Colors on the Palette
I’ve been looking at infrared photography lately from film cameras, from digitals converted for infrared, and from all infrared being wrought out in digital post. Some I loved, some I’ve been not so sure about. Then, completely coincidently, Adrian posted an infrared processed in digital post with some similar thoughts. At the same time, I have been immersed in a few discussions regarding the always fiery subject of art and the role technology should play in the aesthetics of photography. First, I’ll touch on the photograph above and then segue, likely roughly, into some thoughts on the latter subject.
The photograph above was taken with the same intent of capturing some fall foliage. It’s a section of the trail I walked deep into the woods to get to the rock chapel posted previously. I was also interested in getting some possible subjects to experiment with in infrared style processing. I’ve looked into the DSLR conversion. I have an old one that would fit the bill. But honestly, from seeing photographs from converted DSLRs vs. those completely done in post, it’s a tossup for me. I’ve seen great and bad from both sides. I’ve dabbled with the Color Efex plugin for infrared, and haven’t been widely satisfied. Another leading technique is to work the Channel Mixer adjustment layer in Photoshop to flesh out the infrared look. That’s what I used for this one. However, I took a few liberties on the fly.
There are dozens of infrared styles it seems: the black and white, the more luminous low contrast black and white, the icy blue with snowy looking trees and orange land, the fuchsia tree tones and green sky/background, etc. So what I decided to do was combine tones from my two favorite styles—blue, purple and white. I worked the channel mixer layer along with hue/saturation layers until I got that combination. I also like the glow, so I added a layer with some diffusion. Once I get a clear handle on the process, I plan on getting a thorough explanation posted on Digital Darkroom Techniques (a new blog a few of us have decided to collaborate on).
One of the first things I thought of when processing this one would be that someone would point out that this photograph isn’t infrared, that it doesn’t do what infrared does. Of course not. I didn’t use a device that captured infrared light, so therefore; I won’t apologize for not making it look like it did. I’m not interested in making genuine infrared photos; I’m interested in experimenting with some of the aesthetics that are inherent to them.
Since I’ve started this journey into photography, I’ve mostly avoided the polemics of film vs. digital and SOOC vs. processing. It’s a pretty strong tension though. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out photographing, run into another photographer, and their thing said is “is that digital?” I say “yes,” and then get that “hmmmmph” look. I avoid them because when I was getting my master’s degree, I was exhausted by them. My MFA is in literature and writing, and the same arguments are there as I imagine they are in every art. In the poetry seminars you couldn’t “use rhyme” because no one did it anymore. It was old. In the fiction classes, it would be the same clinical approach: “we are three pages into the text and we don’t know the protagonist’s name or gender.” But in reality, for every one of these arguments in favor of something specifically required, you can turn around and grab a dozen offhand examples that fly in the face of any “rule.” What cracks me up the most about the film vs. digital polemic since I’ve been doing photography is that I recall in art history seminars how “low brow” film cameras were when they were invented, how they were bastardizations of art, creating copies of copies. For the painters, film cameras were going to destroy truth in art, and the whole aesthetic world was going to crumble. And now, a century later, film purists are throwing the same rhetoric back onto the digital and software users.
In sum, the arguments become rather sophomoric to me. My drive in the craft has always been that photography is a visual aesthetic, and the finished photograph on display should be based on the merit of that end result. Furthermore, the end result emerges whether it happened as soon as the shutter was clicked on a camera or after twenty hours of tweaking through a litany of softwares. Photography is also an art in bed with technology, and I think as photographers we have to always consider the advances, even when they are uncomfortable. In fact, today I saw some new camera where the focal point and depth of field is set only in post! Like a RAW file, you can keep changing it around. My first thoughts?—my first thoughts were that it sounded like a load of crap, especially with the article titled as “We will all be great photographers.” It’s not true though. The technology doesn’t make the art. It’s a tool. Colors on a palette.