I’ve been dabbling in infrared for about as long as I’ve being photographing, which is far too long. Originally I was shooting Kodak Highspeed Infrared in manual Canon SLRs. In fact my first shot ever used for commercial purposes was an infrared shot, used as the basis for an illustration. I experimented a bit with colour infrared, but never really took to it. All colour infrared shots remind me of a Van der Graaf Generator LP inner sleeve (Pawn Hearts), and most monochrome infrared shots can’t avoid recalling U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” (which infamously plagiarised probably the best infrared photographer ever, Simon Marsden).
Early digital cameras turned out to be fantastic for infrared, as they had very weak IR filtering (by accident rather than design, I imagine), and therefore for the first time you could take out the very considerable amount of guesswork involved in exposure and focusing. The Nikon Coolpix 900 was particular good for this. Later, I experimented with IR filtering on the Olympus DSLRs I used. The results were pretty effective, although the average exposure time was around 60 seconds - which could be a creative advantage.
But I always wanted a dedicated infrared digital camera, so several years ago, just after I bought an Olympus E-P3 at a knock-down price, I sent my E-P2 off to Spencer’s Camera & Photo, in Utah, for conversion, along with full pre-payment. On April 11, 2002, they sent me an email saying “Thank you very much for your Infrared Conversion service order. We have successfully received your order and it is now being processed”. This was the last truthfull communication I got from Mr Spencer. After many long months of ignored emails, deceitful phone calls, and what I discovered through post-due diligence was a standard pattern of fake progress reports and fabricated shipping bills, I just gave up. I lost the money (which was a very big deal at the time, I’d just bought a house and lost a job, and this was my full “hobby budget” for the year) and the camera. Mr Spencer will hopefully toast a little in whichever section of hell is set aside for him.
Anyway, this year, finally, I felt like trying again. With a reliable recommendation for Advanced Camera Services in England, and a new “donor” camera, the E-P3 having been joined by an E-P5 (again at a knockdown price), it seemed worth the attempt. This time, there was no pre-payment requested, and although the turnaround time was a lot longer than I expected, and the communication very economic, the camera did turn up, with the IR blocking filter removed, and a new 830nm filter installed. Naturally, right on cue, it started absolutely pissing down in Ticino, and it hasn’t stopped yet. But I have managed to get a few shots.
It’s a very different experience, shooting with my “new” E-P3-IR. Exposure times are normal, you get full preview, instant feedback. Initially, though, I’m not really feeling the magic. There’s seems to be something missing, it’s all too clean, too clinical, too precise. IR photography was never precise. I’ve tried to come up with an appropriate recipe in SilverEFX 2, and that’s helping a bit. Also, there hasn’t been a lot of inspiration is subject matter so far. But most of all, I’m not really all that excited about IR any more. But let’s see how it goes. What is very interesting is that the converted camera works fine in overcast conditions, which IR film, nor indeed unconverted DSLRs, never did. This opens up several interesting avenues to explore, first treating the camera as a straightforward monochrome digital, and second, applying more drastic filtering. Gosh, even STREET - get that, Olivier ? We shall see.