I’ve never been too impressed with landscape photography…until now.
You may have heard me
rant express my lack of enthusiasm for nature and landscape photography in general over the years. Yes, I respect this type of photography and subject matter. I also appreciate the role landscapes played in photographic history as well as the masters who popularized the subject matter.
That said, I’m of the opinion that the majority of landscape photography you see online today is uninspiring. You know what I’m talking about. The legions of Instagram travel fauxtographers posting (mostly stolen stock) HDR pictures of exotic waterfalls and rolling hills in Hawaii. While the photos are nice to look at, they’re the photographic equivalent of bubblegum pop music—pleasant on the surface yet ultimately meaningless. Think about it. How hard is it to take a pretty picture of Yosemite?
Give me abstract photography any day.
I find long exposure work far more challenging and personal as you truly bring the image to life with your camera settings. Auto mode won’t help you capture the sense of motion in fleeting light trails at night or the movements that create a light painting, for example. Long exposures offer a window into the world beyond the limitations of human perception, a concept that’s central to my passion for photography.
For these reasons I generally stayed away from landscapes. That is until I discovered the exciting world of infrared photography! In a nutshell, infrared photos capture light that’s not visible to the human eye. You can use infrared film, lens filters, and converted IR cameras to start shooting this otherwise invisible light. A dedicated IR camera is your best bet for digital photography; I just ordered a starter model online, review coming soon! Still, you can use a relatively inexpensive IR lens filter provided your DSLR camera is capable of picking up infrared light. The infrared film option presents processing problems, so I don’t recommend going that route unless you’re prepared to process the pictures yourself or pay a lot to have them professionally developed. You can’t exactly drop off infrared photos at your local CVS and expect to have them back in a week.
Chatsworth Park South Infrared Photo Gallery
I won’t bore you with IR tips as there’s plenty of info available from folks far more experienced than I. Suffice to say you’ll need a tripod to shoot with an IR filter and your exposure time should be at least 30 seconds. I found 80 second exposures with 200 to 400 ISO worked at f 8.
Plant subjects emit a lot of infrared light, so I took my DSLR out to the newly reopened Chatsworth Park South for an adventurous afternoon. I used a Hoya R72 (aka standard infrared) lens filter on my Canon Rebel t3i. Important note: I have the stock 18 – 55mm lens on my Rebel. I bought the 55mm filter, and it doesn’t fit right as the lens diameter is actually 58mm. I know this thanks to a helpful B & H Photo customer service rep. Anyway, the gear talk matters for two reasons; it might save someone from making the same mistake I did and it tells you my photos were not taken under optimum conditions. In other words, I believe it’s unfair to judge the filter quality based on the photos below.
Infrared photos require a fair amount of post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom to get the characteristic IR look. You really need to shoot in RAW to give yourself greater flexibility in editing. The easiest method is auto tone in Photoshop as seen in the first photo above, however, this probably won’t result in the typical white foliage appearance. To achieve what’s known as the false color effect, you’ll need to manipulate your channel mixer and hue/saturation as I did with the second version that shows a blue tint.
The fence in the photo shows where I parked my bike and explored Chatsworth Park on foot. I loved the proud tree standing by the pathway and focused on expressing its grace.
As I hiked up the rocks a small dead looking tree caught my eye. I thought it had an eerie Halloween vibe, although I worried it would appear too dark in photos. I reached a small paved road, and saw the same creepy tree from behind perched on a sweet outlook. The first shot shows a few hot spots that enhance the mood if you ask me.
I composed the next frame with the tree in the corner to contrast with the serene park below. The hotspot in the middle of the image created a kind of ethereal effect that complements the natural lighting.
Then I climbed a rock to turn my attention to the lively plants to the right of the leafless tree. This wasn’t super smart as I ended up dropping my filter due to the instability atop the rock. The first frame shows the soft breeze in the blurry bushes beneath wispy cloud formations.
I turned my tripod towards the right to highlight the rocky hill in the background. The classic SoCal shrubbery emits almost as much infrared light as the bushes did; the lack of contrast surprised me.
Thank you Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks!
For those of you who don’t live in the area, Chatsworth Park South has been closed since 2008. I’d like to thank the city for cleaning up the park for the community. It makes a big difference in our neighborhood, and residents appreciate the effort that went into this reopening. Now everyone from humans to dogs and horses gets to enjoy this local landmark safely again!