The Creation of a Photo I

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First let's look at what I like about this image and what I feel makes it worth looking at:

Let's look at how a first time viewer may see this scene:

Why do I think this image works?

Now let's look very briefly how this image evolved in my mind:

As you can see the sun on the tree showed it quite nicely, and the sky has some character although not very exciting. One of the main technical problems with this image is that the lens, although a brilliant lens for normal photography has a central hot spot in IR light which is the lighter central region. In addition, at the ISO and post-processing required, it produced a bit more digital noise than I would have liked. Instead of being an exciting scene, it was a reasonably OK portrait of a tree.

I then went back to the scene and tried film infrared with a 6x6 camera but was not happy with the results, mainly because I did not have a IR filter big enough for such a wide angle lens on a 6x6 camera. I tried with colour film, but it just didn't work well enough for me.

So this time I experimented with lenses on both a Olympus E510 and a Canon 1D Mark III camera. I knew I would need about 24-28mm wide angle focal length in 35mm terms. My Olympus ZD 7-14mm lens would have been nice but it does not take filters and I didn't own a ZD 11-22mm lens which may have been the best option on the Olympus. 

I then decided to try out various wide angle lenses on the Canon 1D MIII with its 1.3x crop factor. Although my favourite wide angle lens for IR on this camera is my Olympus Zuiko OM 24mm f/2.8 as you can still compose and focus through the Live Preview, I really wanted a bit more wide angle so I chose the beautiful little Olympus Zuiko OM 21mm f/3.5 lens for this job even though I can't compose or focus in Live Preview with the IR filter on as it is f/3.5 and not f/2.8.

The Olympus Zuiko OM 21mm f/3.5 lens has always been my favorite lens for film IR work with Olympus OM cameras and Kodak HIE film. I ran tests to ensure there was no central hotspot issue.

In Feb, 2008, I had just received delivery of my nice new Feisol tripod so the next evening when I heard there was a cold front coming and it seemed it would coincide with the setting sun, I knew I might be in luck, even though it was 37deg C at 6pm still.

After dinner, I informed my family I was off for a sunset photo, and as usual they rolled their eyes in their usual way as if to say I'm crazy. I drove to my scene, some 20-30 minutes from my house, eagerly watching the progress of the clouds, and when I arrived, I was almost too late. The sun was about to drop behind the clouds and the clouds were fast encroaching too far into my scene.

Here is the initial shot taken hand held with an Olympus E330 and ZD 7-14mm lens which does not accept filters, and thus I have post-processed it to look like an infrared photo in terms of the sky but not the leaves and increased the shadow contrast. The wider perspective of a 14mm equivalent focal length demonstrates the in-coming cirrus cloud nicely, this streaming cloud is lost in the 28mm equiv. focal length used on the Canon subsequently:

I then quickly set up my tripod and took some test shots with the Canon 1DmIII with IR filter, and here is a post-processed B&W version of the sunlit scene using a 30sec exposure:

Now this is a pretty good photo, I quite like it. It gives a different ambience to my final shot as the sunlit scene makes the sky even darker and more foreboding. But I had hidden the woodlands behind the tree in an effort to getting some differentiation of the leaves from the incoming clouds which were encroaching the scene much too fast for my liking.

The final shot, I moved the tripod to the right and by then the sun dropped behind the cloud to reveal a beautiful glow on the tree from the sunlit clouds. I knew I would have a winner if only I got the composition, focus, depth of field and exposure correct - something easier said than done when you need to remove the IR filter to compose and focus, then adjust the focus according to the lens IR marker. The light and clouds were only there for about 5 minutes before the 2 main keys were gone.

Finally, the crucial post-processing step of converting a magenta IR image, first to B&W then a slight adjustment of the tone curve and application of a subtle color tint which suited my idea of what it should look like.

And as ever, to the critical eye, there could be further improvements made, but will I go back there again to try?

I hope this analysis has been helpful.

Cheers and I look forward to another good one soon.

Gary Ayton


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