Given the ongoing coronavirus, I decided to convert my Nikon D810 to infrared. Now I am seeing the Washington, DC area in a new light.
After photographing the DC area for more a couple of decades now, I welcome the change. Infrared has given me a new sense of excitement about photographing the region.
The converted camera lets me photograph city scenes that have become somewhat stale to my eye in a new light. It was only when I converted the camera that I wanted to photograph the above Capital Columns again.
The above photograph of Constitution Gardens shows a 665 “extra color” infrared conversion on the camera. Instead of a straight black and white shot, it gives the foliage a light yellow color and makes the skies blue.
Of course, I can edit the photos to give them a slightly different look. For example, the below image taken at the Kennedy Center features almost completely desaturated foliage.
Infrared images with a dash of color offer surreal scenes. Maybe that fits the current time, particularly in this city. I am also fond of the color-rich Kodachrome IR simulation created by Kolari and the more traditional full IR conversion, which delivers stark monochrome images.
5 Guidelines for Shooting Infrared
One month into my infrared journey, I am just starting out on my infrared journey. I noticed five guidelines that impact my shot selection.
I do want to give a shout-out to my friend and long-time infrared photographer Richard Binhammer who suggested some of these tips. Richard shoots full infrared which produces some really dramatic and fantastic photos.
Shoot with the sun: The best time of day to shoot infrared is when the sun is bright and vivid. This may be on the shoulder of a cloudless day, but more likely in the middle of the day. The more sun, the better. That being said, if the sun is behind you, you can get some crazy cloudscape shots, like the above Jones Point Lighthouse image. When it is cloudy, you definitely want a tripod to help out.
Paths and roads pop: Another thing you can see in the Jones Point shot is the leading line created by the path. In infrared roads and paths cut through foliage and grass with a greater starkness than the average color image. This creates great leading lines for infrared. Now that have noticed this, I am looking for the ultimate S curve shot in infrared!
Look for foliage: The more vegetation you have in the shot, the more infrared bling the image offers. So, while I can photograph monuments and such with the camera, those images work much better when there is some sort of foliage in the image. I now avoid straight architecture shots with no plant life,
Manual focus: At first. creating sharp images challenged me. The camera autofocus gets close to the actual image but misses just slightly. Instead, zoom in and finish the job manually. Unless the lens is calibrated for infrared, this is pretty normal. And since none of my lenses are calibrated, I have found going manual with focus is a must.
Infrared editing is different: Post-processing requires a completely different workflow. To get the images right, starting with making sure your white balance is customized in your camera. Fail to do this, and your images will suffer greatly.
Once you get the camera on your computer, Lightroom interprets the infrared white balance incorrectly so you need a special infrared profile to restore them. After processing in this fashion, you swap the red and blue channels in Photoshop before the images are true infrared. Only then can you begin the traditional editing process.
The toning differs from image to image. In color, no two sunsets are the same, and the same can be said for infrared scenes from day-to-day. And then the image itself requires different tweaks. Sometimes, I lean towards white foliage as it looks better to my eye (Note: I have since resolved this issue by using the white balance eyedropper in Lightroom to even out wild variances, another Binhammer tip).
The Decision to Convert my Camera
The D810 was my second body for events. There are few events these days outside of small weddings (which I prefer not to photograph) due to the COVID 19 crises. With no end in the immediate future, I decided to convert the aging camera.
In addition to my Nikon D850, I also have a Fuji XT-3, providing a second color camera in case of failure or accident. I prefer the lighter Fuji for casual shooting, so the D810 was just gathering dust on my shelf.
If my event business returns, I plan on making the long-delayed leap to full-frame mirrorless. Otherwise, we’ll keep going as is.
Selling the D810 used in its current condition would net only a couple hundred dollars. This is more fun.
I used Kolari for the conversion based on their filter choices. However, though the filter came out just fine, their customer service underwhelmed me. Further, antiquated tutorials on their site could be more helpful.
If I convert another camera to infrared, I would use Kolari again for their more color-centric Kodachrome like filters. Otherwise, LifePixel offers a better choice end-to-end for conversion.
Infrared added a fresh dimension to my photography, offering new challenges and a means to revisit old subjects. Moody, composition centric infrared made me rethink photography. Experienced photographers who have an old body lying around, will be surprised with the results!