Thursday 4 December 2014

RPS Journal article on creative thermal imaging

I've mentioned Joseph Giacomin's artistic thermal images in previous posts. This is a rare art, not least because the cameras are either very expensive or of low resolution (or sometimes both).

Members of the Royal Photographic Society can get a background briefing from him in the latest edition of The Journal, entitled Heat and Light (page 802). It's clear explanation of the principles of thermography and well worth a read.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared

It's been a while since Amherst Media published a slew of infrared photography books, including Joe Paduano's seminal The Art of Infrared Photography. Those are still in their catalogue, now joined by a fascinating book from Laurie Klein [Laurie's web site] with one of those 'exactly what it says on the tin' titles.

Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared

Near infrared light penetrates skin to a depth of a few millimetres. This tends to give skin a milky appearance as you're not seeing the surface (some moral there perhaps) but can also show up veins and make some marks, especially tattoos, stand out starkly. There can also be a spooky effect on eyes, making them look like dark pools. So combining infrared photography and skin can be 'interesting'.

Laurie Klein studied with Ansel Adams and spent some of her professional life as a landscape photographer, moving on to people and weddings. Her approach to people photography brings an appreciation of landscape; both the person in the landscape and the person as landscape. Almost all the images in the book are taken with a modified DSLR and shown in black and white. There is one example of 'good old' HIE 35mm film, which doesn't stand out as being that different from the digital shots, and one faux-colour shot ... of a woman in a wine-dark river ... which definitely benefits from the splash of colour. The models are all (or look to be) white; so my only wish would be to have seen what Laurie could do with darker skin tones. Having said that, the tonal differences at infrared wavelengths are not as pronounced as they are in visible light. In Laurie's photos, one interesting effect of the infrared is that the models' nipples render white as well. It's a very alabaster and sculptural look.

Incidentally I am impressed with the quality of the printing. In the past I have sometimes found Amherst's infrared images to be over-contrasty, but not here.

Alongside the photographs, Laurie explains how and why she posed the models as she did, and includes alternative 'takes' from the session. The train of thought is interesting, sometimes making me see the landscape photographer within being able to move those mountains to get the shot required. Here are nudes, props and landscape ... especially rocks and foliage ... arranged to taste.

As I said, it's a fascinating book, with lessons for all photographers and for any subject, and Laurie exploits the artistic possibilities of infrared light brilliantly.

[$27.95, 7.5x10 inches, 128 pages 180 photographs
ISBN-13: 978-1-60895-719-4]

Monday 10 November 2014

Near-infrared used for vein visualisation

There's an interesting use of near-infrared detection combined with a kind of augmented reality in a device being trialled by the Australian Red Cross Blood service. Since near infrared radiation (NIR) penetrates a few millimetres into skin you can often see subcutaneous veins in infrared images because the de-oxygenated blood absorbs light at these wavelengths. This device, made by Christie Medical, takes that a stage further by illuminating the area with NIR and then projecting the resulting image in visible light back onto the skin. It's shown in this video ...

More information in this punning post from the Blood Service.

Friday 31 October 2014

Simon Marsden 2015 Calendar

Halloween is an appropriate time to mention The Haunted Realm calendar for 2015, featuring the infrared photographs of Simon Marsden.

More information, and how to order, can be found on his web site.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Other thermal cameras are available ...

Digging around after my piece last week on the FLIR One I discovered that this isn't the only game in town when it comes to relatively inexpensive thermal imagers using smart phones for control.

I have already mentioned Andy Rawson's lo-res device, which I was told about in July 2013. Andy's web site now tells us that they have discontinued the camera because other inexpensive thermal cameras with higher resolution are now available. There was, however, another camera in the pipeline called Hema-Imager from Erik Beall, but this failed to reach its Kickstarter target. I get the feeling that these guys won't be giving up, and I wish them luck.

Israeli company Opgal have produced the Therm-App, which uses an Android phone as controller. This is more expensive that the FLIR One but has a higher thermal resolution (384 x 288 pixels and 7.4 to 14 microns ... which, of course, includes human body temperature) with a current price of $999 (full price $1600). This camera clips onto the back of your phone and connects via a small cable.

California-based Seek Thermal have announced a 206 by 156 pixel thermal camera add-on for both Android and iOS. It connects via micro USB or Lightning (depending on the device)and slots onto the bottom of your smart phone. Examples on their web site look good and so do the specs: vanadium oxide microbolometer detecting between 7.2 and 13 microns. The price, in the US, is $199.

