Red #25 filters and the digital nude

One of my favorite effects in black-and-white nudes is the soft blown-out look of near-infrared photography. It does very cool things to the nude: pale skin becomes lovely alabaster with dark veins beneath the surface, nipples become milky-white clouds, and hair becomes a lovely contrasty curtain. In the course of my photographic career, I probably spent half my money on Kodak HIE 35mm infrared or Konica 750nm infrared. My methodology is simple: find an interesting subject and bracket 2 stops around the computed exposure. At $10/roll with 120mm film you can eat a lot of money in a hurry that way. Not that I'd do it any other way, if I could...

Enter digital photography.

One frustrating thing I noticed right away is that most of the LCDs on digital cameras don't have brightness ranges that match the expected image. A lot of the time when you get a shot that looks right in the LCD it's underexposed, overexposed, or out of focus. So I make a point of not trusting it. My camera has a histogram display capability but I really don't care for it - too much button-fumbling on a shoot spoils my creative approach. So I treat my digital infrareds the same way I do my film: settle the pin, take a deep breath, push the button, and let it feed.

The results usually look horrifying.

(click any images for full-up views)

The histogram for it looks pretty bleak, too.

I usually bring the image levels up to the point where a few of the highlights are blown out. That's because a lot of the time, I combine this effect with my favorite "digital print-time diffusion" technique, which softens the highlights a bit. Make your own choices here. :)

Poof! The results are sometimes breathtaking! The drape that Julie and Elkie are playing with is a brown silk sari. In infrared it suddenly turns into a gorgeous mysterious shimmering thing.

And the final results:

I've also experimented with a #87 filter - which is basically opaque. The results it gives are even more extreme.

Using a #87 (opaque) filter is fun but is even more intense. If you're uisng the #87 you need a tripod and a model that doesn't move around too much. If you're using less-than-extremely powerful lights you'll wind up with the aperture wide open, which means focussing will be an issue to be aware of. I shot this with an Alien Bees 400 w/s monohead and a softbox in a hotel room.

To get this shot, I set my camera up on the tripod and composed the scene. I left the camera in manual focus and manual mode, focused the scene, and got Amanda to hit her pose. Then I screwed on the #87 filter and started shooting. The first few images were totally underexposed so I just kept opening the aperture and increasing the ISO until the image postview on my camera had a histogram that looked about right. The resulting images are very ghostly and take a lot of post-work. But they have the "feel" of infrared film without the graininess. Of course, if you like grain, you can add it in Photoshop.

In 2002, I went with a friend to the airport graveyard in Tuscon, Az. I took my FinePix, a tripod, and the #87 filter. It was really really bright so I figured "what the heck" - even with the bright light I was having lengthy exposure times. I finally gave up on trying to compute the exposure and just relied on the LCD panel on the camera until the images looked about right (e.g.: brighter than I knew they would once I got them pulled from the camera) So, we have the same drill:

This image is purplish because I didn't turn my camera into black-and-white mode first. I don't think it makes much difference. I just wanted to see what happened. So I desaturate the image and pull up levels.

Pull the levels until the image starts to get bright and clips a bit at the highlights:

And the result is kind of cool!

(now, if this were an exhibition instead of just an example, I'd photoshop out the poles on the left and the right and maybe add a few big ole infrared-dy clouds.