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This time we are sharing an inspiring infrared and monochrome time-lapse project created by Thomas Beckmann & Thomas Herget. Don’t miss that!
And what’s your latest project? Share your interesting stories in the next spotlight.
Natalia Brzakala: Tell us a little bit about the background of this project. What do you perceive as a main challenge?
Thomas Beckmann & Thomas Herget: Infrared (IR) still photography has been around for a long time. With the development of digital sensor cameras this way of altering reality has found its way – even if its rare – in professional cinematography. Today’s sensors are capable of recording light with wavelength from 300-1200 nm. Normally camera engineers built in so-called infrared-blocking filters fixed to the sensor, which can’t be removed by the user. Therefore the perception of wavelength is similar to the human eye.
However there are special digital cameras, which have been modified especially for the purpose of recording infrared light. The challenge is just to get hands on these. Kristin Geyer from Red Germany (Berlin) was so kind to lend us two Red-Epic Cameras. One standard Red-Epic and one Epic Monochrome where the infrared-blocking filter had been removed.
Besides the IR-cinematography the seminar had a second subject: Time-lapse. We drove to the mountains of the “Zahmer Kaiser”, with 8 students, the two Red-Cameras and additional DSLRs for standard time-lapse shots. Before we could set off to shoot, the students had to familiarize with the subject of time-lapse, infrared photography and the use of the DitoGear™ equipment. The weather wasn’t on our side on the first days. Mist only lifted a couple of times from the mountains. So there was plenty of time to get used to the equipment.
NB: Are there any other technical challenges that occurred during this production?
TB & TH: The other technical challenge was to get the right filters to block the visible spectrum of light for digital cinema cameras. We made some phone calls to rental houses around Munich, but soon found out that nobody had in stock what we were searching for.
Therefore we decided to change the mount of the Epics from PL to EF and shoot with Canon lenses from Ivory-rental in Munich for which we could easily buy IR-transmitting filters like the Hoya R72, which only lets past the light from 720nm onwards. As soon as we attached that filter the expected effects showed up: Green leaves from trees and plants began to shine and almost turned white. The blue sky got dark and depending on the camera angle almost black. And the image is almost monochrome, depending on the white balance with a tint to cooler or warmer colors.
If the Hoya R72 wasn’t applied the visible and non-visible light was mixed, which also had its uniqueness. The look was desaturated, somehow soft and similar to washed out pictures from the 1970’s.
NB: Is there any difference between the Red Epic Monochrome and a standard Red Epic with filter?
TB & TH: Yes, because you don’t need the bayer pattern to differentiate the chroma information, there is a little more light for the sensor. so the trade-off for having no color with the Epic Monochrome is, that you get more sensitivity, in terms of exposure latitude.
NB: Did you apply any special shooting or post-production technique to make the project more interesting?
TB & TH: For time-lapse it is important that you choose the right interval of frames to make movements in nature visible, that are normally not so easy to perceive for the human eye, because of their slowness. For instance: moving clouds, sunrise, etc.. Typical intervals range from 1 frame per second (eg. for fast moving clouds) to 1 frame every 30 seconds for night time-lapses.
In post-production we added some speed changes and ramps to the footage. The night shots were actually shot on the Epic Monochrome (16 sec exposure) and we added the blue color of the night sky in the CG. For the star trail shot we combined a couple of frames over time and multiplied their brightness values to get the trail behind the stars.
NB: Please let us know the difference in sensitivity between RED Cameras and a Canon 5D in relation to night shots.
TB & TH: Even though it’s widely known, that RED Cameras getting better results under low-light circumstances due to the sensitivity and a lower compression rate than the 5D in Video Modes, that doesn’t necessarily count for Still photography, or a series of RAW images on a 5D. It’s easier to switch on noise reduction for long exposure shots, or do that in Lightroom with DSLR Stills, than with single frames from a .r3d Stream. But if you know your job as a DIT (Digital Image Technician), you can certainly accomplish it. From Red Germany and during test sessions prior to shooting we found out that for longer exposures with RED Cameras you certainly need to do a black shading prior to shooting. For the night shots we even decided shot a plate of the sensor noise, prior to shooting, to subtract that in the post-production. Further noise reduction in color grading could have been the next step, but was not necessary due to our preparations.
NB: Did you have any issues with the color grading?
TB & TH: The colors were relatively easy to manipulate in color grading and saturation and hue could easily be altered. Throughout our research we had come across this a couple of times. Heavily photoshopped and over-saturated digital IR-Stills from modified DSLR cameras, which enforce the idea that IR-Photography is always saturated in orange and violet tones.
With the shots from the epic monochrome, which we wanted to blend in with the IR-look, there was a decision to be made: Either we had a harsh contrast between the shots made in color and the ones in black&white, or we decide for a desaturated look in post-production – to leave it as „natural“ infrared looking as possible.
So we decided for the second option. We just used a little bit more contrast in color grading and if that pushed the saturation too far, we desaturated where it was necessary, to keep a similar level of colors throughout the clip.
NB: What DitoGear™ equipment did you use in this production?
TB&TH: For the DitoGear™ equipment we decided to get our gear from M&R, Manuel Wenger and Renato Novakovic, who are also situated in Munich. We got the OmniSilder, OmniHead and LensDrive with battery packs, so we would be independent from any power outlet on the mountain. Since we were shooting on a lightweight setup, with fixed focal lengths from Canon and no matte box the Slider performed fine on all axis. Sometimes we had V-Mount power blocks on the camera to have a counterweight for longer lenses on horizontal pans.
NB: Can you share your experience using DitoGear™ equipment for this project?
TB & TH: The experience of having DitoGear™ equipment for this seminar was just great. From time-lapse seminars with other sliders I had the experience, that it is quite difficult to teach the programming and handling of a 3-axis slider, because it might be too technical for some participants. But with DitoGear™ the students could – after an introduction – program the slider, pan and tilt by themselves. Even the LensDrive patterns for switching the focus from foreground to background were programmed by the students. Nobody was afraid to get their hands-on, because we used the Evolution Controller software on a samsung galaxy tab. And that made tablet users feel more comfortable.
NB: Thank you guys for sharing the production details with us. Good luck with the upcoming projects!