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Wednesday, 28 August 2013


I am not sure I can distinguish between hypotheses 1 and 3.

It seems to me that telephoto is a good match for a Flatland way of seeing, since it tends to flatten things anyway.

That is all very interesting ! I commented in a recent post that I think I'm decent at incorporating color into composition, but I'm so lost when it comes to envisioning a scene in black & white that I can't even begin to think about whether I could have a preference for a different focal length were I to go out and purposely shoot black & white.

The 2d/3d aspect is also very interesting. One of the biggest revelations for my photography occurred some years back when I took the anglefinder I'd purchased for macro work and tried it for other types of photography. I discovered very quickly that by physically facing a different direction from my subject, I put a level of indirection into play which suddenly allowed me to see a two dimensional, rectangular image in the viewfinder. (It's also possible that it had something to do with my ability to see the whole frame with eyeglasses on). I realized that up until that point, I'd been using the viewfinder to look "through" the lens and into the scene, allowing me to see the way I normally see; that is, to look at the subject and not pay attention to the composition of an entire 2:3 rectangle, particularly at the edges.
After that, I found that an LCD was similarly helpful, but eventually, I trained myself to look at scenes the way they would look captured onto 2D even without a camera. (Channeling Dorothea Lange here).
But in the context of your essay, I'd say I have closer to volumetric sight. My first priority, when I see a scene with photographic potential, is to figure out where I want to stand to get the right relationship between objects, side to side, up and down and front to back. I'm not necessarily trying to portray depth, but I'm very aware of it and how it will look in two dimensions.
I wonder if it's common for people who see the way you do (Flatland) to shoot a lot with most of the scene in focus. I can't recall photos from your website, Ctein, with shallow DOF or any noticeable portion of the scene out of focus. (There may be some, but in-focus scenics are what come to mind).

Does it have to do with depth of field?

The DOF in the IR photo is literally miles, between the position of the photographer and the clouds.

I can't speak for you, but IR pictures without dark skies and light plant life (and a few alien looking complexions) look a lot like normal B&W photos. All of which are harder to work into your composition unless you are shooting landscapes unless you are shooting wide angle. You use IR to get something different. If that something different isn't being achieved, then what's the point?

I suspect a wide angle POV let's you highlight the IRness of the shot, e.g. dark skies and white leaves. The supplied Fig 1 in IR would look like a B&W photo with some non-green weighted tone conversion, but unless you told someone it was IR, I doubt they'd know.

From the samples I've seen, it would seem that your deep IR photographs always include trees and sky, which is natural, as those are the things most noticeably different with a deep IR photograph. But it's not like you're only going to photograph trees and sky, so you look for things to photograph that you can then "frame" within a context of trees and sky. (Fig. 2 is a perfect example.) It's almost as if you're doing a photograph within a photograph. In order to get all that in, you pretty much need a wide angle of view.

In your color work, you seem to be more interested in isolating things within the frame. You're less concerned with the surroundings as a visual context and more concerned with the thing at hand; the shape, color, luminosity, etc.

I don't know if that makes any sense with the way I've explained it, but to me it's as clear as broad daylight when I look at your work. It's a type of bias (and I don't use that word negatively) that reminds me of something I noticed with my own photographs years ago when I shot both color and B&W film. I noticed that I almost never shot B&W verticals. Digging deeper, I came to the conclusion that when I'm shooting B&W I tend to be thinking cinematically, and until iPhones came along, cinema was never vertical. My B&W work was often wide-angle, landscapish (broadly defined), and, well, cinematic. (I still see this in the B&W street photography I do, which is with a 24mm equivalent lens, 16:9 aspect ratio, and always horizontal.)

This is just as much a guess as the other ideas, but our colour-vision cones are concentrated in the middle of the retina while the B&W rods are spread pretty evenly. The rods are what give us our near-monochromatic night vision.

It's just possible that the way IR cuts out most of the visual information makes your brain think it should be using the full area of your retina.

Fig.1 strikes me as a superb example of "flat land" composition. As someone who almost always tries to convey the z-axis in photographs, it's nice to be reminded that there are other strategies in composition. Thanks for this.

As to your focal length preferences vis-à-vis IR, I have a different theory. Your short-telephoto, somewhat flattened "normal" compositions are still readable in terms of volume or depth, even if they are not strongly so. However, IR photographs change our visual clues enough that you may intuitively feel the need to supply a sense of depth, and that is more easily done with wide-angle. Just a theory.

- and it's because the Z axis doesn't bother you that you're happy with small sensors??

I think that hypothesis 3 er, holds water, regarding your hunger for sensation. You like colourful shirts and colourful birds. Just an off the (beach shirt) cuff remark.... : ]

To support that, the wider lens does tend to allow a more extreme perspective, which might strengthen the picture enough to offset the relative lack of detail and give you the sensation you crave. (Would you print the IR stuff to a different size? Just a passing thought)

Now me, I think that there's no such thing as a beach shirt that's too bright, or a lens that's too wide. : ]

Your different natural views for colour and black and white is very interesting. I can't say that I've noticed it in myself, but then I only ever reach for black and white as a post-processing afterthought.

