Infrared in Colour

mickyatesB&W, Critical Research Journal, Dark Tourism, Documentary, ICWeek12, Ideas, Informing Contexts, Infrared, Photography, Project Development, Realism Leave a Comment

I am finally getting around to looking at the colour versions of the images I took on my the last Cambodia trip.

In an earlier post, I looked at the original colour image, a straight forward black and white conversion, and an infrared black and white, as in the header.

As I review that post, I believe that infrared is:

  • giving more ‘graphic’ focus on the subject than the black and white, because the ‘white’ of the chlorophyll (green) background allows things to stand out; the chlorophyll in living cells absorbs blue and red visible light – reflecting to the human eye as green. Infrared light is strongly reflected by chlorophyll, so living greens are rendered as almost pure white in black and white images.
  • there is a eeriness and ghostliness about the infrareds, without the images becoming completely fantastic, false  and unreal;
  • in several cases, it is actually not obvious that it is an infrared image, just as in some of my earlier negative work, it was not obvious that they were negatives;
  • there is a haunting beauty about the images, which underlines the paradox of such places being sites of execution, without falling into the chocolate box of colour images, so prevalent in ‘dark tourist’ photographs;
  • the infrareds seem successful in suggesting place, yet somehow they are not defined in a precise time;
  • finally, there seems a certain grace and respect, and understatement which also works well with the idea of beautiful paradox.

Vladimir Migutin is a fine art photographer, using infrared.

His 2017 series on Chernobyl is interesting.

Vladimir Migutin. 2017. The Nuclear power plant sarcophagus, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Migutin uses a full-spectrum infrared conversion with on camera filter, which means that the camera is capturing the ‘proper’ colour and the infrared at the same time. I use a 720nm conversion, which does not capture the visible light spectrum as-is.

Vladimir Migutin. 2017. The iconic 85 foot tall Ferris wheel in Pripyat’s amusement park.

His images are haunting, though in using the full spectrum, the images are deliberately rather fantastic and thus quite obviously unreal.

In a few cases, the effect is less other-worldly, especially with ‘blue’ skies and ‘brown’ vegetation, which I find most interesting,

Vladimir Migutin. 2017. A trolleybus in one of Chernobyl’s scrapyards.

Whilst attention-grabbing, I do find this work rather too unreal to be able to properly (and respectfully) accompany personal stories of atrocity. That said, I would be remiss if I did not more fully explore the colour opportunities.

Using split-toning, it is possible to create different kinds of colour field.

First, the infrared colour image, as it comes from the camera, simply adjusted for contrast (all IR images are very flat in tone).

Mick Yates. 2019. Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) – from camera.

Now, I anted to create an image somewhat in the full-spectrum style of Migutin, although the 720nm conversion makes blue skies difficult to render.

By trial and error, I first used a brown split tone in Lightroom, to take off the red cast. An’orange’ sky is the goal, for further processing.

Mick Yates. 2019. Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) – brown split tone.

Then I used the Nik Viveza 2 plugin, to take the colour temperature/hue down to zero – it is only possible to go down to 2000K in Lightroom.

This renders ‘blue’ skies. The image has warmth boosted in Nik’s Colour Efex plugin for Lightroom.

The result is somewhat like a full spectrum image.

Mick Yates. 2019. Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) – blue skies.

And to demonstrate reproducibility ..

Mick Yates. 2019. The Bridge.

I do find these last images quite interesting aesthetically. I find them more subtle, and thus more ‘thoughtful’ in impression than Migutin’s. I am sure that I can ‘play’ with the various colour settings, to give an almost infinite variety of effects. Getting  clean and reproducible workflow is a serious challenge with infrared photography.

I still believe that the colour infrared is just too overpowering and too ‘false’ to use with such personal stories. Gary and others have consistently argued that I should not be using ‘false aesthetics’ for the sake of it. There has to be a reason, or series of reasons.

I therefore stand by my previous rationale, and the conclusion of using black and white.


STEWART, Jessica. 2018. Photographer Visits Chernobyl With His Infrared Camera, Captures Stunning Images. Available at: (accessed 12/12/2018).

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