All the companies marketing these inexpensive thermal cameras hope to build a market to help DIY (aka home improvement) by detecting hidden pipes and checking the temperature of food as well as seeing in the dark security.

There may be even more such devices out there ... if you know of one then let me know in the comments.

Friday 12 September 2014

FLIR One now available in US

FLIR's iPhone add-on thermal camera, the FLIR One, which I discussed back in January is now available from the US Apple Store. Availability in other territories should follow.

It turns out that the resolution of the thermal camera is 80 by 60 pixels but this is merged with a 640 by 480 pixel visible light camera and the image is enhanced depending on which mode you use. The image below is a composite image used by FLIR for promotion.

You can see the softness of the thermal information but I have to admit the blend with the visual image makes for a quite usable result.

The cost in the US is $350 and you have to use an iPhone 5 or 5s. The device will not fit on either iPhone 6 and it would seem that FLIR have no plans to produce a new one. That was always the risk but this still brings thermal imaging into a completely new area of use, appealing to small businesses and hobbyists alike.

Gizmodo got their hands on one in August and explain just what you might want to do with it (if you don't know already). They also did a review, but they were unsure whether it's worth the money. Given the usual way tech prices inflate as they cross the Atlantic that may be a bigger issue over here in the UK. That said, to echo one of the commentators on the review, it's still cheap for a thermal imager.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

RPS award for Andy Finney and Infrared 100

I'm honoured to have been awarded a Fenton medal at last night's Royal Photographic Society Awards in London. The award was given partly for the Infrared 100 project, celebrating the centenary of Robert Williams Wood's paper on Photography by Invisible Rays, given to the RPS, and of the first published infrared photograph.

Monday 14 July 2014

Simon Weir infrared images of Yellowstone Park

I've occasionally dipped into the infrared work of Simon Weir, who self-published a book of infrared landscapes a couple of years ago and takes fine infrared landscapes. Besides his own web site he is working extensively with Fuji X System cameras and has a blog devoted to that work. I mention this because he's taken an IR-modified Fuji X-E1 to Yellowstone National Park and achieved some stunning images.

Of course you can't think Yellowstone and photography without considering Ansel Adams. He wrote, in 'The Negative', that the haze penetration and bright foliage in an infrared image "does not necessarily achieve more than a superficially startling effect". He did take some infrared photographs, but I don't recall any of Yellowstone. Adams's comment on infrared photography may seem dismissive but he went on to "freely acknowledge that, in imaginative hands, infrared film can produce magnificent images." I think Simon's shots from Yellowstone fit that bill.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Animals as thermal 'detectors'

Thermal imaging cameras being as expensive as they are, it's interesting to see how observation of animal behaviour can provide clues to some aspects of temperature distribution in the environment. The classic is how to detect that a car has only recently arrived at a property ... if you can't touch the bonnet (hood). A thermal camera will show a warm spot on the bonnet, or (in classic detective mode) you might see that a cat has decided to lie there. Pigeons can also be useful detectors. You will often see birds roosting on top of one building in a group and this is often simply because that roof is warmer; either because of a local heat source such as an air outlet or because that roof is less insulated than the others. Snow will fulfil the same function.

A similar, but inverse, phenomenon has been observed by researchers in Australia. They were using thermal imaging to study how koalas regulate their body temperature, given the hot climate. Hugging trees was one mechanism, the tree trunk being cooler than the surroundings. The animals were observed moving from the top leaves where they feed in winter down to cooler parts of the tree in summer. Conveniently this would provide a perch where the koala could either lie spread on top of a shady branch (as some big cats are seen to do) or wedge themselves in a junction between a large branch and the trunk. Thermal imaging revealed how the koala uses the tree trunk and/or branch as a heat sink.

The study is published (freely accessible) in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters [Biol. Lett. June 2014 vol. 10 no. 6 20140235] and you can read (and see) more on the BBC web site which also outlines other research into how animals can exploit microclimates in trees and other means to combat high temperatures.

Similar themes can be explored from an earlier blog post on toucans and trees.

Wednesday 28 May 2014


As I was in the West End last week I went over to the new Photographers Gallery just off Oxford Street to have a look at Richard Mosse's extraordinary infrared photographs from the Congo (see the previous post). The good news is they look stunning in the huge prints on show. I was very surprised by just how small the grain in the film is, so I have to assume the aerochrome was actually developed using the 'correct' aerochrome process rather than the E6 most of us used. The bad news is that there are only a handful of the prints on display and I had hoped to see more.

