Water in Motion

In Black & White, Equipment & Technique, Infrared Photography by George WilsonLeave a Comment

I have chosen to “document” the Florida landscape in black and white infrared photography since 2008. Now, 11 years into this project, I have completed 75 images that I believe capture the spirit and beauty of my adopted home state.

I have always been a fan of Black and White photography, my first SLR images were captured on plus-x film forty years ago. The contrast of light to dark, focused and unfocused and the textural contrasts dictate how the viewer looks at the image as well as what emotions they feel.

My first use of infrared imaging, back in the film days had its challenges, film. Frankly, I did not view it as worth the effort. In the digital age, I have found that the level of control I have is incredible compared to that of film. Using either a filter on a standard camera or a converted camera body, the possibilities are endless. I stuck with the black and white infrared as the false color images do not express my own personal vision. The power of Black and White lies in the stripping away of color to show only the “raw bones” of the image. Yes, the saying: If you want to shoot fashion – use color. If you want to shoot emotion – shoot black and white. Rings true to my own work and my own vision.My choice of using infrared was purely for the richer blacks and deeper contrasts available in the different spectrums of light.

I arrived at Hillsborough River State Park early one morning intending to photograph the river rapids as they rushed over limestone boulders beneath cypress trees. These are Class II rapids – the only ones in peninsular Florida.As I closed the rear hatch door on my vehicle, I noticed the morning mist still hung in the air after a night long rain.  Trodding along the worn path to the river, sounds were muffled by the damp stillness of the woods surrounding me. Rivers move slowly in Florida, except at this location.

Walking through the woods, through clouds of mosquitoes awakened to take part in the presented feast braving the humid mist on the trail, the rapids are first heard and not seen. Emerging into a small clearing they unfold before me. Making my way to the edge of the river, I searched for my inspiration. Between the white specs of turbulent water, tannins have revealed a dark, almost chocolate color, lightening to a tea color at my feet. I quickly composed my shot, knowing the shaft of light streaming through the canopy above would be fleeting. My exposure – was going to be long –but time was of the essence. In nature, beauty and meaning need not be on a grand scale.

I had shot the river and the rapids before – I knew that the starting point for this image would be ISO 125 at f8 – the variable was time. Most of my exposures in this area and at this time of day were about 1 to 1 ½ minutesusing Singh Ray’s 830nm I-Ray filter.I also shoot all of my landscape work in manual mode as I like to control all aspects of the image myself.

Although diffused by the clouds, light passed to the river through breaks in the winter canopy above. The air was cooler than the rushing rapids – the water generated its own mist on this morning. It is still early as I munch on my granola bar contemplating the message, the feel, the mood I will coax from the scene, preserve in my camera and memorialize on canvas. There are birds singing in hushed tones, others darting across the river to small perches suspended over the torrents below.

The only class II rapids in peninsular Florida. Yes, Florida abounds with lazy rivers – both man made for the throngs of tourists temporarily swelling the population here and the natural, hidden away in the forests and hammocks of the sunshine state. These waterways, some borne of the many springs, have made their own paths, charted their own directions.

I have always been drawn to the water, as a child growing up in New England the rocky coastline beckoned, mountain streams offered solace and the beaches lulled a restless soul with the rhythmic pace of ocean waves. Streams of water shape the path they take, washing away sediments, but leaving rocks, too heavy to be drawn with the currents. They are steadfast and unmoving, these rocks here will offer an anchor in my photograph, the blurring water made by the long exposure offers up a soothing feeling and the shaft of light streaming through the trees highlights just a small portion of the rivers opposite shore before fading back into the shadows.

I worked as quick as the exposures would allow. Using the rule of thirds, I allowed the limestone rocks to fill the right two thirds of the frame – they would anchor the image. I would expose for the highlights only. The sun was illuminating only a small tree and some plants on the opposite shore – that is what would matter in my final image. I exposed first for 1 minute then in 10 second increments through 1 minute 40 seconds before the light changed and moved away from the highlights I wanted. Checking my images, the one at 1 minute 20 seconds seemed to express my vision best.

As with all of my images, I do all my work in the camera with minimal post-processing.  This means the light, the scene, and the composition are critical to the success or failure of the image.

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