Hanging with the Zen Master of Infrared Photography

2013-Oct-New River Gorge-590nm-Faux Color-0412In April 2012, I went on a photography workshop with a professional photographer whose work I greatly admired.

She told me she has seen several of my photos on the web and had concluded that I was wasting my money paying for workshops. That, at the level I had reached with my photography by then – I had been shooting for about three years by that point – the only way I was going to develop from there was to get out and shoot frequently; shoot at every aperture; shoot at every shutter speed; shoot at every ISO setting; shoot at every white balance temperature; shoot with every focal length lens I could lay my hands on.

I haven’t taken a photography workshop since – until last weekend.

In the meantime, I have continued learning but by many different means: books, online tutorials, reading the blogs of pro photographers whose work I admire, participating in my camera club’s monthly competitions and benefiting from critiques of my images by visiting judges.

Through reading so widely, I happened upon digital infrared photography and was immediately seduced by it. I loved the contrasty look, the succulent, other-worldly vegetation, the dramatic skies. I bought a used Nikon D200 with a standard IR conversion (720nm) from Tony Sweet and started taking infrared photos.

At first, I was thrilled with the images I was able to produce. But, after a couple of months, I hit a brick wall: I didn’t have a clue how to post-process IR images. White balancing IR is tricky because Photoshop doesn’t recognize IR WB settings and just produces a pink image. I fell into the lazy habit of circumventing this difficulty by simply converting all my IR images to black and white.

_DSC0287vivezaI quickly became frustrated with this approach, bought Deb Sandidge’s book on IR, started reading IR blogs and joined the IR Photography Group on Facebook, where I saw all these stunning IR images produced on cameras not dissimilar to own but which, in terms of their post-processing, were light years ahead of what I was producing. It was on the Facebook IR Group that I saw, for the very first time, something called “faux color infrared” images that had been tinted in post-processing to produce the most extraordinary shades of blue, green, yellow, pink, orange and brown.

Almost everything I read about IR post processing led me to one name: Mark Hilliard.

I started reading Mark’s “Infrared Atelier” blog, which was extraordinary for its level of technical detail (not all of which I understood), not to mention Mark’s breath-taking IR images, produced with a level of artistry and post-processing sophistication of which I could only dream.

At this point, I realized that reading books and blogs was only going to get me so far and that, if I really wanted to learn how IR post processing is done, I would have to learn it from the man who knows – Mark Hilliard.

2013-Oct-New River Gorge-590nm-Faux Color-BW-0412So, last weekend, I headed off to West Virginia to take a Fall Foliage Workshop which Mark runs jointly with Jamie Konarski Davidson. Over the course of four days of shooting, I got to ask them every question I had in my head about IR photography and, in two intense post-processing sessions, I finally got to see for myself the previously mysterious methods used in faux color IR processing. Mark even helped me to process two of my own images in faux color IR and B&W.

Mark has been a photographer for forty-eight years, forty of which he spent working for Eastman Kodak, travelling extensively, designing and setting up their film processing plants all over the world. He is one of those rare people who is a true master of his subject and who has earned the title “professional photographer”.

The images on this blog are all images which I shot and which Mark helped me process. Or, more precisely, he instructed me on what to do and I entered the keystrokes. I learned so much from shooting and processing with Mark: the level of care and attention to detail that he puts into processing each image was a revelation to me. And, having just gotten hold of his recently-released post-processing videos, I am continuing to learn from those.

So, sometimes, it really is worth it to spend the money and go on a workshop: when there is a specific subject that you a want to learn about or a particular photographer whom you believe can teach you something new.

And, of course, it’s always a thrill to meet one of your heroes…

Mark-Hilliard-and-SM with names

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3 Comments

  1. Ron Blanchard October 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Shaun,
    I have know Mark for about 10 years (since I moved down from CT) have taken IR and other courses with him and observed his talents, “secret places” he has shared and your praise is certainly well deserved! His B&W, IR and color work is certainly amazing !! Wish I could have attended the last of several workshops! Nice article, well deserved praise.

    • shaunmoss October 19, 2013 at 2:32 am #

      Ron: You are fortunate, indeed, if you have benefited from Mark’s encyclopedic knowledge of photography for ten years. I first discovered his blog about eighteen months ago and have followed it regularly since. However, last weekend was the first time I met Mark and had the chance to shoot with him. I found him so impressive, as a photographer, a teacher and a person. His passion for photography and for sharing his knowledge comes through in everything he does.

      Many thanks for your kind words about my blog post.

      • Ron Blanchard October 19, 2013 at 3:34 am #

        Thanks Shaun for the reply, hope we meet at a future presentation by Mark/Jamie. You are right-Mark has a passion unmatched by any photographer I’ve met!

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