Why we still need optical filters

Tiffen ND filterArticle about optical filters I wrote for TechRadar:

The idea of filtering light before it enters the camera has been around for almost as long as photography itself. In the beginning there was no need for diffusers or soft-focus filters, as the lenses of the day were quite soft enough thank you. Things changed when black and white emulsions were developed that were sensitive to blue and green light, instead of just blue, and suddenly there were creative benefits to interrupting the light path with a sheet of coloured glass to control the recorded effect.

As we developed colour films and emulsions the desire to filter really took off, and as colour film reached the general population, and photography as a hobby came to the masses, filters became a major part of the required kit. However, they multiplied in number at a rampant pace, like bacteria in a warm, moist petri dish, and we saw the production of both quite useful and quite useless filters.

Read the rest of this article here on the TechRadar website


Shooting digital infrared – avoiding the obvious

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Infrared picture of a tree in a churchyard

Infrared photography used to be a firm favourite of the darkroom user in a days of film supremacy, but with the advent of digital photography the popularity of infrared capture died away somewhat. It didn’t disappear completely, as it didn’t take IR junkies long to realise that many digital cameras are also sensitive to IR light, and with an IR, or a deep red, filter in place a decent enough image could be captured. The number of digital cameras now that have sensitivity significantly extended into the IR wavelengths are few, as it actually has a detrimental impact on normal daylight photography, but some do still have enough ability to record IR light that an image can be made.

What is infrared?

Infrared is the name given to a group of light wavelengths that extend beyond visible red. The word ‘infrared’ means ‘below red’ in Latin – referring to the fact the wavelengths are longer than those of red. For creative photographic purposes the wavelengths we are interested in run between about 700 nanometres and 1000, but some forms of scientific applications use even longer wavelengths.
In IR photography we capture the infrared portion of the spectrum that is reflected from objects in the scene. In general terms live objects, such as grasses and leaves reflect most IR, and these objects appear very bright in IR images. It is commonly believed that IR photography captures differences in temperatures, or that certain objects emit IR light. Neither of these are true.

Fujifilm IS Pro

For this picture I used a fully infrared compatible camera – the Fujifilm IS Pro. This is a camera built into the body of the company’s S5 Pro DSLR, but with the infrared blocking filter removed, and with menu controls specific to shooting in IR. Originally designed for scientific work, it soon grabbed the attention of creative photographers as an extremely convenient way of recreating what they used to do with a tricky and complicated film process. The camera can shoot in colour as well as black and white, and with a ‘hot filter’ (which cuts out IR) over the lens it acts as a normal camera.

Is your camera IR sensitive?

An easy way to find out if your camera has sensitivity to light in the IR part of the spectrum is to cover the lens with an IR filter and then shine in IR light at it. Infrared filters are not cheap, but sources of IR light are common. A TV remote will work, and aimed in low light at your camera with the IR filter over the lens will record as a bright dot on the rear LCD screen when a button is pressed.
You can have your DSLR converted to shoot IR by having the IR blocking filter removed. Companies such as ACS will perform the surgery for you. Don’t try it yourself.


An infrared picture of Tower 42 with white clouds and a black sky

Avoiding the obvious

There is enough IR photography about for the effect to be easily recognisable, and most IR photographers do much the same thing. On a sunny day a blue sky records as a deep black, while clouds reflect large amounts of IR and appear bright and dramatic. Most photographers will try to use these characteristics to create a dramatic and impactful image. There is nothing wrong with that either, but I prefer to use the effects in a less obvious way that still creates an interesting picture, but one that does not scream ‘I’ve been shot in IR’.

IR film used to be very grainy, and could be used to create a coarse textured image that was very appealing. Here I’ve chosen a subject that suits that kind of treatment – an old building – and used the IR effect to have a mildly surreal impact on the grass and leaves to make the picture standout as being a bit different. The effect is very soft and almost dreamlike, without being obviously manipulated or part of a special process. I don’t want the first reaction to the picture to concern how it was done, but what it looks like.

There is no easy way to measure IR light with a normal exposure meter, so we end up having to guess. With film that could be a drama itself, but obviously with a digital IR camera life is much more straightforward – you can view the success of the exposure immediately. Generally small apertures are needed to ensure focus (IR light does not focus in the same plane as the light our cameras and lenses are designed for), and lengthy shutter speeds are needed to compensate.

See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

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at www.damiendemolder.com

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Fujifilm IS Pro f/11 @ 1/40sec – camera rated at ISO 100.


