Monday 10 December 2012

Tristán and Michaud

In a letter to the Times in 1932, CEK Mees mentioned long-distance infrared photographs of mountains, taken in Costa Rica 'in 1915 or 16' by Gustave Michaud and José Fidel Tristán, which were published in Scientific American. Researching to find this paper turned up a few interesting items by these two scientists.

The paper to which Mees referred turned out to have been in the December 26th 1914 edition of Scientific American and called Air Transparency for Infra-Red Rays. It did include views of mountains taken from San José in Costa Rica, demonstrating the haze-penetrating ability of near infrared. The plates used were spectrum plates by Wratten and Wainwright. These plates were produced sensitised to 800 nm but by using alizarin blue S the sensitivity was increased not only beyond 800 but also in terms of reducing exposure times to as short as two minutes at f8. One of those photographs is reproduced below.

Dragon Mountain from San José

In fact, the Scientific American paper was based on an earlier paper by Michaud published in the 7 September 1912 edition of the French scientific journal La Nature, including two of the San José photographs. This is remarkably early for published infrared photographs but we get a clue from the note at the start of the paper which says (in French) that Michaud was a student of Professor RW Wood. (You can access the paper, in French, on page 229 of this online digitisation of La Nature.)

It seems (assuming I am not confusing people with the same name) that Michaud was an American or Swiss (references differ) who had been in Costa Rica at the end of the 19th century working on surveying and mapping. If he was a student of Wood's then he presumably went (back?) to the USA to Johns Hopkins sometime between 1901 ... when Wood arrived there ... and 1912 ... when the La Nature paper was published, returning to Costa Rica and teaming up with Tristán. Tristán was considered an 'outstanding' Costa Rican naturalist, and published the first list of native insects (in 1897) with a species of flower fly named after him (ocyptamus tristani). I'll come back to the subject of insects in a later post but this duo collaborated during the decade on a number of applications of both infrared and ultraviolet photography.

Thus far these are the only people other than Wood and Mees of whom I have found evidence of work in infrared in the early years of the 20th century.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Emulating infrared Ektachrome

The false colour infrared Ektachrome (or Aerochrome) can be emulated with a digital camera. I had noticed, when researching my history of infrared photography, that early digital cameras did include infrared models.

The AP NC series, introduced by Kodak in conjunction with Associated Press in 1994, included an infrared monochrome model, the AP NC2000ir with a resolution of 1012 by 1268 pixels. The DCS 420 and 460 series, introduced in 1995, also included infrared but this time included colour models. The 1999 DSC 6XX series also included an infrared configuration. However, with the basic colour units selling for between ten and twenty thousand dollars, and the infrared versions being special orders on top of that, these were not exactly consumer cameras. The colour infrared cameras, such as the DCS 420, were simply colour digital cameras with the kind of Beyer tri-colour filtering that is still standard, but with the infrared-blocking filter removed.

The aim was to reproduce the false colour abilities of Kodak's EIR infrared Ektachrome and this could be achieved by putting a minus-blue filter in front of the lens. The blue channel then only contained infrared information and the red and green channels contained their colour plus some infrared 'leakage'. By calibrating the system and subtracting appropriate amounts of the blue channel from the other two a result similar to EIR could be achieved.

I'd tried this before, using a borrowed Canon but on a somewhat overcast day. Using my FujuFilm IS-Pro I've shot some more tests, such as the image above, of Eashing Bridge. That's how the raw image looked after each channel had been normalised (ie the darkest and lightest points set).

Using the Photoshop channel mixer, the red output channel is set to the blue input, green output is set to red input and blue output is set to green input. Remember the yellow filter will have removed any real blue from the image. Next some of the blue input channel (which is really the infrared) needs to be subtracted from the green and blue outputs. This is not scientific and is certainly uncalibrated but in this case subtracting 50% blue from the blue output and 65% of blue from the green output gave a suitable colour balance. I also played around with gamma and curves to improve the look of the image: as I said, it's not scientific.

