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A Venture into Infrared Photography 1st august 2016

At the start of the year I decided I wanted to try to do more landscape photography. Landscape photography is something I enjoy doing but haven't devoted the same amount time to as my wildlife photography. One problem I've found with landscape photography is the need to be out at sunrise and sunset, the quality of light makes a big difference to the images produced. The problem I find is the limited sunrise and sunset periods make it harder to justify getting out further afield when the light could be good only for an hour or two. I'm hoping the answer to this is to try Infrared Photography. Infrared seems to be the perfect answer as its best suited to harsh midday sunlight, basically the time of day that is usually avoided with landscape photography. One of the issues with infrared photography is the limited information on the internet about it. A friend, Elliot Hook, has produced two excellent blog posts (Infrared Photography with the Hoya R72 Filter & Infrared Photography Part II: Processing) about infrared photography. Elliot's blog posts have helped me find my way starting out in infrared photography, they have definitely made getting the processing right easier. I would recommend everyone to read them if they are interesting in infrared photography.

How to try Infrared Photography?

There are two ways to try out Infrared Photography, use a camera converted to take infrared images or use a Infrared lens filter. I went with the latter as its the cheapest way to try out infrared photography. It also means you can still use the camera for 'normal' photography. There are a few filters on the market, one of the most well known is the Hoya R72 infrared filter. I had thought about purchasing one for a while, a sudden price drop on amazon gave the kick I need to purchase one. If you are thinking of get one its worth getting the largest size suitable for your lenses and use step-down rings for smaller lenses. I'm lucky that all my landscape lenses are the same 77mm thread size so I only need one size. The 77mm thread size seems to be one of the most common thread sizes used by nikon for full frame lenses so it is worth checking sizes and future proofing yourself. A 77mm filter will fit smaller thread sizes but a 52mm or 67mm filter won't work a 77mm thread even with a step up ring.

One thing that is not apparent when first reading about the Hoya R72 filter is the effect it has on shutter speeds, its definitely in the realms of long exposure photography. The R72 filter only passes light at 720nm and above, this means exposure times are extended to get a well exposed image. I found shutter speeds with the Hoya R72 filter in place needed to be extended by around 10 stops (give or take a stop or two). The Nikon D750 metering seemed to accurately adjust the intended exposure with the Hoya R72 filter in place. If you already know the technicalities of taking long exposures you are well on the way to taking infrared images.

What camera to use?

The problem with using a screw on infrared filter is that modern camera sensors have been designed with filters to remove problems associated with the infrared light spectrum. There are not many resources on the internet which say if a camera is ok to use with an infrared filter or not. Nikon are not very helpful either, their advice is limited to 'not designed for infrared photography'. Although Nikon and other manufacturers may not advise their cameras for use with infrared photography its still possible with the Hoya R72 infrared filter but there are some limitations to be aware of. You can go down the route of having a camera converted to infrared but this is a more expensive option. As a first venture into infrared photography converting a camera is probably more expensive than many would like, an infrared filter is a cost effective option to dabble in Infrared.

Which Lens to use with Infrared?

One issue with infrared photography that soon became apparent to me was hotspots. Hotspots are nasty bright overexposed spots in the centre of the image. Hotspots are usually difficult to see on the rear LCD screen of a camera and usually only apparent when you get the images on a larger computer screen at home. It's definitely worth trying out any lenses you plan to use for infrared at home before you go further afield, a whole day's worth of images can be ruined by hotspots. There are limited resources on the internet advising when lenses are good and bad for hotspots. One I found out about was the Nikon 24-70 f2.8 is known to be bad for hotspots. I soon found out the Nikon 20mm f1.8 AF-S G lens didn't fair so well with hotspots either. My first trial images using this lens did show hotspots, they weren't too bad so with some extra testing they may not be as apparent at wider apertures. One surprise was the Nikon 24-120mm f4 lens performed very well, I found no signs of hotspots between f4 and f11 apertures. The Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR2 lens also performs very well too with no signs of hotspots that I can see. These two lenses nearly cover 100% of my infrared landscape photography needs.

Trying out Infrared Photography in the Lake District

A few week after the Hoya R72 filter arrived I was off to the lakes, I thought it would be an excellent chance to try out infrared landscapes. It worked out well as the Red Squirrel activity I had mainly aimed the trip photography towards was thin on the ground. The bright, sunny weather also made it ideal to try infrared photography. During my time in the Lake District I used the 24-120mm f4 lens majority of the time. It has really impressed me with its image quality and the flexibility of the 24mm to 120mm zoom so much that I've not yet regretted trading a Nikon 16-35mm f4 for it. I find 24mm is usually wide enough for me on full frame, recently I've started to like longer focal length landscapes. The 70-200mm f2.8 VR 2 was only used when I wanted a longer focal length to isolate features in the landscape.

