Earlier this year I published a blog post chronicling my experimentations with infrared video and photography. I thought that would be it for a while, but no it certainly wasn’t! I really recommend reading this post, as it goes into the whole concept of infrared and the science of it, which I won’t repeat fully here. This post is simply a follow-up with a nice new video and some lovely new photos! Although for the lazier ones amongst you here is a tiny science chunk for you…
I own three cameras now which have been physically modified by companies to shoot infrared. They have all had the infrared blocking filter replaced with an infrared passing filter of different strengths. My first camera to be modded, well over 2 years ago, was one of my Canon 5DmkIII with a 720nm filter in it. The second camera was a Sony RX100 II with a “super colour” 590nm filter. After loving the results of this little Sony, I wanted to get better video so I temporarily popped out the IR blocker from my Blackmagic 4K production camera. The results (in my previous blog post) were good, but the camera is cumbersome and I also REALLY wanted super slow motion, so there was only one option…I needed to mod another camera.
After searching high and low online for a Sony RX100 IV that had been modified with no luck I realised the only option I had was to buy one and get it done myself. I contacted one of the best companies out there for this, Life Pixel, to see if they would do it for me. They said that the issue with the RX100 cameras after the first one is they are prone to hotspots with the lens and sensor when the infrared blocking filter is removed. As I have noticed this with my MkII, it wasn’t an issue, something that can be fixed in post. So I bought a mint used one on eBay and got it sent direct to them to mod. I asked for the super colour filter again and two additional filters, a 665 and 720nm.
If you don’t know how cool the little Sony RX100 IV is, then check out these blog posts I did about it, here and here. It has a 1 inch sensor, records internal 4K up to 30p and up to 120p in HD. It can also do pretty good 250fps HD, but for only two seconds at a time then needs to write that file to the card in real-time. There are more options, including even higher frame rates. I cover these and the caveats in those blog posts I just linked to.
Above are the first two in a series of VLOGS I am making for CVP TV. These two are fun, silly, entertaining videos of me in Vegas. In part two I talk about and show the infrared. They are filmed with a normal colour RX100 IV, DJI Osmo X3, X5 and much more! Check them out if you can!
I picked up the camera in Las Vegas a week before the NAB show, as I was over there for work. That is why I made a video called “Las Vegas in Infrared”! There was no plan, I had just got the camera, and with any new toy you get excited and use it a lot. Whilst shooting it, though, I realised just how well it worked there with the palm trees and lawns and deep blue skies. The results, especially in slow motion, made Vegas look somewhat sinister and with a post-apocalyptic vibe. Perfect! 🙂
Well, that was 7 weeks ago almost, and I am still using it almost every day. Every now and then I get asked “why?” or “what’s the point?” Well, there isn’t “a point” as such. These are my experimentations, and I find infrared fascinating. This is creating, without sounding too pretentious, “art”. After all, what is the point of art? For me it is to fulfill a creative desire in me and give me pleasure (not THAT sort of pleasure!). This does. It is so different to what I am used to and gets my creative juices flowing. That is “why”!
The music I used is the wonderful Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony 2nd Movement bought royalty free. This isn’t the first time I have used it, nor will it be the last, but it is my favourite use of it in my own work. It pops up frequently in movies (most recently X-Men: Apocalypse) but my favourite use of this music in a film is the opening titles to one of my all time favourite movies Tarsim’s “The Fall” shot by Colin Watkinson. I hesitated posting this as it is so much better than my little infrared video, but it is a must see. You can clearly see I was influenced in some ways. If you haven’t seen this film then do yourself a favour and watch it. Also read about the making of as the story behind it is fascinating.
I haven’t, nor do I have any plans to, use infrared in my paid work. It may happen, but for now this is a “hobby” if you will. 99% is photographs though. Whilst the results I get from the RX100 IV are really good, I want better; I want the quality I get from the stills in video. The 4K isn’t bad, but I really want a larger sensor so, guess what? Life Pixel are currently modding a new Sony A6300 for me. The slow motion isn’t as good as the RX100 IV, the 4K is better, and it has an APS-C sensor, or a fake full frame with a Metabones Speedbooster.
