UPDATE to posting of 4/14 . . .
I have now begun to post a bunch of the shots I've been making with my professionally modified Canon A630. The clarity and range of options have rendered my self-modded Kodak virtually obsolete. I still feel the work I made with the Kodak during my IR Learning Curve deserves its space and its little gallery.
I am getting a lot more page views and some very positive feedback due largely to my joining the Infrared Club. It is really gratifying.
If you are interested enough to read this, please note that I appreciate any and all comments. I really appreciate critique on my images that point out why they interest you and what are the most successful elements.
(original journal entry follows)
The group of photos I am posting now are from a years worth of experimentation inspired by my attraction to Digital Infrared photography (DIR). I have stumbled, strolled and strayed through various approaches to DIR. I have tried various filtering approaches, and a number of different cameras, and I have immersed myself in post processing.
I modified several cameras - one of which actually worked! Not perfectly by any means, but yielding more infrared than not, and producing files worth working on, some of which appear here.
Last month I finally had a camera professionally modified to be full time infrared, and I am making many images I am quite excited about. When I have a little distance and a little time I will edit and present some of that work. For now I offer my DIR Learning Curve work for your delight and edification.
This body of work will be in my gallery called IR Learning Curve. Some have been posted for a while, but there will be about 20 that I am just adding now. I may add re-edits at some point.
For those interested, here follows some of the technical details of my early efforts:
Take one point and shoot digital Kodak camera. Perform amateur filter-ectomy. Add one layer of CHEAP gel filter. Set white balance to FLUORESCENT! Voila! Digital Infrared for $50 Or LESS! There were a few other stages involved in my successful camera modification but, if I can do this, anyone can.
I got started on this project almost on the spur of the moment. I saw a couple of inspiring Digital Infrared images online, and read up just a little bit. I might have driven myself just a little less crazy had I read a bit more, but then I might never have pursued the project. I was inspired to go out and get an infrared filter to try, but I wanted to use my Canon 10D with the Tamron zoom that takes. . .82mm filters! You know that costs plenty just for a generic UV filter. Not many infrared filters are available at that size, and they run hundreds of dollars.
Even at $50 I almost choked and didnt buy the only filter at my local photo store that would work, but I gave in and got a Cokin P007. Normally the Cokin is used with its dedicated holder system; I kludged a filter holder with my lens shade and some weather stripping so I could frame my shots and then just pop on the visually opaque filter.
I had to use exposures ranging from 2 to 8 seconds, using the (non-variable) 10 second, self-timer each time since I lack a cable release. With this cumbersome procedure I still made over a hundred exposures, lugging the camera and tripod around downtown Austin for about five or six hours. I could barely see the results I was getting. When I played them back they showed as dark, low contrast, two-tone orange and gray-blue that told little about the success or failure of each.
As was prescribed at various digital IR sites, I had set the white balance using green grass, with the goal of achieving that ghostly woods effect that is the hallmark of infrared photos. HAH! I have got to say I didnt get a single woods effect from that entire effort. Successful pictures, yes. Surreal, yes. Pretty, yes. Classic infrared? Not.
I shot some RAW, and some JPEG, and spent many a struggling hour learning to post process them to any satisfying level. Of all the shots I worked on, only half a dozen still interest me very much.
The next phase in my infrared oddessy was buying a Minolta DiMage 7 on Ebay. The DiMage 7 is one of the well known high IR sensitivity point and shoot cameras. It also has custom white balance ability, which many point and shoots dont. When it came out in 2001 this 5.2MP camera was as advanced as you got without having a D-SLR.
Under bright sunny skies it was sensitive enough to produce handheld shots with a Hoya R72 infrared filter, which was very exciting. But I discovered some mechanical defects that limited the scope of what I could try, and after less than two dozen photos I decided to return it.
Now I started reading about modified cameras. The D-SLRs are just too expensive to have modified or to try to mod myself. A good number of sites gave instructions for modding certain point and shoot digicams. Various old Olympus, Nikon and Canon cameras seemed to be preferred - all having known good IR sensitivity. A little reading will tell you that ALL digital cameras have IR sensitivity; they all have IR blocking filters to restrict the sensors exposure to just the visible light spectrum. If you remove the internal blocking filter, and put a visible-light-blocking filter, ( inaccurately known as an infrared filter) in front of the lens you will get infrared photos. (You will also no longer need multi-second long exposures, obviating the need for a tripod.)
