Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Professor Wood's slides

This is a tale I have been waiting to tell for a while.

Regular readers will know that in 1910 Professor Robert Williams Wood, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore USA, published an infrared landscape photograph. The Midwinter Number of the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, priced at 35 cents, appeared in February 1910. In this was an article by Wood called A New Departure in Photography, which included an infrared photograph of his summer home in East Hampton. As far as I know this was the first infrared photograph (as distinct from a spectrograph) to be published. Later that year Wood presented his seminal paper on photography by Invisible Rays to the RPS in London and then went off to Italy. While in Italy he took more infrared photographs, many of which were published in the Illustrated London News in June 1911.

I had thought that Wood's actual photographs from this time were lost, despite the set from his RPS lecture being made available for hire from famous slide dealers Newton of Museum Street, London. So the ILN printed versions were the only ones available.

Surprisingly I came across a web page from Chris Fastie. His late father was a contemporary of Wood's at Johns Hopkins and had been given some slides, large format 'lantern' slides, of Wood's infrared photographs. These included some from the Italian trip, but also included one labelled 'First infra-red photograph' which showed another view of the East Hampton house.

The label on the slide of the East Hampton photo (above) is interesting:

So this claims to be the first infrared photograph; different from the first one published. There isn't a date on it unless that is part of the missing text (could that be revealed under infrared light I wonder). Wood's biography refers to the first photograph being of 'distant hazy' mountains taken in 1908 but this would seem to be a label, probably written by Wood himself, contradicting that. Definitive?

You can read a more detailed account on Chris's web page here.

The house was (and apparently still is) on Apaquogue Road and he was famous enough for there to have been a postcard produced, early in the 20th century, showing the 'Home of Prof RW Wood, East Hampton LI'. You can see it here, as part of a book of old postcards of East Hampton by Richard Barons and Isabel Carmichael and from the collection of the East Hampton Historical Society.

At this time I contacted Professor Paul Feldman at Johns Hopkins (he took part in our symposium in London back in 2010) and told him about this discovery. It turns out that Chris Fastie's father Bill was Paul's mentor at JHU and they all know each other. Then, Paul decided to take a look in what he called 'the attic' in the Physics department and found some more slides. These look to be others from the same set but,as they don't include the 'moon cave' image published in the ILN, it is possible there are more out there.

[My thanks to Chris Fastie and Paul Feldman for sending me scans of their discoveries]

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Drone IR

An old colleague of mine, Max Whitby, has shot some infrared footage using a drone and the Near Infrared (NIR) version of the MAPIR Survey 2 camera, shooting HD. He calls the test shoot 'Max's Dream' and this reinforces the way this kind of footage, with lots of Wood effect, has a dreamlike feel.

Max's description of the drone fighting like a cat as he holds it suggests this is something for a skilled operator.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Laurie Klein IR workshop in Providence RI (USA)

One of my favourite infrared photographers is Laurie Klein, author of Infrared Photography: Artistic Techniques for Brilliant Images and Photographing The Female Form with Digital Infrared (both published by Amherst Media). One reason why Laurie's work is so appealing to me is that she studied with Ansel Adams. She's also an educator on the subject and will be giving a two-day workshop at the Providence Center for Photographic Arts on April 22nd and 23rd. More info on the PCPA's web site.

This is a very limited event (only 12 participants) and includes presentations and practical work.

Here's Laurie in action a couple of years ago in this video, posted to YouTube by B&H.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Infrared forensics

Infrared imaging has applications in forensics. Sometimes this is because an infrared image can show variations in an object that are otherwise invisible (which applies to UV as well of course), sometimes because changes in the appearance of something under IR can show up a surface artefact, such as a fingerprint. I'm sure there are more, but I have much to learn in this area.

A recent email alerted me to a somewhat sideways use of IR in forensics, where photographer Robert Schults spent a year documenting work at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University. This seems to be basically Bones meets Silent Witness, including a 'body farm', where decomposition is studied. Robert used infrared photography in this project.

Jayme Blaschke, who emailed and works at the university, worked with Shults for more than a year on this project, along with the staff of the center. He tells me that the camera was a Leica converted with an 830nm filter (Jayme's recommendation ... good call).

You can read more in a New York Times blog piece on the project, called Photographing the Science of Death and Decay. Robert Shults' own web site is Wired have a story with a fascinating set of images as well ... scroll down for the text. (They mention an IR converted Fujiflim X-Pro 1.)

[Image from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)]

Monday, 7 November 2016

Two years to James Webb ... and counting

Once upon a time infrared was regarded as being the new astronomy. There was even a book of that title, published in 1975 and written by David A Allen. By 2014, and David L Clements' book Infrared Astronomy - Seeing the Heat, infrared was dominating the field. No longer the new astronomy, now it is astronomy.

As the BBC news web site pointed out, last week marked two years until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). This is the replacement for Hubble, and is a much more powerful/sensitive device. The mirrors and optical components are now assembled and ready to be tested. It's a reflector. Radiation hits the main mirror, 6.5 metres across, is then reflected and focussed onto a much smaller secondary mirror in front of the main one and then reflected onto sensors at the centre of the main mirror. You can see this in the photo above.

The JWST will be sensitive to wavelengths long enough to see back to the early days of the universe. It's basic doppler effect: as the sources of light move away from us at increasing speed, the light we see from them lengthens in wavelength towards red and beyond (hence red-shift). Because the universe is expanding, the further away from us an object is, the faster it is moving away from us. [Good pub question: where is the centre of the observable universe? Answer: where you are.]

This is one of its sensors, for NIRCam - 2048 by 2048 pixels for near infrared wavelengths between 0.6 and 5 microns (600 and 5000 µm).

NIRCam is one of four instruments: NIRCam, NIRSpec, NIRSS and MIRI. MIRI images wavelengths between 5 and 28.5 microns with a resolution of 1024 by 1024 pixels. This is a gross oversimplification, and sections 20 to 23 of Nasa'a scientific FAQ give much more information about the cameras.

If you're interested in more fine detail about the NIR system, then try this NIRCam Instrument Overview paper from the University of Arizona. Nasa has a set of web pages, Explore the James Webb Space Telescope, with copious resources.

[Photos courtesy of Nasa]