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]

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Ron Rosenstock

Just a quick post to draw your attention to the work of Ron Rosenstock. He's an American photographer who is a follower of Ansel Adams (which really shows in his photos) and was a student of Minor White. A solid provenance.

He does take other kinds of image but he does have a significant body of work in infrared, which I'm just starting to explore. He has produced a book called The Invisible Light, which reminds me I still have to do some work on my site of that name.

Ron's web site is

Monday 24 October 2016

Unseen book launch in London on Thursday

Ed Thompson's fascinating book, The Unseen, which I recently wrote up, is being launched this week. Unusually, the do is an open house and might provide an opportunity for an infrared get-together ... I certainly plan to go.

The place is the Photographers Gallery Bookshop, 16-18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW. You might know this as that street with steps at the end leading down from Oxford Street. Timing is between 1800 and 2000 on Thursday 27th October. Ed says ...
"I will be holding a free raffle and giving away prints, original spreads from the book when it was printed and other cool rare stuff to do with the project."
Coincidentally, last time I went to the Photographers Gallery was to see some of Richard Mosse's infrareds from the Congo ... but in that case the book was unobtainable.

Monday 10 October 2016

Simon Marsden exhibition in Chelsea (London)

If you are heading down the Kings Road between October 28th and November 4th, I recommend you drop in at number 259. That's the shop and gallery of Green and Stone and they are hosting an exhibition of Simon Marsden's infrared photographs.

Being a Kings Road gallery it's also an opportunity to buy a print from the ever diminishing stock of prints made by Sir Simon himself ... or books (some signed), the 2017 calendar, or cards. (I will admit, sadly, that my wallet tends more towards the latter.) I have to admit that besides the print of Moydrum Castle he kindly loaned to the RPS for inclusion in our Infrared 100 exhibition, I have not seen any of his prints 'in the flesh', and he always saw the printing as a key part of his work. Both composer and player, as Ansel Adams might have said.

Opening hours are 0900 to 1800 weekdays, 0930 to 1800 on Saturday and even 1200 to 1800 on the Sunday. There is also a late night opening on November 2nd until 1930 (maybe see you there?). The Green and Stone shop has been in Chelsea for almost 90 years and started life within the Chenil Gallery (apparently situated between Chelsea Town Hall and the Six Bells pub), whose directors were Augustus John and Bernard Shaw, before moving to the present site opposite Carlyle Square in 1934.

Sunday 25 September 2016

World’s first near-infrared feature film

I've known for a while that the Red digital cinema camera could take great monochrome infrared moving images. For the past few years film makers Glen Ryan and James van der Moezel of silver dory productions in Australia have been working on a tour de force movie to exploit this, called BRINDABELLAS | edge of light .

It's probably best I let the film makers describe what they set out to achieve ...
BRINDABELLAS | edge of light is an immersive cinematic journey through the sky and landscapes of the Canberra region of Australia – in particular the Brindabella Ranges. The film focuses on the interplay of mountain light, air and water as these elements are transformed across the seasons – from clouds to mist, rain and snow – then frost and ice – and onto creeks and rivers. It explores both the wider montane vistas of the Brindabellas and the more intimate details of the natural flows that are created by these mountains and, in turn, shape the very landscapes they arise from.
The video, shot at 4K resolution, looks superb, exhibiting all the characteristics of near-infrared photography but with the added dimension of movement. The landscapes will look familiar to anyone used to taking such images, with clouds sailing majestically across ink-dark skies above Wood-effect forests, accompanied by minimalist music and effects. There used to be a common phrase in the early days of interactive video ... Every frame a Rembrandt ... and it really applies here.

But there are more than landscapes. The area's wildlife is included. Here's where something extraordinary appears, an unusual feature of an unusual movie. Insect chitin, the substance of which much of their bodies is made, has long been known to be transparent at near infrared wavelengths. You can see this demonstrated clearly, and in minute macroscopic detail, in parts of this movie. Not just chitin either, I wasn't aware that caterpillars might become transparent (or at least translucent).

The film is in 22 chapters, covering five seasons (two summers bookend the production) and you can watch it in up to 4K quality via the production website, YouTube or Vimeo. My 5K iMac can display the 4K movies, given a following broadband wind, and they look superb (although I haven't gone all the way through as yet). Another Koyaanisqatsi perhaps?