So, I went down to the bookshop in the basement and chatted with the very helpful sales assistant. I had hoped to get a copy of either of the books of Mosse's photos but that was not to be. They are completely sold out, not just at the Gallery but everywhere it seems, and are now selling for high prices.

Despite being disappointed by this (and kicking myself for not buying his Infra book online from Aperture when I could) I got to thinking that this took the book into the realm of photographic collectors items. They may well be the first books of infrared photography to truly get there, and prize-winning photography at that. I know there are a couple of other IR photo books that go for high prices but I think these are in a class of their own.

Changing wavelength, I am getting a little worried that FLIR's inexpensive iPhone add-on thermal camera may be having difficulties. The general consensus in the Apple rumour mill is that the iPhone 6 will be along soon and will have a larger form factor. This means that the FLIR One, as publicised, will be designed to use an obsolescent smart phone body. I still hope that the promise it showed when previewed at CES in January will be realised and it would definitely be a game changer for a wider use of thermal imaging.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Richard Mosse: Börse and London

Great to see that Richard Mosse won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for 2014 for the Enclave, colour infrared photographs he took in the Congo and exhibited in the Irish Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

His photos are now on show in London, which is close enough that I may at last get to see them. They're at the Photographers Gallery until June 22nd.

Thursday 1 May 2014

All About Imaging: Transactions

All About Imaging: Transactions, according to its agenda, is an interdisciplinary symposium exploring new directions in contemporary imaging from the perspectives of art, science and technology. It takes place at the University of Westminster Harrow campus on May 22nd and 23rd.

I note it here mainly because of a session on day one which includes a presentation on 'Imaging the invisible in medicine' by Professor Francis Ring. Prof Ring is one of the pioneers of thermal imaging, with a special interest in medical applications.

That said, there is much of interest, including the opening of the RPS PRS International Images for Science 2103 exhibition on the 22nd. The full schedule and more information can be found on the university's web site. Members of the Royal Photographic Society are entitled to a discounted registration fee.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Improvements to graphene detectors

Last June, I noted research in Singapore which promised a wide-ranging imaging sensor based on graphene. The hyperspectral detection of graphene ranges from ultraviolet to far infrared but there has been a problem with very low sensitivity of the single layer of carbon atoms.

A paper in Nature Nanotechnology, published on March 16 2014, outlines a method devised by researchers at the University of Michigan whereby electrons freed by photons hitting a first layer of graphene tunnel through an insulating barrier layer and into a second graphene layer. This affects current flowing through the second graphene layer and this is what is detected. The result is a dramatic increase in sensitivity as well as IR detectors that perform well at room temperatures. This is all explained in a press release from the University of Michigan. The 'trick' was to look into how the signal could be amplified, rather than making the signal itself stronger. (I haven't read the whole paper but I would ask what noise does this generate.)

"We can make the entire design super-thin," said Zhaohui Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan, and one of the inventors. "It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone." This mention of contact lenses led the Register to ask "Want to see at night? Here comes the infrared CONTACT LENS".

A patent, 'Photodetector based on double layer heterostructures', has been applied for.

Monday 24 February 2014

Richard Mosse 'The Enclave' exhibition in New York

Following on from his exhibition at the Venice Biennalle, Richard Mosse's colour infrared installation, The Enclave, is on show in New York until March 22nd. The venue is the Jack Shainman Gallery at 513 West 20th Street.

Mosse worked with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten using 16mm aerochrome (basically Color Infrared Ektachrome) to explore the war-torn eastern Congo. The resulting film was transferred to HD video. Here's how the exhibition press release describes the work:
The Enclave comprises six monumental double-sided screens installed in a large darkened chamber creating a physically immersive experience. This disorienting and kaleidoscopic installation is intended to formally parallel eastern Congo’s multifaceted conflict, confounding expectations and forcing the viewer to interact spatially from an array of differing viewpoints. The Enclave is an experiential environment that attempts to reconfigure the dictates of photojournalism and expanded video art.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 1000 to 1800.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Joseph Giacomin thermal art website

Professor Joseph Giacomin and his artistic thermal images have featured before on this blog.

Thermal art is basically as rare as hen's teeth, mainly because thermal cameras are very expensive beasts (although that may be about to change).

