A Shot in the DarkJuly 11, 2020
For a while I’ve wanted to experiment with photographing wildlife in dark. Sure, you can use flashguns to light up your subject and I’ve done that. Many, actually the vast majority of animals are not bothered by the quick flash of a camera flashgun; even when it’s two or three lighting the scene together. But some are, including our local urban foxes. They don’t exactly run away but they are really smart and they very quickly learn to avoid the flashy things or even the exact spots where the flashy things go off. In the latter case, that’s precisely where I’ve set up the automatic trigger! I’ve got a few decent flashgun lit shots here but Mr/Ms Fox doesn’t like to help me out by giving a reprise.
I knew how to overcome this, well at least theoretically. ‘All’ you need is a camera sensitive to infra red (IR) light. The problem is that just about every high quality ‘proper’ camera these days has an infra red ‘cut’ filter in front of the sensor that is precisely designed to stop infra red reaching the sensor and giving you weird images when shot in visible light. This is because modern sensors are sensitive to IR light that our eyes cannot see. I’ve been a bit reticent to convert one of my cameras to IR because it a) costs to have a conversion done and b) you effectively ‘lose’ that camera for normal photography; I’ve come to find out that’s not quite true but it’s a different story. Anyway, just as Covid 19 lockdown started, I was in the process of getting a conversion kicked off. Some weeks into the lockdown my converted D7200 body arrived back to me. I then had to workout how to illuminate the shots in the dark. Step up another conversion. Normal camera flashguns actually put out a good blast of IR light along with the visible flash. You just have to work out how to remove that visible light and let the IR through. Enter ‘Perspex’, they make a type of black polycarbonate plastic that is opaque to the visible spectrum but lets IR through (guess what the black plastic on the front of your TV remote controls is made of). For a few pounds on eBay you can get a 150mm square which enough to do loads of flashguns. So cutting out a couple of small rectangles and attaching these with sticky tape to the front of a couple of flashguns and job done.
The combined flashguns have been working away in my garden for a couple of weeks so I thought i’d share the first half decent results. Still a way to go for the picture I want but it works. Images of suburban foxes taken is near complete darkness without disturbing the fox.
But, I hear some say, they are black and white? Well yes because the images are largely IR, they appear from the camera as roughly a monotone deep purple colour which is quite strange and not very pleasing. I prefer to simply convert to B&W to reveal the animal in the dark! Besides, I do like B&W images anyway.