Artistic

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One thing I have always been intrigued by is Infrared photography. You know, those magical, fantastical looking pictures of Narnia-like white trees with their ethereal leaves against a black, looming sky. I briefly tried using an ir filter (820nm) on my D610 while on a shoot last year and while I was pleased with the picture I wasn’t quite so pleased with the length of the exposure I needed to make. Unlike using a ND filter, there isn’t a simple calculation you can make to determine the length of the exposure. Because camera models, and the strength of their IR reduction, vary, it can be a matter of hit and miss and experimentation.

So unless you want to go for a full IR conversion of your camera, you’ll be stuck with using an IR filter. In which case, check your camera model for its suitability. Luckily, I happened to have an old Nikon D70 still sitting around. Bought in 2004 it’s a 6mp DSLR which adapts very well to taking an IR screw-on filter. Exposures of minutes with a D610 or D7100 take only a couple of seconds on the D70 and it still a very decent camera.

Over and above the right equipment, the one component I had no control over was the environment. If there are no leaves on the trees then you ain’t getting ethereal leaf shots, no matter what you’re shooting with. So I had to wait until the long, if mild this year, Canadian winter came to an end. Then we struggled through early Spring until finally, in early May our trees started to sprout their leaves. Shooting landscapes you get used to having to wait for the right light. In this case I had to wait for the right month!

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Take a tripod, because even with a camera as ir-friendly as the D70 you’re still looking at long exposures. Take a cable release or remote and be prepared to judge the exposure from the histogram. The D70 has a miniscule rear screen compared to more modern cameras, so trying to assess your exposure by sight on that tiny monitor is not going to help you much. Especially as your initial image will be predominantly red.

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Once I had my images the next step was to turn them into something presentable. My plan was to produce a set of contrasty black and white shots so I used Nik (Google) Silver Efex 2 to do the conversion. This product is now available with the rest of the Nik plugins from Google for FREE. OK, Google has admitted that they won’t be developing the software any further, but the suite contains some of the most powerful tools currently available and if you have PS or LR and you don’t have Nik, then get it.

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But then I found that there’s more. By adjusting Curves in Photoshop I could give the image even more interest; this is a simple way to emulate some of the current filters available in Instagram. Normally I avoid filters like the plague but a little experimentation can be a good thing and I ended up recreating the Clarendon or Verve filter using some Curves settngs I found on the web. I think it works.

So if you’ve got an old camera hanging around that you don’t use any more, see if it’s suitable for an IR filter. Better yet, why not go the extra mile and get it converted? There are a couple of companies around who will convert your camera so that it shoots IR ‘natively’. That way there are no filters, no delays or long exposures unless you plan them, and the camera shoots and exposes normally. Give it a go – you might be surprised.

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This weekend I went to Algonquin Provincial Park with a couple of friends/family from our little photography group. Our plan had been to see the spectacular fall colours that, on average, reach their peak on the last weekend of September. Well, unfortunately, Nature has been so good to us over the summer that she’s now taking back when it comes to the Fall, so the peak change is going to be later than average this year. But, we had our hotel reservations which are impossible to change at this time of year, so it was then or never for us. Determined to make the best of it, we set off early on Saturday morning. When we reached the park about 3 hours later we saw that there was a decent amount of colour change, not anywhere near the peak that we’d hoped for, but enough to give us some excitement.

The two girls in the group had never been to the Park before, so this was all new for them. I’ve been a number of times so I’d actually wanted to do something a little different this time, and I’d planned a weekend of long exposures, ICM, multiple exposures and all-round ‘arty-farty’ (as my wife calls them) pictures. I had also just read up on a new technique being pioneered by a couple of photographers, Pep Ventosa and Stephen D’Agostino, called Photography In The Round which consists of circling a stationary object, say a tree, taking shots from all points of the circle and then combining them in PS to produce a very impressionistic single image. I was excited to try this and the other techniques, so the lack of colour didn’t matter that much to me.

Then there was the light. Everyone knows that landscape photographers only go out at dawn and dusk and never shoot anything in between because the light is so bad. Correct? No. At a seminar given by one of my inspirations, the Canadian landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett, he said – and I paraphrase – that there is no such thing as bad light, there’s only what you choose to do with it. So when we found ourselves on top of The Lookout in blazing sunshine in the middle of the afternoon with not a cloud in the sky, well then, we started to practice backlit portraits and fill flash, intentional camera movements and abstract photography. No, we couldn’t get the scenery we wanted, but we certainly could take photographs. We drove a long way to spend the weekend making pictures, and that’s what we did.

Editing is key too. I shot around 300 pictures. Most of them are technically sound; around 10% are what I consider keepers. They are the ones that show me something I haven’t seen before or that I haven’t achieved before. The rest, well they’re part of the journey. They’d make nice snapshots, but they wouldn’t generate a lot of interest. I’d rather have 25 good-to-great (in my not-so-humble opinion) pictures than 200 shots that were simply OK. But heck, it was fun and we made the most of the trip, the landscape, the environment and the opportunity to shoot for ourselves without boring the pants off our poor families.

Same time next year?

Algonquin road trip

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