This is the result:

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Matson infrared photographs

An interesting and unexpected source of infrared photographs from the 1930s is the American Colony in Jerusalem, later the Matson Photo Service. According to the Library of Congress, where the collection [infrared photographs | whole collection] is now kept, the colony was “an independent, utopian, Christian sect formed by religious pilgrims who emigrated to Jerusalem from the United States and Sweden. The history of the Colony is intimately linked to the photography collection it spawned.” Eric and Edith Matson continued the photographic work in the middle-East and around east Africa after the colony broke up in 1934. They were innovative photographers working with infrared, colour, 3D and aerial photography although most of the collection is conventional.

This is one of the infrared plates in the collection, entitled Haifa, looking across the bay from Carmel showing harbour & Acre beyond. It's a 5 by 7 inch dry glass plate, which begs the question of where this was sourced. Given the climate in what is now Israel my guess is that the plate was sensitised locally.

More detailed information on the colony and the collection can be found on this LOC page. There are thousands of fascinating images in the whole collection and many of them can be seen online. You can find a few more infrared photos by searching using infra-red but this also hits a lot of false drops since the term appears in a general descriptive field (hover over the thumbnails of the first few photos to check titles for the word infra-red). I should also add that there are photos taken around Africa as well as in what is now Israel.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Top of the World with Albert W Stevens

This week's breathtaking freefall from 128 thousand feet by Felix Baumgartner has reminded me of another high-flying pioneer who also plays his part in the history of infrared photography.

Up to 1956 the record for a balloon ascent was held by Albert William Stevens and Orvil Arson Anderson of the Army Air Corps who reached 72,395 feet on November 11 1935 in their sealed gondola named Explorer II. They launched from South Dakota with millions listening on live radio. [Pathé newsreel coverage here.] Stevens and Anderson, together with William Kepner, had made a previous attempt, 1934 in Explorer I over Nebraska, but the balloon burst and the intrepid trio had to parachute to safety from the plunging gondola. There's a good piece about Stevens and the preparations for this ascent in the March 17 1934 Literary Digest. You'll note the photograph of him and a huge aerial camera, for Stevens was an accomplished aerial photographer.

Many of his photos were taken on infrared film, to combat the problems caused by haze when photographing from altitude. He took the first photograph to show the curvature of the earth and he photographed the shadow of the moon on the earth during the 1932 solar eclipse over the US. His images from Explorer II included the highest photograph ever made (a record that also stood until the 1950s) and covering the largest area ever taken with a single lens, showing a horizon around 330 miles away. (The specification was 1/25th second using a Fairchild F4 camera with a Kodak 304mm f5 lens on Eastman infrared Aero film through a red filter.) This wasn't the longest distance Stevens managed to photograph. His 1933 aerial photograph of Mount Shasta in California was taken from a plane flying at 23 thousand feet from a distance of 331.2 miles. The atmospheric haze rendered the mountain invisible, so the camera was oriented using a compass. The Mount Shasta photograph, courtesy of the Kodak Archive in Rochester, was included in the Infrared 100 exhibition.

Stevens's adventures were usually undertaken with the help of the National Geographic Society and stories of his exploits and many of his photographs can be found in editions of that journal from the first half of the 1930s. The Explorer II gondola is now in the US National Air and Space Museum.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

... and now the Marsden calendar

If you fancy a 2013 calendar of infrared photographs ... and sorry but I don't do one .. you should look at a collection of superb infrared photos in the latest edition from Simon Marsden's archive.

Available from the Marsden web site. Even if you don't fancy the calendar you should look at the photos: all taken on Kodak HIE from Simon's private refrigerated stash.

Monday 24 September 2012

Nikon Owner article on Simon Marsden

The latest issue of Nikon Owner features Simon Marsden and his atmospheric 'ghosthunter' images, often taken using Kodak infrared film. Gray Levett's article The Dark Knight Rises: Sir Simon Marsden is also available as a PDF on the Marsden Archive web site.

Simon's photos are well worth studying if you're into infrared photography. His technique of shooting into the sun with buildings usually silhouetted and haloed as a result is an interesting alternative to the bright foliage we usually strive for. It took me a long time to get what he was doing.

Simon was very helpful with the RPS infrared centenary in 2010 and I am really sorry that we never got the chance to meet.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Flaming exhaust

Thermal imaging makes it easy to see hot gases and this is clearly visible in part of the video in this BBC new story.