PS: Silver Dory have also produced a book/monograph of the project. Selling out fast, apparently.

Monday 5 September 2016

Edward Thompson: The Unseen

This hardback book isn't your usual photographic monograph. For a start it's just over 260 pages long and then every image is taken using some of the last-remaining rolls of Kodak's colour infrared film. As the back-cover blurb says, this is the swan song of a particular kind of film, and of the particular kinds of images it was destined to take.

Ed Thompson is a documentary photographer, and for the past few years he has been exploring his photographic fascination with the different view of the world that this film provides. He has chosen some of the hundreds of potential applications to produce a series of smaller projects which, taken together, make up this book. Superficially, this may lead you into thinking that the book is disjointed, jumping between anatomical specimens, dystopian landscapes, portraits, an operating theatre, the sky at night and even images of paintings. Follow the interstitial text, however, and it will become clear.

The photographs look beneath the surface of the subjects, in some cases literally (that is, the medical poses and an Icelandic glacier). Infrared photography, both monochromatic and false-colour, has been used for remote sensing of plant health in agriculture, haze-penetration, imaging veins and other things just below the skin, and layers of artworks below their 'skin'. Whereas once infrared was thought of as a branch of astronomy - the 'new astronomy' as it was called - now it dominates the field. Ed's astronomical photographs are perhaps the weakest in the set but they deserve to be included ... and the Orion Nebula always amazes.

I think the book is called an atlas because the twelve chapters document an exploration, although you will find no diagrams showing oceans and mountains. You may, however, find a dragon or two, in the shape of photographs from the dead zone surrounding the Chernobyl power station. For me, these are the most poignant images: using one form of radiation that we can't see to suggest the other, more dangerous, invisible radiation all around.

If I have a technical quibble, it's that building a book from images where the predominant tone is saturated red is a printer's nightmare. Print lives in the land of CMYK, not RGB. I started off thinking some of the images were a bit dull, but they actually need quite a lot of light to bring them to life. Persevere, and you will be rewarded.

I've collected quite a few books of infrared photography and The Unseen is part of a tiny group specialising in false-colour infrared. It definitely deserves its place in a photographic library and in the history of the medium: whatever your reason for liking infrared photography, there will be images here to amaze you.

The Unseen: Atlas of Infrared Plates by Edward Thompson
Published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam
266 pages
ISBN 9789053308639

Friday 5 August 2016

Havelock Williams: infrared pioneer in New Zealand

The 1930s turned out to be something of a golden age for infrared photography, as photographers could now buy infrared plates 'off the shelf' rather than having to sensitise themselves. This would also have made exposure more predictable. For example, UK newspapers, notably the Times, published many such photographs between around 1932 and 1938.

The interest was almost exclusively around the haze penetrating properties, allowing for long-distance photography, especially from aircraft. For this reason infrared photographs showing the Everest range were some of the images taken on the 1933 Houston Everest Aerial Expedition.

Among the photographers availing themselves of the potential of infrared photography was New Zealand photographer Havelock Williams. At this time he was living and working in Timaru in South Island and his daughter, Diana Rhodes, tells me "Infra-red photography was in his output around 1934, on large format glass plates of the South Island Scenery". It is unclear what stock (or stocks) he used and even whether he sensitised the plates himself. Diana has a box labelled Ilford Hyper-Chomatic Films, where her father has written 'Infra Red Albury' (if I can decode correctly), but I don't even know whether this was a box for plates or for prints of some of his IR images.

Diana has sent me a few of Havelock Williams's infrared photos from the 1930s. They are as spectacular as you'd expect, with the combination of IR's characteristic tones and New Zealand's scenery. Here are two of them ...

From Caroline Bay

Lake Tekapo, Takapo House and Bridge

Diana collated and edited his work to produce a book, With my Camera for Company, if you'd like to explore his life and work further. The Amazon UK link isn't as helpful as it might be, but if you're in New Zealand (or don't mind air mail) then this link is better.

