Seeing the Unseen...

01st April 2011
In an attempt to avoid the grey skies that seem to have been with us since the beginning of the year I’ve made the most of a chance to take my photography into a completely new direction –almost into another dimension, by trying to record images that strictly can’t be seen with the human eye. I haven’t gone all paranormal or anything like it – but I have managed to have a borrow of a new set of photographic toys that have been modified to ignore all visible light – and allow me to record pictures only in infra red.

All light forms part of the electromagnetic spectrum – which also includes really useful stuff like radio, television and micro waves. What alters across this spectrum is the wavelength of the waves – that is, how far apart the tops and bottoms of the waves are spaced – in the same way that ripples on a pond have tops and bottoms after you’ve just thrown that piece of bread in for the ducks. Our eyes have evolved to respond to only those wavelengths that enable us to see – and this part of the spectrum is called Visible Light for obvious reasons. All the visible light wavelengths added together make it appear that the light is white as far as our eyes are concerned – but anyone who has seen white light pass through a prism (remember Pink Floyd and the Dark Side of the Moon album cover?) will realise that there are a whole range of distinct colours all mixed together – from red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. These colours correspond to individual wavelengths, with violet having the shortest and red having the longest. If you then get wavelengths shorter than violet the light is called ultra-violet and you get a tan – and if they are longer than red then its called infra-red – and you feel the heat energy that they carry. Simples!

The camera that I’ve borrowed for a while (thanks Jamie!) has been specially modified to block out all the visible light that comes into it – and to allow only near infra red light in, and this is then recorded in the normal way. The effects are a long way from being normal though because what you actually record depends on how much infra red light is being reflected from the subjects. For instance, I took a shot of daffodils against grass – which would be great in visible light because of the strong yellow colour of the flowers against a lush green background. In infra red - because both the flowers and the grass were reflecting the same amount of infra red light, you couldn’t see the daffodils at all – they completely faded into the background. Weird – but what a lot of fun!

When you first take an infra red image it still appears to have some colour in it – odd looking yellows and blues (the image on the left here), and you then have a choice – either to keep the oddness – or to convert the picture to a black and white image (the image on the right). I decided that I really don’t like the unnatural colours, so black and white was the way to go for me – and some of the results have been included here to show you how cool the overall effect can be. Remember that what appears white on the picture is reflecting more IR – and that includes trees, leaves and grass, and what appears to be darker is reflecting much less IR. Buildings (this is Christchurch Mansion) appear to be darker because they soak up the heat energy – the IR wavelengths from the sun, and don’t reflect so much. If you can anticipate what each area of the picture will do in IR, then its possible to construct a really strong picture in infra red that you can then mentally convert to black & white. I’ve got a long way to go to match the masters, but its a lot of fun trying – and I’m really loving some of the results that I’ve got already. I can see I'll be adding a whole new Gallery to the website to show off these pictures as they improve...

Christchurch Mansion in IR Rushmere Heath in IR Let me know what you think about IR – and the other images on the site through the Contact pages or the Guestbook – I’d be very interested to see what you think.

Keep taking the pictures...!

Cheers, Graham

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