I like your first hypothesis, but offer a different one for consideration. The colour sensing cells ('cones') in our eyes are more concentrated in the centre of our visual field, and the peripheral sensors are the intensity-only sensing 'rods'. Maybe that makes a tele perspective normal for colour and wide-angle normal for black and white.

I wonder if it's because with IR it's the sky and grass/foliage that really shows off the difference to normal (visible) spectrum photography. Knowing that you seek to include more of those elements in the frame and the wide angle simplifies that job.

I think Hypothoses 1 and 3 are the same idea couched in different terms, no?

Or could it be that because "normal" shots become more interesting when they isolate the subject a bit, whereas IR shots are inherently out of the ordinary and benefit from more context to help the brain comprehend them?

- Paul.

My idea is very similar to hypothesis #1.

The man-made world (like the locks) has high contrast "high spatial frequency detail" in visible light both luminance and chrominance. We like to paint things different colors and put all sorts of signifiers in luminance information (signs, markings, outlines, emphasis).

The IR world has lower overall contrast and also seems to have much lower spatial frequency detail at lower contrast.

So perhaps you want to "get more of the IR in the scene" to compress it in the 2D image to get "high spatial frequency" details.

The next question is how to you select your IR scenes? Do you look at them in visible light and pick them (perhaps with fine tuning in IR). Or do you look around for interesting IR scenes through the LCD on the back of your camera?

BTW, I'm one of the people who prefers to see in layers on the Z direction. I wonder if street photography biases me in that direction?

Given Figure 2, it's very tempting to suggest that you're being influenced by a certain wide-angle photographer. And it makes sense that working in a new media would lend itself to more recent influences.

That would probably be self-important of me, though. In any case it's a very nice shot.

I suspect that to take advantage of the IR effect, you need to compose the landscape. In the example you posted, if you take out the unusually white trees (which contribute immensely to the scene), the rest is just a standard B&W picture, which you could take with any normal camera.

I like hypothesis #3.
I typically like a slightly-wider-than-normal lens, a 40mm or 35mm, on a 35mm film camera or full-frame dslr.
But sometimes I feel the need to "scoop up" more of what I'm seeing so I go for the 24 or 28mm.
And sometimes I like a "little bit" of a scene but not all and I either can't zoom with my feet or I like the vantage point I'm at for another reason so I go for the 85, 135 or 200.

My sense is that our mysterious inner eye has its own tastes for combinations of tonality, texture, composition, color, light, and shadow. Some compositions don't "feel right" in color or in wide angle. Some don't feel right in tight black and white. I'm getting to the point where I switch back and forth between color and monochrome as much as I hit my +/- exposure comp button (my Sony RX100 II will shoot a RAW and mono jpeg at the same time, so I'm a happy camper).

In your lovely photos here, the massive shapes of the buttresses call out for BW, as do the clouds. In the other photo, the colors of the rusty metal and the reflected sky are the "delicious" aspects of the scene. One also needs a tighter frame, and the other an expansive one.

I love both, and am happy that you feel the freedom to "swing both ways" so to speak. :-)

My day to day preference is for a view of view equivalent to 35mm, but back in the day I shot a lot of IR film and my go to lens for that was 20mm, anything narrower just didn't feel right.

As to how we see and make compositions well my theory is that it has a lot to do with your eyesight. My partner is a fine artist and she has very poor vision in one eye which means she really sees in 2D and her paintings and photos really bear this out. On the other hand at the tender age of 50 I still have near perfect vision in both eyes and my work is definitely more about different planes of focus and depth.

Another thing I noticed was when I worked in mental health people who have altered visual perception, whether this organic in nature or the results of psychosis, depending on whether or not they've had any formal art training or not, produce the most fascinating art with very different uses of composition and dimension. We're not talking content but how the picture is constructed. I'm sure someone somewhere will have done a thesis on this.

IR question for Ctien: I love the halation that the Kodak HIE Infrared film gave - there was this mysterious glow around the edges of the light areas created by light bouncing around in the lower layers of the film without the anti-halation coating present. I find many digital IR shots rather flat without this halation, and gaussian blur doesn't create the same effect. Do you know a way to re-create the look of the Kodak IR film within PS or Silver Effex Pro?

Dear Folks,

A ton of great ideas in here. I can't really disagree with any of your alternative hypotheses; they're all thought provoking. They might all be right?

A minor clarification. All three of Chris's notions have a common basis, which is supposed paucity of information density in the IR. The difference goes to my state of mind (which is what this is all about). Think of the difference between 1 and 3 as being a bit like the difference between saying "I can't eat another bite" and "Feed me, I'm starving."

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Paul,

Unfortunately (for your question) I always hated the halation glow; it was one of several things that kept me from liking film IR. So I'd not have any idea what plug-ins might able to produce such a look.


Dear Timprov,

Not to mention that whole "under the bridge" look. Highly suspicious, if you ask me.