Anyway…back to Las Vegas. Most of the video are snatches of drive by shots taken from my rental car or taxi as I drove around Las Vegas. With just two seconds, you have to get your timing right. I shot stuff most days when I was in the car and ended up with lots and lots of shots. Maybe 1/10th were OK. Way less were actually really good. A lot of it is luck, but mostly timing and getting those camera settings right. Exposure is really tricky in infrared. Highlights blow really easily, and what you really need to make it work is nice blue skies and nice green foliage. They come out the best. Also for the video, I used the 665nm filter the most. I regretted this. I wish I had just used the one over the sensor, the 590nm. Whilst it is the least “true infrared” filter of them, as it lets quite a lot of the normal colour spectrum through as well as infrared light, it is the most flexible in post to create the look.
With the 665nm reds are dulled, with the 720nm they are gone. The only colour visible is blue, really. With the 590nm, you get lots of nice orange reds and blues, which can be manipulated in post easily. If you look at the end credits of the video, you will see some shots done with just the 590nm with the colours manipulated giving a really lovely blue sky and lots of white foliage. It is way easier to create this with photos than video due to Photoshop and Lightroom, but it is entirely possible with the many colour grading software options like resolve and even Premiere Lumetri. The biggest downside with the footage I got is raw that is preferable, as the manipulation of colour is quite strong and the 8-bit 50mb/s 4:2:0 of the XAVC-S makes it harder to grade.
The above frame grab is straight from the camera with the 665nm filter on it with a custom white balance off of green, yes green, shot cine 2 and cinema profile. Below is the graded image from the video with stronger oranges and slightly different hues and contrast. This was done with Lumetri, FilmConvert and James Miller’s LUTS to some degree.
The above shot of me is with the 590nm filter on and straight from the camera with the same picture profile settings as mentioned above. Below is all thanks to James Miller’s custom DELUT. Whilst I can do this manually, it is a right fiddle in video. I need to reverse the blue and red channels, desaturate the reds and oranges, and lift their luminance. James created a special LUT that I just throw in Lumetri in Premiere, and it did it all for me.
If you are getting confused don’t worry! I was, too, when I first started. Let me explain it step by step via a panorama I took from Richmond Hill yesterday. Directly below is the finished photo, but I will show you how I got there.
First up is the panorama auto stitch from Lightroom above. The colours look like this only from the raw file. The jpeg, if shot using the same custom white balance as mentioned, won’t look like this, but Lightroom cannot cope with the metadata white balance in the raw, so it looks all red. You need to download a free piece of software called DNG Profile Editor from Adobe. Export the ARW raw file from Lightroom as a DNG, then import it into this software and slide the white balance calibration under “colour matrices” to -100. Then export the profile, restart Lightroom and under “Camera Calibration” click “profile”, and you will see the profile you just created. Once you do that, it will look like it did on the camera LCD when you took the photo.
Now we have our correct looking image above, but to create the snowy look like the first image I showed you, we need to follow the next few steps. In Lightroom, select “edit the photo in Photoshop,” when it loads up select “image” “adjustments” “channel mixer” and then we reverse the red and blue channels. We have to use Photoshop, as there is no option to do this in Lightroom currently. First we change the red channel, and under source channels we change the RGB settings. First set red to 0 then blue to +100. Next go to the Blue output channel and we do the reverse. Set red to +100 and blue to 0.
You will get the above looking colours if done correctly. Now save the image and it will show the new image in Lightroom. We just need to use the HSL panel there and desaturate the reds, oranges and yellows and raise the luminance of these. Adjust to personal preference.
So we start with this…
and end with this…
and your end result should be something like this:
They we go. There is no right or wrong way – just use this info as a guide. Create the look you want, but remember you cannot achieve this with a camera which still has an infrared blocking filter in. You could approximate the look with a LOT of post work, but it won’t look right or look authentic. There are many old cameras online premodded you can pick up, some really cheap ones. Start with photography and go from there. If you do get a camera modded and want to use it normally too, then get it full spectrum modified. Then all you need to do is out a screw on infrared blocking filter onto the lens, and it will work with the normal visual spectrum. Personally, I like the 590nm filter look, but purists will say this isn’t true infrared as it lets too much of the normal spectrum in. That is fine with me. It gives me the options as I detail above.
Do what I have done over the past two and half years…experiment. Have fun creating. If it gets you out of the house shooting when you wouldn’t normally, then that is a good thing! The Blackmagic cameras are good starting grounds, as their IR blocking filters are easily removed and put back in. That is all detailed on my previous blog so make sure you read that and it also does go much more into the science of it all! Enjoy!!