Robert Beck. Sports Illustrated. The Masters in Infrared.

Masters in Infrared

So I was sitting in my dentist’s waiting room, just paging through the latest Sports illustrated, and I came across this photo of The Masters. At first I started side-eyeing it since it felt kind of weird and HDR to me. But then I realized it was infrared instead and, while it still felt off to me, it also got a lot more interesting.

Since Kukkurovaca kind of fanboys about infrared but isn’t looking at anything sports-related, I flagged these with him on Twitter and we had a decent conversation about them while I was waiting to get my teeth drilled.

Robert Beck. Sports Illustrated. The Masters in Infrared.

I’m not going to transcribe our conversation. But the basic premise involved discussing whether these felt off because they’re not the best infrared images* or because of the more interesting phenomenon that occurs when the content of an image does not match what we expect to find from the form of the image.

*There’s some weird contrast going on in many of them where parts feel way too high contrast HDR-like and other parts are still muddy. There’s also a lot of noise which suggests either ISO pushing or an unmodified digital camera where the hot mirror is causing the noise.

It was easy for me to file my initial reaction to these as a combination of  “Ack, this isn’t the best IR I’ve seen.” or “Cool, I’ve not seen sports photography that looks like this.” But I had to step back and realize that neither of those was my actual first reaction. I didn’t recognize these as IR despite the glowing Wood Effect in the foliage.

Robert Beck. Sports Illustrated. The Masters in Infrared.

And that’s because infrared just doesn’t look like this usually. My eyes expect infrared to be slow film landscapes or people caught from a “hidden” flash. And while infrared digital has much higher ISOs than film does, the digital work I’ve seen has been of the same look as the film work—which makes sense since moving to shooting digital IR is typically done because of a desire to emulate IR film.

I’m not used to seeing moving objects—let alone athletes and golf balls—get frozen.

I love that I misdiagnosed these though. Despite not liking the photos, I really like the idea of them. That we have the technical tools to apply a way of looking to situations where our eyes are not used to seeing that way is great. Any time our learned perspectives can be questioned and broken and our eyes trained to see more broadly is a wonderful experience.