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FALL 2010
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Infra (Red): CU From a New View

Human eyes are only sensitive to a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. CALS photographer Kent Loeffler explores the campus on a different wavelength in his exhibit and companion book "Cornell (infra) Red."


About Infrared Photography
By Kent Loeffler

Our eyes are only sensitive to a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This range of wavelengths, which we call visible light, extends from about 380 (violet) to 750 (red) nanometers. Even though our eyes are not sensitive to wavelengths shorter and longer than this, digital sensors are.  As a matter of fact, camera manufacturers routinely place a filter on the digital sensor that only allows visible light to strike the chip. This lets the camera record colors that appear “correct” to our eyes and not be affected by light in the ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) range.

Light in the UV and IR wavelengths is often useful in scientific and forensic inquiries. IR imaging is often used to expose forgeries and counterfeits. Inks and paints have characteristic IR reflective properties which differ from their appearance in visible light. IR is also used to visualize certain human and plant diseases.

On a whole other wavelength (so to speak), IR light can be used to create beautiful otherworldly landscape photographs. Chlorophyll reflects IR light so all green plants appear bright white. Blue sky contains almost no IR radiation so it photographs as very dark. Thus an IR photograph taken on a blue sky summer day has the appearance of being made on a full moon night in snowy winter. Very curious indeed!

Several companies specialize in converting off the shelf digital cameras to IR sensitive cameras. This process involves removing the manufacturers UV/IR blocking filter and replacing it with a filter that only allows wavelengths longer than 750 nanometers to pass.

Several years ago I had one of my digital cameras (a Nikon D80 SLR) converted to IR sensitivity and have been having fun with it ever since. I walk every day from downtown Ithaca to the Ag Quad at Cornell and started carrying the camera with me on these daily treks. Carrying a camera with you constantly almost guarantees that you’ll never come across anything interesting, but every once in a while you get lucky. The selections presented here are a collection of these lucky collisions of light, clouds, landscape and architecture. 

A book of Kent's infrared campus photos, Cornell (infra) Red, is available at Lulu Publishing.