Monthly Archives: June 2014

Infrared Saves The Day

D200 IR 720nm-OBX-9594-2014-06-19Studying the map of North Carolina during a recent holiday on the Outer Banks, I realized that I was within about a three-hour drive of Lake Mattamuskeet.

For the past few years, I have been seeing the most breathtakingly beautiful photographs of this lake: an almost perfectly symmetrical line of trees strung across a lake, a pink-blue sky filled with storybook clouds, the glass-still surface of the lake perfectly mirroring the colours and textures of the sky. Unforgettable images.

I have been meaning, for quite some time now, to get myself down to Lake Mattamuskeet.

So, having risen at 4.00am one morning to shoot the sun rising over the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse at Manteo on Roanoke Island, I knew I was already almost half-way to the lake and set off to complete the journey.

Arriving at around 10.00am, I located the stand of trees easily enough but was crestfallen to find the ugliest imaginable sky, from which beat down a bright, unforgiving sun, backlighting the trees, casting a harsh glare on the surface of the water and sending uncontrollable flare bouncing around the inside of my lens barrel.

Disgusted, I gave up and headed off to shoot the old fishing boats further north at Engelhard.


By the time I had finished there, it was around 2.00pm, so I headed back to the lake to see if the light had improved any.

By now, the sun had moved around and was front-lighting the trees. The glare on the lake’s surface had, mercifully, gone. But, still, the sky was bald and uninteresting, as was the surface of the water.

I set up my Nikon D800 and fitted a ten-stop neutral density (ND) filter to the front of a 24-70mm lens, hoping to get at least some blurring in the surface of the water, if not in the sky. After patiently waiting for the long exposure to appear on my camera’s LCD screen, I was appalled to see the most bland, uninteresting photograph imaginable (second image).

It was a far cry short of the memorable images that had drawn me to this remote spot.

Determined to salvage something from my long drive, I reassessed the lighting situation and figured out that, as the trees were in full foliage and the full sun was brightly front-lighting them, infrared (IR) might work well in this situation.

Out came my ancient Nikon D200, purchased used and on the cheap from Tony Sweet a couple of years ago, converted to IR with a 720nm standard conversion.

Again, I used an ND filter, this time a six-stop, again hoping to achieve a softening of the surface of the water.

After an eight-second exposure, the image that appeared on the LCD screen (lead image) fairly made my pulse quicken: pale grey sky, dark grey lake and a line of trees that absolutely popped in the bright white that IR makes of well-lit green trees.

In post-processing, I did very little to the image: just the usual red-blue channel swap, added a little tonal contrast to the trees to make them pop, then de-structured the surface of the lake using Nik Viveza.

So, after a wait of several years to get there, the long drive and the initial disappointment of my first, colour image, I was hugely relieved that IR saved the day, allowing me to come away from Lake Mattamuskeet with an image that justified both the wait and the journey.

 (click on an image to enlarge it)

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Old Car Details

D800-New Old Car Graveyard-2679-2014-05-18A couple of weeks ago, I had the rare pleasure of visiting a recently discovered, “new” old car graveyard in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

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I don’t really consider myself to be a “car guy”.

D800-New Old Car Graveyard-2668-2014-05-18In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the makes or models of most of these old cars.

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But I know beauty when I see it.

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And I find true beauty in these old cars.


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Lorton Prison

Lorton Prison Cell Pano 1 V2I recently had a rare opportunity, through my friends at Road Runner Photography Tours, to visit Lorton Prison in Virginia, about twenty miles southwest of Washington, DC.

D800-Lorton Prison-2889-2014-05-30Lorton was the main jail serving the Washington area from the early 1900s until its closure in 2001.

Having first opened as a workhouse in 1910, it was relaunched in 1916 as the Lorton Correctional Complex, following which it housed some of the DC area’s most famous miscreants. Among them was the celebrated musician Chuck Brown, the so-called, “Godfather of Go-Go”, who spent eight years in Lorton during the 1950s, following a conviction for murder.

Today, Lorton is little more than a rotting, hollow shell. A mix of empty dormitories littered with metal beds, once the home of minimum-security prisoners, and lines of jail cells in the penitentiary (lead image), their doors hanging open, as I imagine they were when the last prisoner walked out of there in 2001.

Electricity was shut off years ago, so now the place is an immense lair of light and shadow. Dazzlingly bright light illuminates the common areas, with vast windows spilling bright light on to the concrete floors, while other areas, such the power plant (second image), are dark wells of bottomless shadow.

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The deep, brooding shadows, combined with the repeating lines of the prison cell doors and the patterns of the barred windows, made for fascinating image-making opportunities.

In October, Lorton will close for redevelopment. The original buildings will remain standing but the prison fittings will be stripped out and the interiors refitted as a mix of affordable and market-rate housing units. As the exterior walls and even the guard towers will remain intact, Lorton promises to be a distinctive place to live.

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(click on an image to enlarge it)

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