Wednesday 26 May 2010

Pilot IR/Thermal imaging scheme in Scotland

The single thing most people get confused about, as far as infrared is concerned, is the difference between near infrared photography and far infrared thermal imaging. This is especially apparent from the occasional emails I get, and forum postings I see, asking how to use infrared photography to study heat-loss from a building.

So I was interested to read on the BBC web site about a pilot project in Scotland, involving ten thousand homes, to use thermal imaging to 'scan' their external heat pattern and pinpoint areas where heat is being lost from the building. It's a 15 month pilot being carried out by IRT Surveys of Dundee and rather than aiming to help individual home owners the scheme wants to provide an overview of how effective various methods of insulation are.

It strikes me that one cause of the confusion is terminology. We call everything from 700 nm (just beyond red) down to the edge of microwaves by the term infrared, even though the sources of the radiation and the ways we can render it visible change significantly as we move from the photographic infrared to the thermal infrared. I found this terminological inexactitude particularly confusing while going through wartime papers to research my paper on the history of infrared photography for the RPS. One of the best sources of information on this is RV Jones, who was a senior scientist in British scientific intelligence: senior enough to have regular contact with Churchill. Jones's papers are in Churchill College in Cambridge and he also wrote a fascinating book called Most Secret War, which is still in print. Like many others, Jones refers to both ends of the infrared spectrum as simply infra-red. I had to read between the lines to try to see whether he was referring to thermal or near infrared technology ... and possibly got it wrong sometimes.

Jones told a nice story about a meeting sometime after the war with the American military where they began to tell him about a new missile they had started work on called the Sidewinder. 'So this is a heat-seeking missile then?' says Jones, somewhat startling the Americans who immediately think that their security is compromised. Jones explains that the sidewinder rattlesnake detects prey using rudimentary thermal sensors in its head, so he has surmised that this missile does likewise. Sighs of relief from the military, who have named the missile after the rattlesnake because of its striking prowess and are unaware that it uses infrared. So it goes.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Stefan Birghan and Jörg Weindl : ir2

Another addition to our web associates, this time from Germany. Stefan and Jörg have some infrared images taken in Germany (at Chiemsee, a freshwater lake in Bavaria) and in Ireland and Vienna.

Their web site is and on Stefan's own web site he explains (in German) how he got interested in infrared photography after seeing a calendar by Simon Marsden on an office wall.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Herschel first anniversary

It's a year since the Herschel infrared space telescope was launched and it is now sending back some extraordinary images of the cooler cosmos. No doubt these are immensely valuable to the astronomers who recognise all the ramifications of this new window on the universe but the rest of us can still just enjoy the view. There is an enthralling A/V slide show on the BBC web site.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Simon Marsden

You have probably seen Simon Marsden's infrared photographs of Irish ruins or other ghostly-looking buildings and artefacts, often with striking and distinctive backlighting. You may even have a copy of one or more of his books of photos, such as In Ruins or The Haunted Realm. Simon is one of the most significant infrared specialists at work today. He uses Kodak HIE 35mm film, from a carefully refrigerated supply, and has a special love for the printing process. I plan to include one of his images in the history of infrared photography I have researched for the RPS and in the centenary exhibition.

Simon has told his email list about Infrared 100, so a warm welcome to you if you found this blog as a result. The other piece of news is that Christies is auctioning one of his prints next Friday in South Kensington. It's a specialist sale of photographs with works by Cartier-Bresson, Brandt, Fenton and even Andy Warhol (a photo of Mick Jagger biting someone's hand) in the items. Simon's is lot #111, a 2009 image Beech Hedge, Levens Hall and has an estimate of £700 to £1000.

A print of Ansel Adams' Moonrise, Hernandez, Northern New Mexico is lot #71. This is the one where he worked out the exposure by calculating the luminosity of the moon as he did not have a light meter with him. More pocket money needed though as its estimate is £20-30 thousand.

Simon Marsden's web site is the Marsden Archive.

Friday 14 May 2010

BBC NHU @ Infrared 100 @ IBC

The BBC Natural History Unit have agreed to join in our infrared session in Amsterdam at the IBC conference in September. This will be a 'virtual' appearance because our guest, producer Colin Jackson, will be on the plains of Africa at the time, shooting more footage of lions including thermal and near-infrared.

The session, Broadcasting with Invisible Light, is in the afternoon on Monday September 13th at the RAI. It will be open to anyone attending either the IBC conference or the exhibition, and there is no charge to attend the latter if you book your ticket early. is the web site.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

October Symposium

The programmes for both days of the October Infrared 100 Symposium are almost completed and I'll be posting information here soon. The first day is organised by Professor Francis Ring of (amongst other things) the Royal Photographic Society Imaging Science Group and the Herschel Society ... and the second day is organised by Dr Helen Walker of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Logie Baird to appear at IBC

Iain, that is.

As I put together the session on Infrared in Broadcasting for the September IBC event in Amsterdam, Iain is my first confirmed speaker. As you may know he is curator of television at the National Media Museum in Bradford (UK) but what you may not know is that his grandfather, the legendary John Logie Baird, developed infrared television in the 1920s. He even managed to produce images in total darkness using infrared over three years before Babcock at Mount Wilson Observatory achieved the same thing on film.

Baird's system was called Noctovision, and there is more about it on my web site.