Infrared picture of a tree in a churchyard

Grass and leaves reflect IR and appear lighter in IR images


An infrared picture of Tower 42 with white clouds and a black sky

A blue sky turns black in IR photography, and clouds stand out with drama

Flowers at night by lamp light – night lavender

Using artificial light • Beating camera shake • Using walls for support • Shooting at an angle

Lavender shot at night by lamp light, by Damien Demolder

We are used to seeing flowers in daylight, and that is how we most often shoot them too. In fact, we really don’t expect to see flowers at night, as most disappear inside themselves once the sun goes down. I spotted this lavender in flowerbeds around a hotel car park late one night, lit by lamps dotted around that were kept on all night. Lit from below and on a level, the lavender stems looked most unusual. I suppose, looking back, I have seen lamp-lit plants many times before, but this was the first time they really caught my eye, and the first time I really looked.

I was on my way back from dinner, so I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I turned the ISO up to 1600, braced my elbows against my knees, and hoped for the best. Shooting with the aperture opened to f/5.6 I managed a shutter speed of 1/25sec most of the time – so with a focal length of 135mm on a full frame sensor I produced plenty of camera-shake. By trying each shot a three or four times I got at least one sharp frame for every composition. There’s always a wall or something to add extra support, and with a bit of luck the angles all work out well – in fact, restricting yourself to the views allowed by wall-mounting can lead to compositions you may not have thought to try otherwise.

For this particular shot I rested my arms on the top of a low wall and held the camera tightly to my face for extra support. Focusing manually in the low light I gently depressed the shutter release as softly as I could, while breathing very slowly. I was using an IS (Canon’s Image Stabilisation) lens, which helped too. Surprisingly, given the conditions, I did manage quite a few sharp images.

Keeping the white balance on daylight has allowed the colours of the sodium lights to reflect in the colours of the plants. The greens of the stems are really quite vibrant, while the purples of the lavender heads are slightly warmer than they might have been. The lavender was leaning over anyway, as it does, but I shot with the camera on an angle to emphasise the fact and to create a more dynamic composition.

Canon EOS 1Ds III with EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. ISO 1600, f/5.6 @ 1/25sec. Shot in raw and processed in Adobe Lightroom 

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com


Lavender shot at night by lamp light, by Damien Demolder



Capturing movement – Blue Bamboo

These are not my bamboo plants – they belong to my wife. But I’m the one who chats to them, waters them and feeds them. They’ve grown really tall, and when the wind blows across the garden they lean right over and sway around. I love listening to the sound of their dry leaves brushing together – it sounds like the sea – and watching the sun sparkle as the canes and leaves alternately block it and then let it through.

For this shot I wanted to capture the movement of the leaves and the canes on a windy day. It doesn’t take much wind to make them move, but as they are quite rigid, and they block the wind as well as dance in it, some parts of the plant move more than others. It seemed silly to shot on a tripod when capturing movement like this, so I shot hand-held and made the most of the freedom to try lots of different angles.

As it was a bright day, I needed a small aperture to get a shutter speed long enough to show the movement. In the end I settled on f/16 and shutter speeds of around 1/15sec. The shutter opening was enough to show the movement in some areas and a degree of sharpness in others, which then allows the picture to explain more clearly what was going on. The leaves, which were fluttering very quickly, have become very blurred, but the gently swaying canes are quite well defined.

I shot in colour, but knowing that I would convert to black and white afterwards. I wanted to use a green filter to lighten the leaves and to create contrast with the darker canes, but a physical glass filter would have created too much flare – I was shooting into the light.

The same shot in colourI converted the picture to black and white via channel mixer – using just the green channel – and then toned it with this china blue colour. To do this I converted the RGB file to greyscale, and then made it a duotone. I’m not too bothered what colour I choose in Duotone mode, as I always adjust the colour and saturation once the file is converted back to RGB.

Once it was done I went into Levels and moved the highlight output levels to 252 from 255. That just takes the edge off the white background and reduces the contrast a touch

It’s pointless to add sharpening to such a soft image – so I didn’t.

Shot with a Canon EOS 1Ds III, with EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – exposure 1/10sec at f/29. ISO 100

If you want to use this same grey/blue for a duotone click the selected colour in the ‘Ink 2’ box and then type bdc6cb into the hex colour box that sits at the bottom of the ‘Color Picker’ window. The hex color box is the one with a # (hash symbol) next to it.

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
at www.damiendemolder.com

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