Traditional black and white, grainy infrared images from film can be simulated, fairly easily, using standard IR filters and minimal post processing, even without modifying a camera. But I find the most exciting digital IR photos are the false color images. They are not simple to make. Suitable exposures are influenced by a number of factors, and extracting the image can be painstaking and require not inconsiderable experience with Photoshop or an equivalent pro application.
Each digital image sensor has intrinsic IR sensitivity, even though the internal IR blocking filters have become more effective over the years. The quality of image you can make may have more to do with the data processing that goes on inside the camera than differences between the internal IR cut filters. Transforming raw data from the light sensor arrays to produce the digital image is an arcane computing process that is proprietary to each manufacturer. Using the same IR filters and settings can result in very different results between, for example, a Nikon and a Canon. There can even be very large differences between different models by the same manufacturer. It is always easier to extract a monochrome IR image than to achieve a satisfying color result. My first filter-ectomy certainly proved that.
In my camera collection I have some real dinosaurs. I have made exposures with almost all of them, but a number are just curiosities. In that category I included a Kodak DC200. This camera proudly sports the word Megapixel, tho it actually produces images that have no more than 900,000 pixels! I figured it would be no great loss if I turned it into a non-functional display piece. I took the plunge and dissected it. It was not too hard to remove pieces and get access to the IR blocking filter. I plucked it out of its little niche, and substituted a homemade filter.
(A brief digression. Unexposed positive (slide) film when developed appears black, and is virtually opaque to visible light. Negative film, completely exposed and processed appears completely black and is virtually opaque to visible light. Either one can be used as a filter that passes Infrared light! In my experiments I have found two layers are needed to be effective. It is truly the poor mans IR filter.... There is a loss of sharpness that most will find unacceptable for serious work.)
So I cut some black negative to fit the filter niche, and reassembled the camera to a functional degree, put in some batteries and a memory card, and damned if I didnt have an infrared camera . . .
. . . sort of. I was getting a magenta/pink preview. Trees and vegetation were showing very light and white, but very soft focus. I found I had a near-sighted infrared camera! Literally - I can hold my glasses in front of the lens and get fairly good focus!
A little more research told me that the alteration in the light path through the glass, IR blocking filter was far more significant than I would have guessed. With the fixed focus lens I cant adjust the relationship of the lens to the sensor, so without the right amount of glass where the filter was, this camera will never be sharply focused again.
In addition to the focus issue, there wasnt enough color information making it through the filter to make anything more than a monochrome image. I tried various Photoshop approaches, and the images just didnt have enough tones to work with.
I had proven the concept in principle, and I had gotten some practice taking a digital camera apart. I decided to try again. I spent $20 at a pawn shop for a Kodak Z760; a 6MP, 3X optical zoom point and shoot. The steps to disassemble this camera were a little more challenging but, again, not too hard. All I used was a tiny Phillips, and several small flat head screwdrivers just for prying and dissecting.
I learned how to detach (and re-attach!) the ribbon cables from the circuit boards, which went better than I feared during the dissection process. When I got to the back of the lens-housing the IR blocking filter was as easy to remove as it was in the previous camera.
At that stage I put the camera back together just enough to power it up and make sure it was working. It was not only working, but still showed plenty of color! Since it was a zoom lens I hoped that the automatic focusing mechanism would compensate for the altered light-path, so I finished reassembling without any more tweaks. Upon testing I found I had created another nearsighted camera, alas. HOWEVER! When I tested filters in front of the lens the IR sensitivity had increased to the point of easily taking hand-held IR exposures.
The color information I sought was clearly present as well. It wasnt perfect straight out of the camera, but that would have been a miracle. First I had to work on the focus issue. Racking my brain for a source of extremely thin glass, I remembered my ancient archive ( a shoebox deep in closet!) of slides in GLASS MOUNTS! I dug them out and proceeded to drive myself a bit more around the bend trying to cut tiny pieces . . .with a glass cutting tool.
I cut the pieces a little too big, and they barely didnt fit into the filter niche. Then I moistened a metal file and rubbed the edge of the glass on it firmly but slowly, and that actually worked to make the fit!
