How to get the BEST B&W images out of your Infrared camera!


How to get the BEST B&W images out of your Infrared camera!

Final B&W Version!

Final B&W Version!

I am VERY particular in how I process my images, either color or IR it doesn’t make any difference!  This comes from years of visualization,   photography, a career at Eastman Kodak, endless hours of post processing and just plain being old and cranky!  I look for specific compositional elements in each and every image I create then look to create a stepped series of varying  contrast levels to draw the viewer into the image.  This is important in my color work, but CRITICAL in my B&W images.

This post though, is specifically about B&W IR post processing.   But before we actually get to that point I wish to share with you my workflow that I go through up to the point of processing it for B&W.

Assuming that our images have been edited for choice and artistic content and been processed from RAW to 16 bit TIFF…

  1. I evaluate each image to see if it is viable as a processed RAW image.  This means that it has been converted to TIFF, then evaluated as is.  If it looks good (nice bronze skies and monochromatic leaves), I will then post process it according to the the same workflow below that I use for B&W and save it.  Then…
  2. Convert the image to Faux Color IR but running the Faux Process (channels swap and color saturation & hue adjustments) and save.
Step 1  Evaluate the RAW image to see it it stands on its own!

Step 1 Evaluate the RAW image to see it it stands on its own!

Step 2 Process the RAW image into Faux Color.

Step 2 Process the RAW image into Faux Color.

Only when these steps are completed do I start my B&W conversion and processing.  The reason for this is that the best B&W conversions are generated when we have gotten the best possible color adjustments done!  The better the colors the better the B&W!  This is true of both color camera or an IR camera.

As you can see from the B&W image above of the bone yard at Cape Romain here in South Carolina, the image is full of alternating contrast areas that draw the viewers eyes into the image from the bottom left corner up to the center.  This was a choice made in post processing.  

So remember, you will get a much better B&W image if you first post process the color version!  This will give the software (Nik’s Silver EFX Pro) a greater latitude of colors and contrasts to work from rather than just converting the RAW version directly into B&W.

Compositional Elements

In Infrared photography, there are 3 main elements that we need to get an emotionally charged image:

  1. Sky with moody cloud structure.
  2. Water
  3. Green plants.

If you can get all 3 you will get a much more powerful image, but as long as you can get at least 1 you will have more to work with to get a good image. If you find yourself in a location where none of the 3 desired elements can be found then look for repeating patterns! Look at the example below.  This image is of old Rt. 66 through the west taken at the height of a world class snow storm a few years ago in 720nm IR.  There is no water, clouds or plants to work with.  But we have a vanishing perspective due to the repeating telephone poles plus great structure in the snow cover scrub!  There is also just a hint of the sun behind the top of the first telephone pole which adds interest and change of contrast.

Old Rt. 66.  A hint of sun behind the top of the first telephone pole.  720nm IR

Old Rt. 66. A hint of sun behind the top of the first telephone pole. 720nm IR

Now, as easy as all of this sounds, it really does take some planning and simple photoshop skills.  Plus the more you practice it the better and faster you will get!

So lets take a look at our sample B&W converted per post processed B&W image below.  To get to this point, you take your color image and open it in Niks Silver EFX software filter.  You would then choose the recipe that you like the best from the left hand menu watching the effect on the preview image on the screen.  When you find the version you like the best  you would then adjust the contrast, structure and highlights/shadows to get your starting image, then accept it and drop it back into Photoshop!  

This then is the results of what we just did:

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted NO Post Processing!

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted NO Post Processing!

This is a very nice image to be sure!  But, it can be drastically improved with very little work.  By selecting areas of alternating contrasts we can enhance the emotional impact of this image and draw the viewers eyes into the image giving it an almost 3 dimensional feel!  Lets take a look at these areas!

Take a close look at the image.  Look for ways to give alternating areas of light and dark, low contrast and high contrast.  Use these areas to create steps into your image.  For the image above of the Adams Mill un processed this is how I approach it:

Visualizing areas of light/dark, low/high contrasts to step your viewer through the image!

Visualizing areas of light/dark, low/high contrasts to step your viewer through the image!

Looks like a puzzle doesn’t it!  But is is really easy once you decide HOW you want to approach the image.  We are going to use the Nik plugin filter called Viveza to accomplish all of these changes.  Simply start on one edge of the image and work your way across. Nik gives you a very powerful selection and masking tool call selection points.  These points pick out areas of similar color or shading.  

So here is how it all works:

  1. Start Nik Viveza in your editor.
  2. Start from one edge and work across the image.
  3. Using a selection point, place it on the first area to be edited.
  4. Adjust the size if the selection point as necessary.
  5. Adjust the brightness slider to set the light/black point you desire.
  6. Adjust the structure (sharpness) with the structure slider.
  7. Adjust the contrast with the contrast slider.
  8. If you find that your edits affect areas outside of your desired area simply add another (or several) adjustment points with no editing in those affected areas to bring them back to where they were. This is called an anchor point. You will find that you will add anchor points all over your image to bring areas back to their un edited version.  
  9. Simply work your way across the image editing as you go.  Create areas of alternating contrasts and you will generate a powerful B&W image in very little time!  

Here is the finished version of the image above!

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted Post Processed

Adams Mill Bridge, IN, B&W Converted Post Processed

Go back and forth, look at the differences between the 2 images.  In the 2nd image, there is a tonal range of complete black to complete white. The un-edited version has a little contrast but lacks punch and it does NOT have a complete tonal range!

This looks very simple doesn’t it!  Well it is!!  It just requires that you pre visualize what you desire in your finished image then simply make it so.

