correct image” is not as good as an “incorrect color image.”  This is the case in things like Infrared photos that turn out quite red/orange normally out of the camera and also on occasion a visible light spectrum image that seems week or uninteresting at first can be made to be interesting with false color.  De-saturation is good and can be used to change the feel of an image. Much the same as an over saturated one.  I am not a magazine photographer by any stretch of the imagination. My work is at best compared to theirs, outlandish but would you compare Bill Henson to Andy Warhol?

Still want to be color correct all the time?

Now that’s out of the road lets get down to the nitty gritty.

Photoshop color correction is rather simple and can even be done on a black and while screen if you know what you should be doing. Each image should have a “true black” and a “true white” value in them at some point. These values ensure you have a good dynamic in your image and are a great way to correct the color in your image. So how do you use this to correct?

Step 1 – Open a Curves or  Levels layer. Once open you will see A black slider and a White slider. (little arrows at the bottom of your graph.) If you click on the sliders you will get numbers underneath them. These are important to change if you want true black found within a printers capability. Printers can not print at a ‘0’ value or a ‘255’ value. So you must change the values. On a levels layer you simply change the value that says ‘0’ to ‘5’ and the one that says ‘255’ to ‘250’. On a levels layer you need to click the slider and then change the input and output to ‘5’ for black and ‘250’ for white. Clipping the values by 5 allows for the printing color to be correct.  Refer to below.

Where to find the curves layer shortcut and the sliders to change the range of color in a photo.

Where to find the curves layer shortcut and the sliders to change the range of color in a photo.

Step 2 – The colors correction step it’s self. On the left there are 3 eye droppers. Eye droppers are used to “sample” a color or tone. In this case we are going to use them to Sample from our “true white” and “true black” places on our image.  The easiest way to figure out where to find a value is to find the brightest highlight and darkest shadow. The spot between closed legs is almost always true black if they have black pants. Pupils in the eye are another great one. For true white look for things like the shine on hair or the reflection of your softbox in the eyes.

So now you know your “true values” click your black dropper (top one of the 3) and hold down the ALT (PC) COMMAND (MAC) key while hovering over your image. The image will go very funny colors but don’t panic. The true black will appear to be the darkest color on your picture now. If you need to zoom in to make sure you sample the right pixel don’t be afraid to. Your zoom in shortcuts will not remove your eye dropper tool. Once this is done your image may look a little funny but that’s ok as it will be fixed when you use the lowest dropper or white dropper in the same way. This time when you mouse over with your modifier key to get that funny looking image you are looking for the brightest point of the image to sample from. Use the images below for assistance on what you should expect.

The black and white eye dropper locations on a curves layer.

The black and white eye dropper locations on a curves layer.

A view of how the ALT/COMMAND button will change view in dropper mode.

A view of how the ALT/COMMAND button will change view in dropper mode.


That’s all there is to it. I want to remind you that not all photos need or even should be color corrected. Some images are better with artists impressions and false color on them. As I was told many times before you should understand the rule before you break the rule. Also consider making sure your skin tones do not need to have an additional color correction layer on them to keep both them and the background color corrected. Sometimes a flash or reflector will change the balance of your foreground in comparison to your background. Layer masks and an additional layer are friends if this happens.

Consider printing out a Color calibration sheet and having it printed at a print house such as RGB Digital or Arthead (ask and they will send you the file and printed one from their machine)  and manually making sure your colors are correct in your computer to aid your color choices. When manually setting your screen it’s advised to use a daylight globe in the room and set while it’s on. It’s very hard to set a screen in the dark because there is no light hitting the paper so your brain is trying to compensate more while you do it.