May 2016

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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!


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.


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.


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 week I went along to a rally outside Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature building in Toronto. I was there to support my niece and her husband and family in their struggle against the cruel and callous cuts that the Liberal government are making in the funding for autism programs. Of course I took my camera. This wasn’t an event where I was an outside observer simply looking for pictures, it was something in which I was, I am, emotionally invested and I wanted my pictures to reflect that involvement, to show the struggle that these parents and families are going through simply because the provincial government wants to save money.

You have to wonder about the thought process of politicians and how they reconcile their supposed duties of care and service with the intense harm they are doing. Families with autistic children? Not a problem, Premier. They’ll be too busy to protest. They’re ordinary joes so they won’t make a fuss. We can save some cash there and maybe spend it on defending ourselves from the fifth police investigation in recent years.

The rally had a colour theme, blue. There are so many causes that use colour to identify themselves, there always have been. Going back to the Blues, Greens, Reds and White in ancient Rome, through the development of military uniforms to sports teams, colour provides a unifying identity, a way of saying “that person is with us, we’re part of the same cause”. In this case it’s blue, blue shirts everywhere, blue flags waving in a slight breeze on a beautiful sunny lunchtime. Blue against the red stone backdrop of the provincial Parliament building where the Liberal politicians hid all day and from where they refused to come out to meet their victims.


I took my pictures, listened to the emotional and passionate speakers, spoke to the leader of the Ontario PC party myself and generally just tried to be there as support for the family (and families). I went home to process the pictures and put them up on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter as you do these days. Now, following a tip from the Canadian landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett, my LCD preview, the JPG shot, is always set to black and white. You can see the tones better that way.

But on my way home I had a sudden thought – had I changed the settings on my camera to shoot both RAW & JPG, which would give me 2 versions of the picture, one in colour and one in B&W? I checked. I had not. I had no record of the colour, the blue, the uniformity of the crowd, the impact that the colour made, the multi-coloured lapel stickers, I had only black and white. To be honest, that didn’t worry me too much because some of my best (I think) shots have been B&W, but I had hoped to show some of the colour of the day in my pictures.


So I processed the pictures without colour and I had no blue. But you know what I had instead? Pictures that had soul. Pictures that had feeling and emotion. There were no distractions and no artificial prettiness. The focus (pun intended) was on exactly what it should have been on in order to tell the story of the day. It was on the people, the families, the speakers and the children. The pictures showed their pain and tears, the viewer’s attention was not distracted by colours. not just blue but the many other colours in the signs people had made and carried.

Those signs presented their message in stark black and white. I took a picture which showed the family I was there to support walking together; I look at the picture and the first thing I see is the mother’s face looking at her child with such a blend of concern and love. You can read everything there. I snapped one mother wiping away a tear during one of the speeches. The picture is all the stronger because it doesn’t care what colour shirt she was wearing, it shows the person and the struggle that they go through every single day. I’m proud of what that whole set says and the message it conveys.


Colour is a wonderful medium and some of my favourite photographs have been taken in colour. I love some of the current film stock, Portra 400 and Ektar 100, but it has it’s place. As the Canadian photographer Ted Grant said, and yes, it’s become a bit of a cliche but it’s no less true for all that, “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls”. Yesterday wasn’t a day for colour, yesterday was for black and white.





For more information on this topic and campaign please go to The Ontario Autism Coalition and lend your voice!

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