I finally took a vacation…
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you know that this month, I’ve been on vacation in NYC! For the first couple of weeks, I took an intentional break from all things creative. I definitely needed it. As a professional artist running my own business, it’s so hard to turn that part of my brain off. If you’re in the same boat, I’m sure you know what I mean!
I got to spend time reading, exploring, and spending much needed time with my partner. Though I have to admit, not picking up my camera for that long felt pretty weird. Having a momentary detox from constantly thinking about the next session, creating content, and focusing on my business was great in its own way, but I started getting the inevitable creative itch, and needed a way to scratch it!
A while back, a friend suggested I try infrared photography. In short, digital cameras usually capture images using visible light, outside of specialized security cameras. Infrared wavelengths sit just beyond what we call visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. There are a variety of snakes and creepy crawly critters who *can* see these wavelengths… but us humans drew the short stick on that one.
I won’t bore you with all the technical details, but with a lens filter, we can trick digital cameras into capturing IR wavelengths instead!
When they come out of the camera, they look like this.
I’m a portrait photographer, folks
When I started getting the creativity itch, I figured this was a perfect moment to get out of my comfort zone and try something new! After all, I’d been trying new modes of transportation (the subway is a hoot, y’all) so why not new modes of photography?
Of course, there was more to this excursion out of my comfort zone than just delving into IR. I’m a portrait photographer. My camera is rarely pointed at anything other than a person (unless it’s pointed at a person’s products), and I tend to look at anything that *isn’t* a person as another cool thing I can put behind someone. Mountain? Let’s put a person on it. Retro phone booth? You best bet I’m going to imagine someone leaning against it. Vintage claw foot tub? That’s where a person goes. Where a landscape photographer sees a stunning scene, I see something I can place a human subject in.
Luckily for me, one of the many fabulous parts of IR photography is it actually forces you to see scenes differently. Because of the way an IR filter functions, it is literally impossible to see what your final image will look like in camera. You have to envision the end result as you’re framing scenes, looking for contrast in the landscapes and architecture around you, testing and tweaking settings as you go. It’s almost got a “shooting on film” kind of vibe, because until you get to post processing, you can’t be 100% certain of what you’ve captured!
Straight out of the camera, infrared images are… well, red. (Who would’ve guessed?) But that’s not how they’re intended to look when they’re done. Once we’ve got the red image from the camera, we adjust the white balance in post, to arrive at a mostly blue image from the original red. Then with a bit of hand-editing-magic (read as: painstaking hand adjustments) we can arrive at a final image in the hallmark surreal pink and blue tones of IR photography.
(Original straight out of the camera)
(After white balance adjustments)
(Final hand-edited image)
So to test out this new gadget, I spent time wandering. For about three hours I just walked around, looking for scenes to photograph. Trees here, buildings there… all told, the first day I took about 60 photos. Point, click, adjust, repeat.
Once I felt like I had enough to play with in post, I headed back to take a look at the results.
And honestly? They all sucked pretty bad. There was a single image that kind of got close to what I was going for, but the sky was underexposed and my white balance was off. Plus, there were too many clouds happening to really get the effect I was going for with the sky.
After the first set of changes to the white balance (turning the originally red image blue) I spent hours making a ton of hand edits to get this close enough to the version I had in my mind.
This one only sucks a little bit, compared to the rest which sucked a *lot*.
At the beginning of something new, sucking is kinda the point
I could’ve easily been super discouraged by the fact that the new art I tried to make objectively missed the mark. I could’ve packed up the filter, saying “maybe this isn’t for me,” and gone back to the next book on my vacation reading list. But sucking is just a part of trying new things.
Portrait photography comes easily to me now, but that’s after years and years of study and practice. Of learning about lighting people perfectly, posing subjects, and framing them. Expecting my first foray into IR to turn out like a client’s portrait session? That would be unfair to myself. And not only that, it misunderstands what it means to try new things.
So instead of stressing about three hours wandering NYC, I went out again! I took my gear with me into Central Park, and ended up capturing this 30 second exposure of Belvedere Castle.
This image decidedly does not suck.
But… there were others I took that day that did! Because I’m trying something new. I’m expanding my horizons. I’m *looking at* horizons as a scene that maybe doesn’t actually need a human. I’m not going to be perfect the first time around. And the next time you try something new? You probably won’t be either. And that’s okay.
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