Ever see an image that seems to have an inner glow? Does a landscape look so surreal that it seems to beckon for fairies and gnomes to take their cue?
These effects were most likely created by infrared photography (IR). It's a technique that some industry insiders believe is underutilized by photographers.
"It produces magical shots," said Gavin Phillips, a Chicago-based Photoshop trainer who specializes in helping photographers expedite their workflow through techniques like IR. Phillips said it has become a popular course with professional photographers, especially those specializing in weddings.
"A lot of brides are asking for it," he said. "This is an advantage over the competition [if you know how to do it]." The popular wedding shot - a softened black and white portrait of the bride with the flowers in color. Using actions in Photoshop such as "curves" and "tritons", a user can get an IR look that can be layered with hand-coloring, hand-tinting, softening and infrared-added graining and toning effects.
IR photography allows viewers to see familiar subjects in a totally different way, depending of whether the subjects refract or absorb IR light when photographed. For example, many plants refract IR rays so the IR image will appear extremely bright, almost white. The sky, on the other hand, absorbs IR and creates an ominous, dark image.
The effect is much easier to attain these days because of the advent of digital cameras and Photoshop software. Before this, photographers used high-speed IR film that was unpredictable and required many hours of tinkering in the darkroom.
"Twenty-five years ago, my uncle spent hours in the darkroom to create infrared, but it was a hit and miss situation," said Phillips.
Back then, attaining the IR "holy grail" depended on many uncontrollable factors such as the time of day, he added. Exposure and composition also was guesswork.
Now, the effect can be attained by a digital camera, a Photoshop program or a combination of both.
Chris Maher, an infrared fine arts photographer based in Michigan , spent 20 years toiling for hours in the darkroom to create the luminous effects. He has now completely converted to digital and prefers to use Photoshop as little as possible when creating his IR images.
"You can add additional tonal shifts in Photoshop, but for a true infrared image, you need to take with it with your digital camera. You'll miss the beautiful subtleties by creating it in Photoshop," Maher said. This is especially relevant when photographing plants and animals that in nature absorb or refract IR.
"Personally, I shoot Infrared because I love that glowing, ethereal, otherworldly quality," he added.
Preferring to use the medium for fine arts photography, he has created a collection of IR photos of women in nature called, "Dreams of the Goddess."
He believes that IR lends itself to this subject matter because it can capture "the spirit and essence of a woman." According to Maher, IR makes a woman's flesh tones very white, almost alabaster, giving women a nymph-like quality.