If you are thinking of a landscape photography trip to the Lake District I can highly recommend the 'Photographing the Lake District' guidebook, its full of excellent ideas for locations and helpful information about each location. I used this book to find the locations I visited and I've found it to be a great help. The real test of infrared photography is the resulting images that are produced. During the trip to the Lake District I had a great chance to trial it. I'm going to talk through the images i produced below.

Clappersgate Bridge

The first location I visited was Clappersgate Bridge, it's one I've wanted to visit for a while. With infrared the green trees and bank ideally contrast against the darker stone bridge and water. Clappersgate Bridge is an easily accessible location by the side of the road only a few miles from Ambleside.

Clappersgate Bridge. Nikon D750 & 24-120mm f4 lens @ 44mm.

Rydal Water

North of Ambleside on the road to Grasmere is the idyllic lake of Rydal Water. Its a beautiful lake surrounded by green trees and fells. One of the best views of Rydal Water is from a group of hillocks called White Moss. It has great views across Rydal Water to the south and Grasmere to the north. To reach White Moss there is bit of a walk up a loose gravel/stone path but compared to some walks in the Lake District its relatively easy. Once on White Moss there are several hillocks that each give their own different view of Rydal Water. Because of the featureless hazy sky I decide to omit the sky and concentrate the composition on lakes and the surround trees and fells.

Rydal Water from White Moss. Nikon D750 & 24-120mm lens @ 58mm.

Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows is lovely lake close to Coniston and Hawkshead. Its easily accessible with a National Trust car park close by (be prepared to feed the car park meter) and level paths around the lake suitable for wheel chair access. Getting to the waters edge in places can be a little harder but there are paths in places that reach the waters edge. I visited on a calm evening a few hours before sunset, the water was perfectly still except when the waterfowl swam across the lake leaving ripples. There are a few tree lined islands and banks with trees at the water's edge. The calm water made for fantastic reflections. With a featureless hazy sky I tried to minimise its feature in the images, concentrating on the contrasty pine trees.

Tarn Hows Pine Tree Island. Nikon D750 & 24-120mm f4 lens @ 55mm.
Tarn Hows Bank Reflection. Nikon D750 & 24-120mm f4 lens @ 55mm.

Wast Water

One of my favourite locations in the Lake District is Wast Water. One of the reasons is because it feels remote and what the Lake District should feel like. It is also close to the B&B where I stay so it's a location I can easily revisit. Recently it was named 'Britain's Favourite View', the wider view down the lake towards Great Gable and Lingmell is one of the most well known in the Lake District. On recent visits I've been trying to capture something a little different to the classic view. I love the 70-200 to 'zoom in' to pick out sections of the landscapes. At Wast Water it works well, even to the point where there are many compositions that don't even include the lake. The Hoya R72 infrared filter works very well with the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VRII, I've not seen any signs of any hotspots.

Yewbarrow and Great Gable. Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 165mm.
Lingmell. Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 145mm.
Wast Water-the view towards Great Gable. Nikon D750 & 70-200 f2.8 VRII @ 116mm.

Yew Tree Tarn

Yew Tree Tarn is a small lake beside the A593 between Coniston and Ambleside. I've driven past this small tarn on a number of occasions and always thought about visiting. The tarn is lined with trees on the far side and is ideal of high contrast infrared images. Although the Hoya R72 filter means long exposures are needed the time can be spent watching the trout jumping out of the water catching the flies.

Yew Tree Tarn. Nikon D750 & 24-120mm f4 @ 50mm.

Millers Bridge

Millers Bridge is a small picturesque stone bridge located at the far end of the park in Ambleside. It is quite similar to Clappersgate bridge but in a busier setting. Pedestrians walking across the bridge are not a problem as the long exposures mean they are not visible in the resulting images.

Millers Brigde, Ambleside. Nikon D750 & 24-120 f4 @ 28mm.

Hardknott & Wrynose Pass

Hardknott Pass is a narrow winding road between Eskdale and Duddon valley, its not one for the faint heart or anyone of a nervous disposition. The road is steep, narrow and windy reaching a height of 393m. Wrynose Pass has excellent views of Hardknott Pass. There is one problem with a scene like this, it has very little contrast throughout the frame so is quite bland as an infrared image.

View towards Hardknott Pass from the top of Wrynose Pass. Nikon D750 & 24-120 f4 @ 98mm.

My first try at infrared went well, its definitely something I'm going to experiment further with. I like the high contrast black and white conversions that are possible in Lightroom and SilverFX2. I'm not yet taken by the false colour images that are possible with infrared, maybe in the future I may like them more. The Lake District is perfect for infrared photography, there are plenty of locations that work well with infrared. The greens of the trees and fells are ideally contrasted by the dark water of the lakes. If you are up in the Lake District and are limited to the harsh daylight sun infrared photography is definitely worth trying. I'm hoping that infrared photography is going to get me more involved in landscape photography, being able to extend shooting hours will help as it makes landscape further afield now worth the effort. It's definitely something I'm going to continue to trial during the summer months. The Lakes trip was a good learning point, not all scenes suit infrared so it's a case of trying it in the right locations.

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