Thursday 30 June 2016

Simon Marsden tribute movie on the way

At first I didn't quite 'get' the aesthetic of the late Sir Simon Marsden's infrared photographs. Based on my own experience of using the legendary Kodak HIE infrared 35mm film, I found them rather gloomy. Eventually I clicked and began to appreciate the atmospheric effects he was achieving. His use of strong back-lighting, dramatic angles and his expert printing soon made me realise that he, and the grainy halation of HIE, were made for each other.

Ironically, as many of you know, that grainy halation was a result of the construction of the film rather than the infrared light itself. However, the film was constructed like that because of the infrared light: the lack of an anti-reflection coating and base fogging being because Kodak couldn't find a way to make them work across all the wavelengths to which the film was sensitive.

When I came to work on the Infrared 2010 celebrations, I was delighted with how helpful and communicative Simon was. This was true of almost all the photographers I approached but Simon was the only one who was actually specialising in infrared photography. His Moydrum Castle photo from 1978 became our poster image.

He died suddenly in 2012. He died on my birthday. I was 61, he was only 63. We had communicated, chatted even, using email. I had never spoken with him or met him. An opportunity missed.

The Irish film maker Jason Figgis has been planning a film about Simon for at least a year—entitled Simon Marsden: A Life in Pictures—with the enthusiastic support of Simon's widow Cassie. Jason's blog about the project had its first posts back last July and has been quiet so far this year but I know the project is now ramping up. It will explore not just Simon's work but also the technical background and inspirations behind it.

Stay tuned, as they say.

Monday 9 May 2016

Ed Thompson Kickstarts Book

Ed Thompson is running a Kickstarter campaign (is that what you call them?) for his book 'The Unseen'. If you're interested in Ed's thoughtful takes on false-colour infrared photography then you should have a look.

It's highly unlikely anyone will produce any more colour infrared film, so there's something rather wistful about looking through this book, knowing that the images represent the last ones to be captured using this idiosyncratic stock. It started life during the second world war as a means of detecting camouflage and was used extensively for remote sensing and medical photography. The Unseen takes a sideways look at the historic uses for the film with subjects like Chernobyl, bees and even a haunted village (Simon Marsden would have been proud).

The book is expected in June. My full disclosure is that I've helped Ed in a small way with some of the text.


Sunday 17 April 2016

Laurie Klein Artistic Techniques Book

Following on rapidly from her excellent book Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared, Laurie Klein has joined forces with her son Kyle for a more general coverage of infrared photography.

Basically (and simplifying somewhat) Kyle discusses the subject from a technical perspective while Laurie discusses the art and technique. As I noted in the review for Female Form, Laurie studied with Ansel Adams and his fingerprints can occasionally be found in her work. This book even mentions the Zone system, in the context of using the camera's histogram display. For infrared photography, where the captured images often have a restricted palette, the histogram is even more useful than in conventional photography.

There's a lot to glean from this book. Personally I find more to learn in Laurie's contributions but that's not to denigrate what Kyle wrote, just where I'm coming from with my research into the subject. What I really like is that post-processing, which is undoubtedly an essential part of digital IR, is placed in a reasonable perspective. The book leads you through the workflow of making the image with the camera and then adjusting it to match the vision. I'm particularly interested in the section on emulating the old Kodak film halation and will be exploring that before long.

Infrared Photography: Artistic Techniques for Brilliant Images by Laurie Klein and Kyle Klein is published at $37.95 by Amherst Media. I note that Amherst have really upped their game with the printing in their recent books: no complaints on that score. The format fits the usual Amherst US-Letter size, perfect bound.

I've also been sent a copy of Karen Dórame's Mastering Infrared Photography by Amherst, which I'll be looking at before long.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Infrared rainbows

It was Robert Greenler who, having deduced that there should be an infrared component to a terrestrial rainbow, finally succeeded in photographing a natural one in 1970. I've had a go myself and if the sky does what you need and the camera is steady enough it is not too difficult to give it a go yourself.

Scientific American recently published an article entitles Think You Know Rainbows? Look Again, which discussed and showed examples of rainbows that were not particularly rainbow coloured, including a white one and a red one.