Dear Dennis, Marvin and RobinP,

Hmmm, I think you three are getting at the same thing. (Not entirely sure about your comment, Robin, but correct me if I'm wrong-- what you're getting at is that prehaps one of the reasons I don’t feel the need for a large sensor is that I don't particularly care about shallow DoF, right?)

Which is true, most of the time. Not 100%, this photo being a most notable exception:


But true enough.

Which would make a certain amount of sense if I'm not paying any attention to the Z axis. I dunno if it's actually true-- too new a notion for me to have a sense of it's rightness. But it's got possibilities.

So, question for the assembled masses: assuming your seeing falls into either the Flatland or volumetric modes, which engages your sensibilities most often-- having enough depth of field that out of focus areas aren't really of importance, or going for a shallow, bokelicious [g] composition?

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I'm going to throw a simpler explanation out there: self-reinforcing habit. You use the 12mm on IR a lot, so you get used to it. You use the 45mm on the OM-D a lot, so you get used to it. When you swap them, they feel foreign, in terms of what you see on the viewfinder and how the camera handles.

Try swapping the lenses for a longer period of time? Like a month perhaps? Maybe you've been a closet 12 guy all this time ...


I think it's got something to do with the shorter wavelength of the light needing a shorter lens :)

It would appear to me that your IR images are predominant using your luminosity visual system, which requires more information to visually generate the image than the color system.
It also sounds like some neurologic angst in your head switching between systems of visual perception from the predominant system based only on luminosity to the other based on luminosity and color.
Thoughts are thoughts....

After all of this reading about infrared, I was curious about whether insects can see infrared, so I searched same on the web and found a fascinating article from which I learned that objects at a temperature above absolute zero ( 0 K) i.e. every object, emit infrared, that the infrared is the widest electromagnetic spectrum at 17 octaves (?) and that the prefix infra means under, or beneath, as in infrastructure ....(might you have subliminally or even purposely included bridge infrastructure in your pic due to the prefix infra?) , plus quite a few interesting theories/ facts about even fragrance molecules being potentially "infrared", and of insect perception of infrareds via their antennas. Search for "insects and infrared" by Oyeng Teng, you can't miss it.

After I read the article, I hearkened back to the ghostly white tree leaves in the IR photos and recalled the discussions above about the rods and cones in our eyes and felt that I understood a little better why the sight of those ghostly white leaves disturbed me at a certain level...my mind was starving to see color where color should have been..


I am looking at Yu-Lin's IR images which he posted earlier this week and his perspective looks to me like a FF 35mm lens, and the images hold together admirably.

You can look at them here: http://oldlenses.blogspot.ca/2013/08/pentax-m-20mm-f4-infrared-photo-set.html

His blog is interesting too, since he explores esoteric optics in everyday life and he has more IR images too.

Admittedly, I can't recall any IR telephoto images that I liked or remembered; so that could be something that does not work so well.

So I'm guessing that this is totally a personal choice.

Dear Kevin, Tim, & Zafar,

(rolling you all together, because you've hit on closely related topics...)

Well, no, my infrared includes the same range of subjects as my ordinary photography, which means quite a bit of architectural and industrial photography. In fact, of the several IR photographs on my website, at least half, possible a majority don't have much to do with clouds or trees. Yet, the wide-angle thing seems to still apply, most strongly.

On your other (collective) point, no IR doesn't look like normal panchro B&W. Yes, white foliage is a dead giveaway, but all the other tones are placed differently, too. It doesn't look like visible light photography. For example, I mentioned how, overall, sunlight photographs are much contrastier in the IR, because the sky doesn't scatter IR worth spit (4 stops less than violet light scattering.) Except, if there's foliage nearby, even if it's not in the scene, shadows come out considerably lighter than in panchro B&W because the "white" foliage acts as a strong fill reflector. So the interplay of light and shadow becomes very different. Also, different materials often have profoundly different reflectances in the IR. Most organic dyes, for example, reflect IR strongly. Other materials that don't look terribly dark, visually, strongly absorb IR.

The thing is, while some people say panchro B&W doesn’t look natural, it really does. We do see and process luminances in our brains in ways that are distinct from color. So long as the B&W photograph preserves the relative visual luminances of the color vision, it looks entirely normal to us, even absent the color info. IR doesn't satisfy that criterion.

So, to Kevin's final question-- how do I pick my photographs? Well, the advantage of a sensor-based preview, as in m4/3, is that the viewfinder/back screen shows me exactly what the camera sees, so I can use it to scope out a scene. But more and more, what's going on is that I'm simply learning what subjects are likely to look like in the IR, so I get some idea in my head of whether it's even worth raising the camera to check a composition.

I'm at the point where more than half the time, if I do, there's a photo there.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Dear Pak,

If I didn't have 45 years of experience with interchangeable lens cameras, you might possibly be correct. But at this point, it's not lack of experience or familiarity with particular focal lengths. I just know what I like! And it's always longish lenses... except in the IR, where it's not. Go figger.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

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