I hope that you enjoyed this simple tutorial.  If you would like an enhanced version with complete step by step instructions and screen captures please visit my BLOG at:

http://www.markhilliardatelier.wordpress.com

and look at the post on my Color & Infrared Video Post Processing Tutorial on a 2 DVD set.  

Please let me know what you think of all this!!

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Fuji X-E2 Long Exposures and Wild Sunsets!


Every Time I take the X-E2 out I am amazed…

Fire In The Sky, X-E2 w/ 18-55 and 3 stop soft grad ND on the sky.

Fire In The Sky, X-E2 w/ 18-55 and 3 stop soft grad ND on the sky.

We have been having amazingly turbulent weather here in Pawleys Island for the last week or so.  The sky has been moody and dark.  Mornings filled with dense fog and the ocean surf rough…   Perfect for long exposures and wild sunsets

What better excuse then to take the Fuji X-E2 out and capture these wild and moody scenes?  With my full kit of the Lee Seven 5 filters and B+W ND filters in hand I grabbed the X-E2 and the XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 Zoom Lens (which has kind of turned into my main carry around lens) and headed out to the beach.  

The X-E2 (in fact, the entire line of Fuji X cameras) is exceptionally adept at long exposure photography.  It generates low noise exposures and has NEVER let me down.  I usually shoot in the 2 to 4 minute range but once in a while will go up to 10 to 15 minutes depending upon the subject.  

In todays post I am shooting between 30 seconds and 4 minutes and one of the sunset images was just a short exposure (1/13).  

The setup for all of the long exposure water images was either a 6 or 10 stop B+W ND filter and the sunset had an added 3 stop soft graduated Lee filter (Seven 5 system).  The sky was just too bright with the wild colors to give anything but a black foreground otherwise! I also used the Fuji RR-90 remote shutter release (but you can also use a mechanical release or a Canon RS60 E3 release).

One of the big benefits of the Fuji X system is the fact that when in the  BULB mode Fuji gives you a count up timer on the LCD screen so that you can easily time your exposure.  This doesn’t sound like much but when you are out in the cold and dark shooting it is a BIG DEAL!  Try doing this with a Nikon 300 and you will understand!

Now, lets talk a little about your exposure metering.  

  • You can (and I sometimes do) use the cameras metering system, but I do find that when metering through the 10 stop ND that it will sometimes confuse the meter.  
  • You can also meter without the ND attached then attach it and adjust the exposure for whatever value the ND is but there is NO guarantee that the filter is actually what it is advertised to be!  
  • What I like to do is to use the Seikonic  758DR spot meter which can factor in the ND filter automatically for you and give you an accurate exposure.  You can also meter through the filter with the 758 to see what the real value of the filter is!.
  • You can also just get close with your first exposure then evaluate your histogram and adjust the exposure as desired.

Which ever way you choose you will be surprised how quickly you can get “on target” by taking just 1 exposure then adjusting! But remember. when we are spot metering either in camera or in an external meter whatever spot you  are metering on will give an exposure for Zone 5 or 18% grey. It is up to you to adjust the exposure up or down to place it into the proper Zone!  What I like to meter on is the sky just above the horizon then adjust it up about 1 stop (move from Zone 5 to Zone 6).  

I ALWAYS have the Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned on in my cameras.  This means that you will double your exposure time.  After you take your image, the camera will close the shutter and take a 2nd one with the same shutter speed.  This is called Dark Frame Noise Reduction and the camera will look for bright pixels in the 2nd shot and subtract them from the first.  This is very worthwhile and will allow you to create much better output images but cut down the amount of time you have to stand there and shoot!

As I said earlier, the mornings have been very foggy so lets start off with several examples of this type of photography.  Of course, you must remember to increase the exposure so that the fog is not a DARK GREY, these have been adjusted from Zone 5 to Zone 6.5 or 1 1/2 stops!

Salt Marsh in the morning fog...

Salt Marsh in the morning fog…

Pawleys Island Pier, Foggy Morning.  X-E2 with 10 stops of ND, 30 seconds.

Pawleys Island Pier, Foggy Morning. X-E2 with 10 stops of ND, 30 seconds.

Foggy Feast, X-E2. Sometimes simple is best!

Foggy Feast, X-E2. Sometimes simple is best!

Ok, lets move on to the evening.  The intent here was simple long exposures to smooth out the surf and remove the surfers (yes I hate surfers as they are always in your shot and don’t care!).  For these type of images you really need to start at 30 seconds and move up.  If the sky is within 3 stops of the foreground then you do not need to add a graduated ND on the sky.

Fire In The Sky,  90 second exposure with 3 stops of grad ND on the sky and 6 stops of ND overall.  X-E2

Fire In The Sky, 90 second exposure with 3 stops of grad ND on the sky and 6 stops of ND overall. X-E2. Notice the cloud movement in the sky and the smooth surf!

X-E2-240s BW LE Pawleys Pier-0255-2013

B&W Pier & Groin, Pawleys Island, SC 240 second exposure, 10 stop ND X-E2

X-E2-240s LE Pawleys Pier-0255-2013

Color version of above image. Notice how the sky and water are close to the same density? 240 seconds.

X-E2-BW LE Pawleys Pier-0246-2013

B&W version of “Fire in the sky”. Yes you should evaluate ALL of your images for B&W.

There is something very soothing about well done long exposures of the ocean.  They really are not difficult to do and the results are worth the investment in time and discomfort (did I mention that it is winter here and I was standing on the beach in the wind?).

As you can see, the Fuji X-E2 excels in all areas of photography.  It has proven itself to be a serious tool to photographers who understand its capabilities and master it functionality!

I hope that you enjoyed this post. Please let me know what you think!