Saturday, 9 April 2016

Model Shoot / Studio Lighting

Infra-red photography isn't very common in the studio (from what I can tell), so when I got a chance to photograph a model in a proper studio environment I just had to give the full spectrum Sony A7 a try with an IR filter...

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

Model: Estrany
Studio: SunShotStudio, London

    Canon FD 85mm f/1.2 L (lens 1)
I started the shoot by using the manual focus Canon FD 85mm f/1.2 lens (not for above photo), because I'd just bought it that week. It seemed like a good choice at the time but as it turns out there were several issues using it in these conditions. While triggering the studio lights mirrorless cameras need to have their WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) exposure settings deactivated in the menu. For the Sony A7 this means turning the 'Setting Effect' [Off]. If you don't do that the viewfinder would be black while using the low level modelling lights if the camera is in full manual mode (which it should be).

Using an old manual lens adapted to mirrorless caused the biggest problems. Since the aperture values are set on the lens itself shooting at f/11 made the EVF grainy and sluggish. Both focus zooming and peaking features suffered from being relatively sharp due to the small aperture and high grain. All this made accurate focusing time consuming and generally difficult.

    Hot Spot
Although this lens doesn't suffer from hot spot badly in general conditions it was quite problematic here due to high contrast from the studio lights and realitively small apertures. If I could have shot wider than f/5.6 this probably would not have been a problem, but because that was impossible without heavy ND filters (which would have introduced more problems) I could not avoid it.

Canon FD 85/1.2 L + Hoya R25A Red Filter

    Available Light
Before I attached the wireless triggers I did take some photos with the Canon 85mm lens wide open using just the modelling lights. I got away base ISO here, but only just. Although I like the shallow depth of field I don't think it's particularly effective here, without a nice background to blur out. Since the subject is already isolated it seems a little pointless. That said, what blur you get does add a little to the ethereal feel. I quite quickly moved onto another lens...

    Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 FE (lens 2)
For the rest of the shoot I switched to a lens that not only performs better in infra-red, but is much sharper too. Since this lens is made for the Sony A7 everything got a lot easier from here on in. Native E / FE lenses work just like SLR lenses in these conditions. In that the aperture diaphragm goes wide open while focusing and then stops down to shoot. This lens' image quality is extremely impressive, but the same cannot be said about the cameras ability to autofocus in these conditions.

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

Click on the below image to see a 100% crop from the above image.

    Bad Autofocus
Although the Zeiss lens was very accurate when the focus did lock, the speed and reliability of that AF under the modelling lights was considerably poor. This didn't seem to be a problem with the infrared spectrum, more the camera system itself because I also tried the non-converted Sony A7 mkII with the same lens and the same thing happened. At times it would just hunt back and forth, even though there was seemingly plenty of light and contrast detail. It would also sometimes give up while completely out of focus, even though the shutter was still half pressed. Under the same lighting conditions a mid range DSLR that my friend was using focused far more quickly and 100% of the time.

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

    Colour / WB
I shot using a simple red filter (on the full spectrum Sony A7) 100% of the time. This equates to 590-600nm IR conversion. Although this can provide too much colour for some conversions it seems about the right balance with the Sony sensors as they seem to be extremely sensitive to IR light. My thinking behind only using this filter was that I wanted the ability to process colour IR from any of the images in post and if not then I would just desaturate them.

  • Left: Canon 6D / EF 50mm f/1.4 - @ f/9, 1/160th, ISO 100 (400-70nm)
  • Right: Sony A7 / FE 55mm f/1.8 - @ f/11, 1/160th, ISO 100 (600-1200nm)

    Exposure & Brightness
Colour infra-red may not have as much contrast as pure IR, but it lets in a lot of light. As well as providing extra processing options it also gives brighter exposures than a normal colour sensor. With the studio lights at minimum brightness the colour shots were coming out with nice punchy shadows, but the IR shots were literally glowing by comparison and that with a smaller aperture. The shutter speed was already at maximum for the studio lights and a smaller aperture would have blurred the image from diffraction, so I had nowhere to go here without using ND filters. Fortunately I rather like the tones of this exposure and fortunately the highlights weren't just about retrievable in RAW (no quite blown).

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

Pushing the exposure down a few stops in a RAW editor shows some more neural values but it still has a different look/quality to it compared to a desaturated visible colour image. What stands out the most is how veins can show up. I find this fascinating and pretty, but I imagine that it'll be a love/hate thing for most.

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

    False Colour
Flipping the red and blue channels works great on tress and water in landscapes, but it can make people look weird or even horrific. I quite like these results here though, but perhaps that's because there isn't much separation of colours going on, it's a bit like a split toned image. Some of the pleasing aesthetics also come from the high contrast lighting. If you try this in an overcast day outside then the results are very hard to get right.

Zeiss Sonnar 55/1.8 + Kolari Vision Red Filter

Here is one of the shots that I've done some enhancements to in Photoshop (you can see the original above). Apart from the obvious teeth extensions I've added longer nails and brightened the eyes. I did ask for a vampy pose here and she did a great job, but in hindsight I chould have been better with direction. If I get a chance to do this again I'm going to ask for more teeth and maybe a profile version could be cool too. I'd like to do another shoot with Estrany outside and not shoot exclusively IR, but that probably won't be a vamp friendly scene.

Well I thoroughly enjoyed this shoot and I'm still processing many of the shots from it because there is so much you can do to them. I really can't wait to do another model shoot, but my next one will be outisde with while I return to using the 85mm lens.

If you have any questions about this shoot, or suggestions for the next one please feel free to post a comment below or email me here


  1. Greg over on the 'Global Infra red forum' ( has done quite a bit of IR studio work. All interesting results!
    As well as veins, Tattoos also show much clearer in IR.

    I love the waxy complexion you've got in the eye shot. I've never quite managed that yet in my efforts

    1. Thanks Mike! and for the link, I will check out Greg's work :). I want to push myself to shoot more people, but once the weather picks up I can do more outside. I think that could be a lot of fun!