A stolen car is shown driving along a slip road on the M6 motorway, turning around to go back up the slip road (the wrong way) to avoid a trap and then turning back onto the motorway at speed. The exhaust gases from the car can clearly be seen as it speeds away. The wheels can also be seen 'white' (ie hot) and there are tails behind the car which could be either camera lag or heat left on the road by the tyres.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Filter experiments: blue

It's taken me a while to get around to doing some serious experimentation with my FujiFilm IS-Pro. This is basically a FujiFilm S5 with the infrared blocking filter removed and while, when released, it was ludicrously expensive the price came down to clear stock. As far as I know it was the only commercially available infrared-capable DSLR since the early Kodaks.

With an SLR the difficulty when photographing using infrared film was being able to see through the viewfinder. Of course you could use a tripod but this wasn't always an option. Most of the time I used a deep red (#25) filter, which gave a good Wood effect but could still be seen through, albeit dimly. The problem continues with a DSLR, especially if you don't have a live view mode.

I thought I'd try filtration alternatives with the DSLR - red, yellow (minus-blue) and blue - as alternatives to opaque infrared-pass filters such as the Hoya R72. The plan was to be able to see through the lens while making the most of the sensor resolution, which means always using the green channel as it has twice the pixels of the others in the Bayer matrix. Of course the Bayer processing mixes things up quite a bit and in an ideal world I'd write my own RAW decoder ... but perhaps that's for later.

I took the opportunity of a holiday in southern Spain ... with lots of sun and plenty of foliage ... to try out using a blue filter, a #47 colour-separation filter made by Tiffen. The light path is like this ...

... because the blue filter does pass a significant amount of near-infrared. I think all blue filters do but I can only vouch for the Tiffen.

Initial experimentation suggested that setting the camera's auto-exposure to -3 or -4 EV brought the histogram into the centre for all channels and the autofocus would work. I could also shoot at f8 and ISO 100 since there was plenty of 'light' available. The lens I used was a Nikkor 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom which appears completely immune to the notorious hot-spot.

This is the result straight out of the camera (apart from some desaturation of the blue channel).

The colour palette isn't as broad as the one you get using an R72 (less greens) but I thought it quite pleasant. And what about the green channel on its own for that pure infrared look?

Pretty promising I think.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Richard Mosse in Liverpool

Richard Mosse's colour infrared images from the Democratic Republic of Congo are currently on show at the Open Eye Gallery on Liverpool waterfront. It runs until June 10th 2012.

There's also an interesting interview with Richard by Phil Coomes in his Viewfinder blog on the BBC web site.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Simon Weir: Web, book and lecture

I was recently reminded of Simon Weir, whose landscape infrared photos are always worth a look.

He's now used Blurb to produce a book. Blub is one of those online book-production facilities and in this case use Indigo printers (of which I am extremely fond and which we use for our own calendars). There is an online preview of Simon's book, which is called Beyond Visible Light and I recommend using the full-screen preview to check out the photos. Whether you then buy a copy is up to you.

Also, if you're a member of the London Nikon Owners Group, Simon will be talking about his infrared photography, and infrared in general, on Friday evening (27th April) in sunny South Kensington. (More info on their blog.)

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Thermal volcano video

BBC web site has a brief thermal video of the Sakurajima volcano in Japan erupting.

Look at the second part of this video.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Richard Mosse exhibition and book

One of the more popular posts in this blog was the one last May discussing Richard Mosse's medium-format colour infrared reportage shots. The extra resolution brought to what is basically the discontinued infrared Ektachrome by moving from 35mm to larger formats is extraordinary. (I omitted to ask Richard whether he processed the film AR5 or E6 since Kodak admitted there would be a significant difference in saturation.)

If you're in New York you have a chance to see an exhibition of the photos from this project of Richard's, called Infra, at the Aperture Gallery at 547 W. 27th St. (On the 4th floor.) More information here.

Those of us who can't get to W27th Street can make do with the book, published by Aperture with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The legendary Abe Frajndlich, no slouch when it comes to infrared himself (one of his infrared photos was in the Infrared 100 exhibition), tells me he found the prints on show 'stunning' when he visited an earlier incarnation of this exhibition. As I've said before, good colour film infrared photography is a rare animal, and Richard is a great exponent of this. You should also check out his web site and that of the guy who provides him with his film stock, Dean Bennici who has an amazing collection of colour infrareds on his web site.