Rush Hour by Joseph Giacomin
He has now launched a web site dedicated to his thermograms (or is it thermographs?): Perception Enhancement Studios with a fascinating collection of images captured using a 320 by 240 pixel camera. This is standard res for thermal devices, anything higher counts as HD. One useful feature is that you can choose to view the set of images from three tonal scales. Two are false colour, red-blue and iron, and the third is grey-scale. Personally, I prefer the grey-scale. The false colour scales are designed to exaggerate differences in temperatures, which I feel can often be a bit over the top for art. That said, false colour shouldn't be ignored and I suggest you go to the web site and make your own mind up.

Deianira by Joseph Giacomin
I have come across other artistic thermal images, but I find Joseph usually has the edge when it comes to artistic flair (or should that be artistic Flir ... in-joke).

Tuesday 4 February 2014

RPS Journal Archive online

It's a momentous event for photographic historians. The Royal Photographic Society, who have just launched their revamped web site, have also put a fully searchable archive of the famous Phot J ... the Photographic Journal, now the RPS Journal, on line with free access and free text search. It's at

You can find out the background to the project on the Townsweb Archiving blog.

I haven't really explored yet but the page scans look very good. My only comments are that you only see your results by Journal volume whereas a date would be nice, and to return to the search results you have to use the browser 'back' button: but that's being picky. It is a fantastic resource. Enter 'infra-red' and then 'infrared' as your search term and see how it all started.

Monday 13 January 2014

Elliott Landy's Band photobook includes infrared shots

You may recall photographer Elliott Landy and the iconic colour infrared photograph of his, showing Bob Dylan, that was included in the Infrared 100 exhibition.

Elliott has a distinguished portfolio of music-related material and has recently decided to pull together the best shots he took of The Band to produce a fine art photo book that he is funding via KickStarter. Actually I should say 'has funded' as he finally raised $193,626.

I was a much younger person when I shelled out pocket money for a copy of Rag Mama Rag by the Band. They were Canadians who famously accompanied Dylan on the Basement Tapes and then became a key recording act in their own right. Their roots approach to music was matched by their image, and this was captured by Landy on over eight thousand frames of film. Only about 30 ever got widely published, some as album covers and posters, and he considers this his best body of work. His relationship with the band is rare for a photographer. The only other notable long-term collaboration I can recall is U2 and Anton Corbijn.

The music occupied a hinterland between rock, country and folk; bringing an acoustic sound that became synonymous with Woodstock in up-state New York. For such a small place it has managed to carve a deep furrow in American musical history, and Vanity Fair calls Landy "the ultimate keeper of the Woodstock flame".

This photo of Levon Helm is one of the infrared shots (Kodak E4 stock in this case) which are included in the set. As with the Dylan shot, Landy didn't use infrared to exploit its characteristics (something I'm often guilty of) but more for what it could bring to the image.

This is the KickStarter page ... now reached its target ... and this is Elliott Landy's own web site, which you can explore for more of his images.

[Amended 30 Jan 2014 to give final Kickstarter figure.]

Thursday 9 January 2014

Consumer thermal camera launched at CES

The leading manufacturer of thermal images, FLIR, have launched a prosumer thermal imager at CES. I mentioned the $200 IR-Blue in an earlier post but this new device appears to be much more like the existing thermal images we've seen from FLIR and others while having a retail price point of only $350. This is an amazing price point and opens up a whole raft of new applications in a whole new market.

The unit fits onto an iPhone 5 (and 5s) and uses an iPhone app for control, display and recording - including movies - linking via USB. I couldn't find any information on spatial resolution but my guess is that the display is something like 320 pixels across. This is augmented by the ability to blend in a visual image to provide some detail to help identify features. The thermal core is FLIR's Lepton, which is a tiny microbolometer-based unit designed for consumer manufacturing scale. The thermal range for the scene is zero to 100 Celsius with a resolution of a tenth of a degree, which should suffice for most consumer uses and will certainly pick out a person in the dark.

You can find out more either by visiting the FLIR ONE web site or on the CES video that the BBC shot.

What is telling is that much of the FLIR promotional material is aimed at people who don't even really know what thermal imaging is or what it can do. A thermal image is (IIRC) regarded as a search in the US so there may be privacy concerns but a thermal image of a person does not show any significant detail. (That judgement was based partly on thermal imaging devices not being generally available to the public.) Hopefully we won't see any of the hysteria that greeted near-infrared photography and its so-called (and insignificant) X-Ray capability! Oh, and to save you asking, it's the area between the eyes and the bridge of the nose that best shows the body temperature, not the forehead.

I see this as a really significant piece of kit and welcome FLIR's initiative. Worldwide launch is Spring 2014 'at popular retail outlets'.