I reassembled the camera, and found some improvement with a single layer of glass. So I added another layer which proved to be too thick; the movement of the lens cracked it almost right off. So Im staring at the once again dissected camera. I realize that each time I have put it back together I have carefully replaced a pair of metal pieces to either side of the filter niche. I wondered if they were acting as spacers. . . So I took em out, took out the glass, over-tightened the sensor assembly to bring it closer to the lens and EUREKA! the camera focuses!
Shooting without a filter at all produced shots with color, and with a deep magenta cast in green vegetation. That was interesting in itself. When I popped on an infrared filter, however (the P007, or the R72) the results were astounding: I had an IR sensitive camera that could make decent hand-held exposures! I tested and experimented with the unfiltered results quite a bit and, while it made fascinating pictures that might justify their own body of work, I was still not getting the images I wanted.
When I used the P007, or the R72 filters I was getting monochrome infrared images. Pretty cool, but still not the color infrared I was aiming for. Testing slide film filters was very interesting: with two layers I was getting very similar results to the traditional filters. With one layer I started to see something different, but not enough to work with. I started brainstorming.
I knew that this camera was now IR and color sensitive. I needed to find some filter and/or method to shift the infrared response to be lighter rather than saturated, while not losing the other color information.
I remembered an experiment Id read about online where this guy used cheap gel filters to turn a pair of welders goggles into daylight IR filters he could wear to see the world in infrared with his bare eyes. The filters he used were Lee #181, Congo Blue lighting gels and some deep red filters. I went out and bought some.
Much fiddling and diddling commenced. I got an adaptor tube for the Kodak, and some step-up rings that let me mount filters in front of the lens. I sandwiched different combinations of gels between two clear (UV) filters. I did a number of tests of all the filter combinations I could think of, and I was getting very close; but not close enough to the dramatic light-vegetation-in-an-odd-colored-world effect I wanted. Many hours were spent in Photoshop with some good results, but still not exactly what I wanted. I was almost ready to end the experiments when I just arbitrarily flipped the light balance to the Flourescent setting with the Congo blue filter on the lens.
Holy @#*! Out popped the light vegetation Woods effect! And it had color! At this point I merely needed to refine my exposure technique, and then I really got into shooting in Digital Color Infrared!...
Several months of experimenting made a good number of interesting images. But I wanted MORE! More sharpness, more control, more pixels to make much larger prints! I especially wanted the ability to set a custom white balance. During the time I was shooting with the Kodak I kept an eye on the local pawn shops to try to find a bargain. A $50 Canon A540 was a very fair deal. I snagged it and began a series of experiments with filters in front of the lens, some of which are in this body of work. Dream Road 1 and 2 were made with this camera. I think I used a combination of Congo blue and one layer of opaque slide film for those.
That still left me on a tripod which, frankly, I do not have the patience for most of the time. I must confess here that my experimentation was haphazard; a scientist I am NOT! When I got results I liked I often had only a vague idea how Id gotten them... I wanted an IR camera that I could hand-hold so I could go wherever inspiration might lead me.
So I tried to modify the A540 myself. There is actually a detailed intructional guide to the process complete with pictures:
Of course, being my typical patient and methodical self, I thought I could just get away with my crude soldering/desoldering skills. As with the Kodak, the process required dis- and re- assembly several times. Each time I had to detach and then reattach two teeny-tiny wires to two teeny weeny holes in the circuit board. . .. and about the fourth time this proved beyod my abilities, and so I had created. . . a BRICK.
The problem was getting the sensor to the correct relationship to the lens assembly. Someone with slightly more skill and patience than I can certainly manage it. (If I were to try again I think I would try to splice in and add maybe two inches of the same gauge wire the first time I reattached the circuit board, and that would leave enough slack to avoid detaching the board all together for each subsequent disassembly....)
So I waited for a deal and finally got a Canon A630, which I had professionally modified through Precision Camera Repair in CT. Note that Precision now subs out the modification work, and you should get a specific estimate because the conversion costs more than Precisions repair rates, (which is not completely clear when browsing the site). The modification price is competitive with other companies out there, so they are a good option.
What I am posting now, however, is just a small selection from the more than 2000 exposures I have made over the last year. Some of them depart pretty far from my original intentions, but each one started with some camera being filtered or abused in the attempt to shoot color Digital Infrared.
Stay tuned for the further adventures of .....Infrared Steven!