Although this time it's not infrared I should also point you at Abe Frajndlich's latest book, which is the culmination of a long-running project to photograph photographers. Check out this from the New York Times and don't forget to click on the article link at the lower right.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

The other end of the spectrum

Ultraviolet isn't really my speciality. It's more difficult to shoot (best with quartz lenses) and doesn't really show anything that interesting ... with one notable exception.

Around 100 years ago, Tristán and Michaud investigated flowers in both infrared and ultraviolet. They were working in Costa Rica and published their findings in Scientific American amongst others. They found that while flowers tended to look bland in infrared, at the other end of the spectrum things got more interesting.

On the BBC web site there's a brief clip showing (from a programme called Growing a Planet) Professor Iain Stewart using a modified Nikon with special flash to produce false colour UV shots of flowers. If you've never seen this view of flowers then you should find this insects-eye view fascinating. It's called an insect's-eye simply because research has shown that some insects can detect UV and flowers have evolved to capitalise on that.

More on Tristán and Michaud sometime soon. Stay tuned.

Monday 13 February 2012

Simon Marsden: 1st Dec 1948 - 22 Jan 2012

I'm shaken to have just received an email from Cassie Marsden to say that Simon died on January 22nd. As you know I am an admirer of Simon's infrared work and he contributed to the Infrared 100 exhibition, although we never met. Our thoughts go out to Cassie and the rest of the family.

Friday 10 February 2012

BBC Sky at Night on Infrared

The current edition of Sir Patrick Moore's long-running BBCTV astronomy programme, The Sky at Night, is called Age of the Infrared (follow the link for the schedule). The program abstract says:
Space telescopes such as Herschel and Spitzer are peering at the dusty, dark cosmos and with their infrared eyes they can see the cold parts of the sky where stars are being born. Sir Patrick Moore discusses why the infrared is full of hidden delights, whilst Dr Chris North talks to Dr Amy Mainzer about NASA's infrared WISE telescope.
Origination is Sunday/Monday at five minutes past midnight (later in Northern Ireland) with several repeats on BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC HD. It will be on the iPlayer as well.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

More swords and ploughshares

Chris Lavers' Swords into Ploughshares exhibition, looking at the transfer of military technology into civilian life, and including thermal imaging, is running now until March 30th in the Naval Library at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Thermal video of Concordia shipwreck

Poignant images from the Concordia shipwreck have been released taken with what I assume to a thermal camera mounted on a helicopter. They are described as 'night vision' but I think they are thermal (or composite), with a black and white palette that makes white cold and black warm. You can see the black (warm) passengers and crew making their way down the side of the cold (white) hull.

As you might imagine, the wreck of the Titanic a century ago triggered research into remote detection of icebergs, notably a bolometer with which the horizon can be scanned. Since the bolometer only needs to scan a single defined line it is practical to try and use such a device: a bolometer only detects temperature remotely at a single point. Unfortunately it didn't seem to work, presumably because icebergs are at pretty well the same temperature as the sea and so wouldn't show up with the kind of bolometers available a hundred years ago.

As late as 1934 the American liner Manhattan was fitted with a fog camera, which automatically took an infrared photograph ahead every 50 seconds and then developed and printed it. The hope being that this system would give an early warning of obstacles in haze and fog. The liner's captain reported that the system had indeed been useful in a blizzard and in fog but remarked that it could not be used at night until "ships, lighthouses, and buoys are equipped with infra-red beams". But it was already clear that infrared photography would not penetrate fog and a Times special correspondent, explaining how what could be photographed was dependent on particle size, commented that the Manhattan voyage had "not been suitably foggy for a real test to be made".

Modern thermal imaging cameras are very capable of distinguishing between sea and either objects floating or surface obstructions and the video gives some indication of this. Note that the exposed parts of the ship seem colder (lighter) than the surface of the sea.

Thursday 12 January 2012

American Astronomical Society Austin sees new infrared images

The BBC web site has a small slide show of some far infrared images from space telescopes (such as WISE, Herschel and Spitzer) that were released at the 219th American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, which ends today (12th Jan).