Seeing is Believing
“Every time I post an infrared photo I call it ‘the parallel world’,” says Alin Popescu, “because it lives there in front of you, but you cannot see it.” That’s infrared photography described to a tee. Compared to regular shooting, infrared is Stranger Things’ ‘Upside Down’. A place that, visually at least, exists alongside what we see, but is completely hidden to us. Until, that is, you break through with the right tools.
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/125s @ f/8.0, ISO 160
Fortunately, rather than some dimension-splitting laser beam, all you need to see the beauty of this other world is a camera converted to record infrared light, which in Alin’s case is a Sony α6000. And while converting cameras to shoot this way – or filtering the scene to show only the infrared light – is by no means new in photography, using a Sony mirrorless body, as Alin does, turns out to have a wealth of advantages.
“When I switched from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras,” Alin explains, “I immediately enjoyed that way of shooting, first with the α6000, then the α7s, and α7R II and now the α9. But even after getting rid of all my old DSLR equipment, I really missed the one body I’d had modified to shoot infrared, so I decided that my little α6000 should be converted.”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/125s @ f/10, ISO 160
So why does he convert his kit rather than shooting with filters? “A converted camera body,” he says, “is the best way to shoot infrared. If you shoot with just filters on a lens, you block out so much of the light – the infrared as well as the visible – that you need to shoot 20 or 30 second exposures and work from a tripod. Whereas the conversion removes the UV/IR cut filter – or ‘hot mirror’ – that normally sits in front of the sensor, and replaces it with one that just blocks UV and visible light, so the camera now ‘sees’ in infrared, and you can just shoot as you normally would.”
Alin has always been drawn to shooting “stuff that other people don't. So when HDR was in the beginning, I adopted that. And when everyone else started doing it, I quit!”, he laughs. “But infrared has really stuck with me, because it’s so unusual. And while most people know the beautiful classic infrared look with bright foliage and dark skies, you can be surprised by what else you find.”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS | 1/60s @ f/3.5, ISO 640
Like what? We ask. “Like how different materials reflect infrared light in different ways,” Alin explains, “whether it’s people's clothing or painted buildings…or even flowers. Sometimes when you see a flower in infrared, you see patterns on it, drawing attention to the nectar and the pollen, like airfield landing lights for bees. This is what I try to show through my images – how the world would look with different eyes.”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/160s @ f/8.0, ISO 100
And what’s really amazing with a converted mirrorless camera, is that you can use these ‘different eyes’ in real time via the EVF. “That’s really the main difference from using a DSLR,” says Alin, “but it’s a big one. What you're seeing is exactly what you get, so you can decide if it's a good scene for infrared or not. You can see what doesn’t work but also what does, too, because infrared photography can be very dependent on the time and the weather. With a DSLR, it’s more a case of hit and hope, unless you really know the subject, which is difficult, because you can’t see it!”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/400s @ f/8.0, ISO 100
In terms of the time and the weather, there’s another ‘Upside Down’ feature of infrared photography – the best time to shoot is the opposite of normal photography. “Just like regular photography, the main source for infrared is the sun,” he explains, “but if you have a cloudy day or the sun is low you can’t get good shots, so you have to think the other way around.”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/320s @ f/8.0, ISO 100
He expands: “Where you might normally think it’s not good light in the middle of the day, because there’s too much sun and contrast – that’s when you shoot and you get this beautiful reflected infrared light! It’s completely against your normal feelings as a photographer, but that’s how it works.”
“The great thing about that,” Alin concludes, “is that you can keep shooting for longer. So if you’re travelling you can use your normal camera in the golden hour and then switch to your infrared body when the sun gets higher.”
© Alin Popescu | Sony α6000 + FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS | 1/60s @ f/10, ISO 100
And here’s where mirrorless advantage kicks in again – the smaller size and lower weight compared to DSLRs. “Carrying a mirrorless camera, like the α6000, for your infrared work means you only need to have this little body with you, so maybe you don’t use it often, but if you see a scene that would look amazing, you know the camera is there to rely on.”
* Please note that converting a camera to infrared cannot be provided by Sony or its authorised service centres. Hardware modifications are not advised by Sony and are entirely at the owner’s own risk.