The red example in the article (reproduced above) was taken from the Wikimedia Commons, and was taken by Jason Campbell in 2011. The cause, as the article explains, is that the light source is a setting sun and at this point only red light was available to be refracted by water droplets to form the bow.

You probably see where I'm going here. Let's assume that near-IR is also in the sunlight as the sun sets and that this remains a little after the red has gone. In this case it should be possible for an infrared-only rainbow to exist.

Presumably anyone with a suitable light source and some fine mist could produce one in the lab but has anyone managed to take a photograph of such a thing 'in the wild'?

[As an aside, I recently saw that the light from a rainbow is polarised along the circumference of the bow. Obvious when you think about it but I'd never noticed before.]

Monday 22 February 2016

A new inexpensive thermal camera from CAT ... in a phone

Last June I had a chance to look at the Flir One thermal add-on for the iPhone. This was based on Flir's tiny Lepton bolometer. This has a resolution of 80 by 60 pixels and is aimed at OEMs to incorporate in various devices.

The latest is an Android mobile phone from Reading UK-based CAT called the S60, which was launched yesterday at the Mobile World Congress.

The CAT literature doesn't mention thermal resolution, although there is some online speculation that Flir's Lepton is now available with 160 by 120 pixel resolution, as reported by Ars Technica last August. Whatever it is, the CAT device seems to make use of the same blending technology that the Flir one uses to give false-resolution to the thermal image, which makes it much more useful. The visible and thermal cameras are also much closer together in the CAT, which will reduce need to correct the parallax errors at close distances that the original Flir One exhibited.

This is still not really of a sufficient 'quality' to be an artistic imaging device, but if you're a plumber, heating engineer or electrician this is a kind of tool that will soon be making its way into your toolbox.

You can see the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones trying one out, and chatting to 'the man from CAT' in this video clip.

Friday 19 February 2016

Some infrared landscapes to savour

I was pointed to Welsh-based photographer Andy Lee's infrared landscapes by an article in Wired. He's been shooting with a converted Nikon D800 and (I think) an R72 filter but it's the locations that make the pictures for me. Mountainous landscapes in Patagonia and Iceland feature in the infrared examples on his web site and at quite high resolutions as well.

Monday 11 January 2016

Laurie Klein in London

Laurie Klein, of 'Photographing the Female form with Digital Infrared' fame (and a new book on the way ... see my previous post) will be in London next week to present two talks at the SWPP Convention.

The two talks are:
  • Weddings, Portraits, and Life Journey Photography with Digital Infrared - Thursday 21st 1000-1200 [more]
  • Finding The Unique Visual Voice - Friday 22nd 1630-1830 [more]
I won't be able to get along but I recommend Laurie's 'Female Form' book and am looking forward to seeing the new one. In any event, how often do you get to hear from someone who studied with Ansel Adams?

Wednesday 6 January 2016

New Books for a New Year

I've been notified of three photographic books that may be of interest, coming out over the next few weeks (or May in one case).

Ed Thompson's The Unseen: An Atlas of Infrared Plates has a May 2016 publication date from Schilt Publishing and a cost of €45. More information on their web site.

I love the idea that this is somehow an old-fashioned atlas of hitherto unknown territory ... down the spectrum with gun and camera (without the gun) in the manner of a Victorian explorer. One thing I would take issue with is the publisher's quote that "Thompson has created a swan song to the medium of infrared photography" since the technique is alive and well. What this is a swan song to is infrared film of course, and especially the false-colour infrared film that Kodak used to produce, and of which Ed is an accomplished exponent.

I've mentioned Laurie Klein, and her book Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared, before. Her follow-up is almost with us, co-written with her son Kyle Klein, and published by Amherst on January 12th 2016 at $37.95 (list).

I haven't seen the book on paper as yet, but there's a comprehensive preview on Amazon and it will also be available from other stores who stock Amherst's books..

Finally, a quick note to say that Elliott Landy's Kickstarted book of The Band Photographs (Big Pink etc) is now available in various enhanced formats from his web site ... and going fast ... (there's a preview there as well as on Amazon) and from book stores. Prices range from $45 to $500 and Elliott's web site is offering the first edition print of the book. I mention this because, although they are in a minority, there is a section of infrared photos amongst this set. I wrote more about this almost exactly a year ago.