I’ve wanted to shoot Andalucia in infrared since the first time I encountered the contrast and high dynamic range of the Spanish light during the summer.

So I had an old and unloved camera converted and started to shoot in the UK in June. I liked what I produced, but even a hot summers day in Shropshire doesn’t come close to what can be achieved in Spain! I’m so enamoured of the results I’m able to wring out of the 720nm filter I had fitted that I’m thinking of turning it into a project.

Ermitage de San Sebastian, OrgivaThe main difference is the intensity of the light, this means I can easily get the extreme black skies and white buildings in monochrome as in this photograph of the Ermitage de San Sebastian in Orgiva.

What had frustrated me in the UK was the limitations of false colour – so called because there is very little colour information allowed through a 720nm filter, the blue and orange is created in photoshop by ‘tricking’ the system via channel swapping into thinking that infrared light is blue and blue light is red.

I had chosen the 720 nm because it was so good at black and white and allowed some colour processing. What I was after in Spain though was the golden look more normally associated with the 590nm. So I chucked the rule book out of the window and set about creating the picture at the top of the page.

I knew the location well. The pictures were taken using a crop frame camera at 18mm, roughly equivalent to 24mm on a full frame. without a tripod at f8. A reasonably fast shutter speed of 1/200 sec from a vantage point high above the valley, known as the Lookout Point. Its about a mile up the Rio Chico road to Bayacas and involves a murderous climb up a very steep track in the heat!

Andalucia in Infrared

This is how it was done.

  1. Firstly I turned the camera to portrait orientation and shot five frames, overlapping about 20% to ensure it would stitch together well. The reason for this is that I wanted this picture to be seen large – there is a whole town in that valley.
  2. Once I got back to base, I applied my custom infrared profile to the individual shots and set about stitching them together. Normally I use PTGui for panoramas but this time I decided to test the new version of Lightroom. It did an excellent job and the autocrop feature worked well too. This trimmed the curved edges of the panorama so that it could be rendered in a rectangle. I actually shot a full 180° but only about 100° made it into the finished picture.
  3. When I had created the panorama I pushed the black and white sliders to the point just before they overload and exported the picture to Photoshop.
  4. In Photoshop I went straight to the channel mixer and did my usual switch of the blue and red channels. That gave me my blue sky look, but the valley was not yet what I was after. I decided to. play around with the settings, so starting with the red, I tweaked the green slider a little until the trees started to look more gold than nicotine.
  5. From there it was a question of repeating the process through red, green and blue, making small adjustments and trying to keep a balance between the colour of the sky and the colour of the trees.
  6. Lastly I applied a the Hue/Saturation layer and very lightly tweaked the Hue on the Master Channel to improve the balance between colours.

I won’t share the exact settings for all sliders because they will be different for individual photographs depending on lighting conditions. The idea is clear enough, experiment! This picture is close, very close to the effect people get with the 590nm filter and I’m pretty pleased with it.

Other photographs I’ve produced using infrared so far have largely been black and white. Here is one of the cemetery in Orgiva. You can see the mountains from the colour photograph in the background in this image.

Another technical tip – I’ve been using Nik Silver Efex Pro for many years, but hadn’t upgraded since DxO bought the suite from Google. Realising that there would come a time when it would no longer work with the current version of Lightroom I bit the bullet and upgraded. I’ll write a review presently, but there is one killer difference. DxO have included a new tool in the suite, Perspective Efex that is hands down the best wide angle lens distortion correction tool I have come across. Way better than the very basic tools in Lightroom!

So should Andalucia in Infrared become a project? I think it probably should, watch this space and see how I get on!