Like many other things in life, we think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I enjoy digging through forums and seeing photographs of other photographers. I used to think that all these photographers had better subjects for photography. This is especially true when I got into IR photography. IR seems to do best with lots of greenery in the scene, or that’s what I used to think.
Living in the desert southwest, we don’t have much greenery. What we do have is lots of dust, rocks and cactus. When I first got started doing IR photography, I envied people that lived in greener locales. But that’s no longer the case. IR photography is so much more than the iconic white foliage on trees. After shooting IR for several years, I found that it is a great tool for any scenery.
During my early IR photography experiments, I tried the color swapping techniques. But I always returned to my B&W versions. I find it much more challenging to get an interesting B&W photo. I began to have an interest in B&W images with my astrophotography. It happened sort of by accident. I live in an area with fairly heavy light pollution. So it was much easier to shoot B&W images using a specific narrow bandwidth filter (called Hydrogen Alpha).
My IR photography spun off of my astrophotography, since modified cameras are sometimes also needed for shooting nebula. I started with the iconic photos of trees with white leaves and liked the results.
Shooting IR photos limited me to summer photography. So I began to experiment shooting in the fall and winter. It was then that I saw that IR had a lot of potential for B&W. I also learned what looks good in IR photos and began looking for other subjects. Not a leaf in sight in this photo.
IR is also great for adding interest to what might otherwise be considered junk. I shot this through a broken window of an abandoned building. I wasn’t expecting much from this photo, being hand held in a dark environment. It was windy & raining. I was holding an umbrella and my tripod wasn’t tall enough to reach the height of the window. But I loved the result.
We can have some fairly ugly weather here in the desert. Spring brings us wind, and a lot of it. At times the wind is strong enough to pick up the dirt. Voila, dust storm. I wouldn’t advocate taking your camera gear out in a dust storm. For those willing, there are some interesting shots to be had. This is probably one of my all-time favorite IR photos. Ironically, it was also one of my first. There was no live view focusing. The camera wasn’t focus calibrated (link here for focus calibration) and I had no tripod. To make matters worse, the camera I used was a first generation 6.3MP Canon 300D (Digital Rebel) that I had converted on my own to full spectrum, not something I’d recommend.
This was a shot that I probably could not have done at any other time. Behind the tree is the rest of the city, roads and mountains. Some years later, the tree looks much different (with broken branches and its age showing). It also didn’t take long to find out that IR photography is great for landscape shots.
IR is also a fantastic tool for shooting clouds and inclement weather. So when other photographers are heading home, I’m usually heading out. It seems these days that my preference is to shoot IR in poor weather.
IR photos also seems to bring out the old-ness of subjects. I really enjoy shooting old, rundown buildings or vehicles. IR makes these attractive subjects even more interesting.
Modern subjects seem to be just as attractive in IR. Combining the subject and the poor weather is always nice.
Although not really limited to IR, I find that shooting Panoramas gives my IR images a little punch, and also the ability to print them larger. There’s also the combination of all the techniques. It keeps the excitement in photography and the challenge in IR photography.
Nearly every IR photographer starts out by shooting the iconic white foliage. I’m no different. It’s what you do after this that makes IR so interesting. Most hang up their IR cameras and move on. For me, it’s basically started my photography world. I spent the last 40 years doing regular photography and the last 5 shooting IR. I’ve enjoyed the latter so much more. You may not think that you live in an area best for IR photography. I challenge you to find and shoot the subjects that you have in your area and make the most of them. You never know what emerges from the seemingly uninteresting.