Infrared in the Shade

On of the reasons infrared photography is great, is that the best light and the best time to shoot IR is noon.  Normal photographs look flat and two dimensional in the harsh light of midday.  But infrared really shines during this time because there is more contrast, due to blazing foliage and dark skies and water.

Bridge Lamp Post - infrared

Bridge Lamp Post – infrared

However, I think what I’m seeing tells me that infrared light leaks into shadows much more than visible light.  Normally, when you shoot into dark shadows, things get darker.  But when I shoot infrared into shadows or in shade, it gets very over-exposed.  This tells me the camera’s meter is reading visible light, which is considerably dimmer than the IR light in the scene.  So somehow, infrared light moves into shade and shadows more than visible light.

Fall Bridge - Infrared

Giant Trunks – Infrared

The problem with infrared is that the camera sensor captures a relatively low contrast image to begin with.  So shooting in the shade just makes that issue worse.  This means I have to add extra contrast while post processing, while watching the shadows to make sure I don’t loose too much detail.  Some of the highlights will blow out. I just have to make sure it doesn’t start looking odd.

Fall Bridge - Infrared

Fall Bridge – Infrared

When you do black and white photography, you switch from thinking about how colors affect the photo, and start looking at tones and textures.  You need contrast to make the elements of the photo stand out and look sharper.  But too much contrast causes detail to be lost in the shadows and highlights, so there’s a balance, and you don’t want to overdo it.

Fall Bridge #2 - Infrared

Fall Bridge #2 – Infrared

Because so much infrared light gets into shadows and the shade, where visible light fades more quickly, I have to constantly rely on the histogram to tell me if I got a good exposure, and then tweak exposure compensation by one or two stops.  Usually I have to underexpose in the shade, which is counter intuitive.  I’ve settled into a pattern now:

  1. Shoot test shot
  2. Check histogram
  3. Dial in exposure compensation
  4. Re-shoot
  5. Check histogram again



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