Thursday, 4 January 2018

Infrared or infra-red

Over time, the balance has shifted between these two names for the radiation with wavelengths beyond red. William Herschel, who discovered infrared radiation, called them calorific rays and the earliest citation is for the word infra-red in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1881 in Nature; a lecture on solar physics by Captain (later Sir) William de Wiveleslie Abney. In a paper the previous year Abney had called it ultra-red, presumably influenced by the term ultraviolet. (The term ultraviolet had appeared in a paper by Sir John Herschel in February 1840; although he preferred to call them lavender rays, considering ultraviolet to be an uncouth appellation).

I had, from my researches in newspapers and online, come to the conclusion that infra-red gave way to infrared in the 1960s and if you do a Google search on each term today you will find that infra-red nets approximately 2.47 million hits while infrared nets 38.4 million.

Having discovered Google's Ngram tool I thought I'd run the terms through that. This is the result (infrared is in blue) ...

In this case, based on the words in books Google has scanned, we see a distinct cross-over in 1940. Click on the image to go to the actual Ngram result. I have included infra red, but there are very few instances of that and some are errors where the hyphen was missed out. There are some results prior to 1880 but on closer inspection they seem to be spurious, either due to incorrect document dating or scanning errors.

[Citation for Google Ngram research: Jean-Baptiste Michel*, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva Presser Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, William Brockman, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden*. Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. Science (Published online ahead of print: 12/16/2010)]

Thursday, 7 December 2017

APS biography of Professor Wood

The American Physical Society published a biography of Professor RW Wood in October. It was part of their This Month in Physics History series and commemorated Wood's Royal Photographic Society lecture in 1910. (The biog says this was the first publication of infrared photographs, but that was actually in The Century Magazine in February 1910.)

If you are unfamiliar with this fascinating, and omnitalented, chap then I suggest you give the piece a read:

[Thanks to Professor Paul Feldman of Johns Hopkins for the heads up]

Friday, 15 September 2017

Laurie Klein competition and exhibition

Laurie Klein is the author of Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared and co-author of Infrared Photography: Artistic Techniques for Brilliant Images. She is putting together an exhibition of infrared imaging at the Photoplace Gallery in Middlebury, Vermont next month and is running an open competition for inclusion.

Information on this is on her web site and if you would like to submit images there is a fee of $35 for up to five images and then $6 each over that. You can submit any number (electronically) and Laurie will choose ones for the exhibition. It's a blind jury process so she won't know who has submitted what. The deadline for submissions is September 18th.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

View from the roof

During the 1930s infrared photography was regarded as being one of the wonders of the age. It was featured regularly across the pages of national newspapers, especially The Times, demonstrating its ability to cut through haze and show distant landscapes.

This was brought home to me while perusing a 1938 book called Byways of the BBC which included the photo above, showing the view north from the roof of Broadcasting House towards Regents Park. Including an infrared landscape was clearly quite a reasonable thing to do then. BBC hands will realise that this is before the extension, let alone the current additions, so such a view is probably not available now.

Monday, 24 July 2017

From Wimbledon to the remote Pacific

Two online news stories caught my eye recently.

The BBC web site has a short video montage showing photographs taken by Belgian photographer Sanne de Wilde on the Pacific island of Pingelap. This island is notable because a disproportionate number of the inhabitants are totally colour blind, a condition called achromatopsia. They basically have no functioning cones in their eyes. The cones are what provide us with detailed colour vision, while the rods are more sensitive but only register brightness and at a lower resolution. Our brains combine the two and while we think we see everything in sharp colour, this is not actually the case and only the centre of our vision is actually sharp and colourful. There is another difference between the two parts of our vision, which is that we process the rod images faster than the cone ones. The result of this is that if you look at a bank of TV screens, all showing the same programme, and watch for cuts between shots the screens you are not looking at will seem to cut first.

The colour blindness on Pingelap results from a genetic bottleneck, when most of the population were killed by a tsunami in the 18th century. One of the survivors happened to have the colour blindness and since the population was so small the genetic defect became more prevalent. Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote about the island in his 1997 book The Island of the Colorblind.

Sanne de Wilde has also produced a book with this title but in her case she has uses faux-colour infrared photography as a way of looking at the islanders' condition and has produced some striking images. A 10 minute film was also shown at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and a book is available (which has a UV-sensitive cover!). Check out the web site at and those of the book's publishers, Kehrer Verlag and Uitgeverij Kanibaal.

You probably know that Wimbledon fortnight has just finished and, with it, the 2017 tennis championships. The Guardian's sports photographer, Tom Jenkins, decided to take some faux-colour infrared shots at the championships and you can see the results on this web page. My only niggle is that whoever wrote the captions is confused between near-infrared and thermal imaging because these photographs are not thermal images and do not show heat. Nevertheless they are fascinating, partly because Tom has sometimes used selective focus to increase the otherworldliness of the scenes, making them take on the appearance of models.