The Sierra Club San Diego’s Photo Section, led by the delightful Alex Kunz, invited me to be the guest speaker at their November club meeting. I was thrilled to be asked; for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I actually really enjoy public speaking. My only hesitation here was whether anyone would show up for the topic of Making Magic with Invisible Light: The Art of Infrared Photography. Through various online communities, I know or am at least connected with hundreds of landscape and nature photographers. Very few of them fool around with infrared at all, much less work almost exclusively in the medium like I do. In fact, I get the feeling some folks think this (incredibly wonderful) medium is a little off the beam. Which is fine - I don’t mind the reputation, to be honest.
So I was surprised at how many folks showed up (and stayed through) my hour-long talk. We got a little technical and a little creative while exploring different IR wavelengths, and delved into just a few of the vastly different post-processing journeys a false color IR image can take.
Preparing for this lecture gave me an opportunity to reflect on my personal IR photography journey so far. How did I end up so invested in such a niche medium? Obviously I love its dreamy, otherworldly look. But did it just spring up out of nowhere as a full-time occupation? Of course not. Virtually any road we end up on in our adult lives can be traced back to a faintly pressed trail in the lawn that we began forming as our wee-est little selves.
I have worked in many different mediums…
As a kid I did a ton of drawing, then moved on to oil painting as a young adult, I studied color theory and psychology, and made my own paints from ground pigments. I was a metalworker for the better part of a decade – a professional metal sculptor, welder and blacksmith. I’ve done some professional woodworking and cabinetry. My best skill is probably sewing. For years I designed and made all my own clothes, and have turned out a few complex and significant quilts as well.
…all of which contribute to my creative and technical approach in infrared photography.
Even my these non-creative, corporate occupations have contributed to my photography in various ways. Income is pretty key to affording equipment and uninterrupted time to create, and the professional skills I developed have been helpful to operationalizing my creative venture into a business.
Making an infrared photograph takes a tiny fraction of the time it takes to build a metal table or sew a quilt, and I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to share new work quickly and frequently. Still, IR images can take a long time to produce compared to traditional, visible light photographs. There’s a lot of experimentation involved, and not all efforts are successful.
When I started doing IR a few years ago, there wasn’t much information available about how to do it well or even ‘right’. There is widespread conventional wisdom regarding the basics, but much of it is wrong in the sense that it’s narrowly applicable or conditional on factors not mentioned. Following the roughly established path wore out quickly for me; I was not getting results I loved so I had to find my own direction.
Finding one’s own direction in the infrared photo world has really been trial and error for the few people who use this medium. But its popularity is really starting to grow, and so is a more solid and comprehensive knowledge base. I’m eager to contribute my own learnings to make it easier for others to jump in and get infrared images they’re excited about.
To that end, I’ll begin sharing about the techniques and creative process that go into my own work. If that’s something you’d find useful, stick around here on my blog, add your name to my (infrequent but dazzling) email list, or connect with me on the socials to find out about informative new posts, upcoming talks, downloadable pdfs, classes and more.
Major thanks to Alex and the SDPC folks for letting me wax on about a topic I love. It was wonderful to connect with so many talented photographers and I enjoyed our shared time immensely.