Book Review: "The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography"

200701bc_ircover Reviewed by Ron Eggers

Infrared photography has a sense of mystery about it. Producing ethereal images and false colors, pictures captured in the infrared wavelength evoke fantasy. It's almost like magic, and something that's magical certainly must be difficult. Working with infrared film is challenging. It's difficult to shoot with and even more difficult to process. Fortunately, like with so many things in photography, digital technology has had a significant impact on infrared photography. It is making it simpler than it's ever been.

With his new book "The Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography," Joe Farace explains those changes, and in the process, he takes much of the mystery out of infrared photography without dispelling the magic that makes it so fascinating. Published by Lark Books (a division of Sterling Publishing), this book is a detailed and well-written step-by-step guide to infrared photography. It's obvious that the author has a thorough understanding of the subject matter and the processes involved in coming up with striking infrared images.

"One of the things that I admire about Joe's writing is his ability to make seemingly complex techniques understandable to even a beginning photographer," digital imaging expert Rick Sammon says in the Foreword. And that's really what makes this book so appealing. It's accessible to anybody who has as interest in infrared, regardless of how much traditional photographic experience he or she might have. That's not to say this is the right book for someone who doesn't have at least a fundamental understanding of photography, such as knowing about apertures, shutter speeds and basic camera settings. It's just that no great technical expertise is required to get started.

Farace distinguishes between real infrared (IR) photography, pictures captured by a camera in the infrared spectrum, and virtual (or faux) IR images, which are created in the computer. The 160-page book covers both aspects thoroughly. While the main focus is digital, many of the tips and techniques are also applicable for film photography.

The first few chapters deal with capturing infrared images. One of the interesting points he makes is that, in many cases, earlier digital cameras are actually better suited for infrared than new digitals. The filters used to keep infrared radiation from reaching camera sensors have become so good at what they're supposed to do that no IR waves reach the sensor. Filters on older digital cameras weren't quite so effective. Included is a way to test how sensitive a camera is in the IR spectrum and what options are available if yours isn't. But some of the options, such as having a standard digital camera converted to an IR digital, are more applicable for serious photographers than casual shooters.

There are specific sections on the advantages and disadvantages of working with different file formats, including JPEG and RAW. Other issues, like focusing peculiarities and exposure adjustments required for successful infrared photography, are also covered.

Correct focusing is particularly important with infrared. Different colors of visible light focus at different points, but their focal points are close enough together that it's possible to focus them on one plain. The infrared focal point falls out of that plain, making focusing in infrared photography more challenging. Farace offers different methods to meet those challenges. There are also passages about what subjects work best in infrared and why.

Since filtration is so important, there's a complete chapter on infrared filters and their effects. A handy chart covers the different types of filters available and their impact on the infrared wavelength.

Then the book moves into working with and creating infrared images on the computer, both to optimize IR images captured digitally, and to create black and white and color IR effects starting with conventional photographs. Using Adobe Photoshop as the point-of-reference, Farace goes into detail about using various types of layers, toning, and software filter effects. Techniques such as simulated hand coloring, solarization and woodcut effects add additional creative elements to infrared photography.

For example, the six steps to hand coloring objects in an infrared image make the process sound simple. If you follow them, it is. Farace also covers actions and artistic options, as well as ways to finish up a photograph creatively. Every step of the way, there's enough information to get the job done, without being bogged down in unneeded complexity. To keep it simple and understandable, Farace tries to keep the copy light. Most of the time he succeeds. There are a couple of times, though, were the tone gets just a little too folksy or familiar.

The book is loaded with interesting images, including numerous samples of how pictures look in black and white, in color and as infrared images. It also has additional infrared images created by Paul Nuber, Brody Dezember, Eric Cheng and Chip Talbert.

Well worth the $24.95 cover price, the "Complete Guide to Digital Infrared Photography" is just the latest in a string of informative books by Farace. It's a must-have title for anyone who's ever thought about trying to capture infrared images.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 4, 2007 5:58 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Feature Extra: Hollye Schumacher converts to infrared.

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