Photography One Shot: the infrared poetry of Paolo Pettigiani

One Shot: the infrared poetry of Paolo Pettigiani

Laura Tota
Paolo Pettigiani |

One Shot is’s column that delves into the work of a photographer starting with a single shot that can describe his or her style and imagery. This episode’s guest is Paolo Pettigiani, photographer and art director who aims to make the invisible visible through his investigation, expanding the limits of perception through a graphic and visual exploration of the territory. His images, taken with a converted full spectrum infrared camera, offer a perfect dialogue between science and creativity, capturing the electromagnetic spectrum of light which are the not visible to the human eye wavelengths.
Infraland” is the name of the ongoing project he started in 2014 that turns ordinary places into surreal landscapes detached from human perception: the invitation is to question reality as it is seen, to explore everyday life with new enthusiasm, with the aim of telling the process of contemporary perception of nature and the connection of the photographic medium with the stylization of the landscape.
His works have been exhibited in both solo and group exhibitions in New York City, Paris, Milan, Berlin and were presented in a variety of digital publications, including The Guardian, The Washington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and Vogue.

Paolo Pettigiani |

Infrared photography is your hallmark, and in this shot we have a wonderful example of it. Exactly, how does infrared photography work? How has it changed with the arrival of digital?

Many thanks Laura, I started shooting in infrared in 2014 and I can confirm that, year after year, this technique has become increasingly central in my personal projects. Infrared photography is a glimpse into the world of the invisible.  But how is it possible to show what is invisible? To answer this question we must first understand what colors are and how we see them.
The phenomenon of color originates through electromagnetic radiation emitted by sunlight and measured in nanometers.
The visible light, that is what our eye perceives, consists of emissions with a wavelength between 400 and 720 nm, where there are the light waves responsible for the visual sensations of the seven colors, or those of the classic rainbow.

Infrared is an electromagnetic radiation that is reflected by chlorophyll with a higher frequency than visible light, between 720 and 1200nm. Under visible light, however, we find ultraviolet light. Both infrared and ultraviolet radiation can impress the sensor of digital cameras going to alter the colors we are used to see. To prevent these waves from reaching the sensor, camera manufacturers mount a filter called low-pass or IR CUT (band pass filter) in front of the sensor so as to block almost completely these radiations and allow the camera to capture only the colors that are perceived by our eyes.

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Un post condiviso da Paolo Pettigiani (@paolopettigiani)

Infrared and visible radiation are often reflected and transmitted by objects in a completely different way: the chlorophyll present in the foliage absorbs a large amount of visible radiation while absorbing only a small amount of IR, reflecting most of it. It is for this reason that shooting infrared we will see the color of most organic elements such as leaves and grass change. The skin is quite transparent to infrared radiation and for this reason it will appear clearer and there are many other types of materials that have a high power of infrared reflection and it is therefore possible that in some cases we will see other shades change elements such as: clothing, wood, rocks or sand.

Today with the advent of digital I can not say that it has become easier to shoot or immediate shooting in infrared. If before, through the use of Kodak Aerochrome it was enough to develop the film in a particular bathroom, now with the digital to get results with a high quality must make a change to the camera sensor making it full-spectrum, that is sensitive to all types of light: UV, visible and IR. Using different types of external filters, the camera can take photos of normal light, infrared light, UV light or any other combination of these.  The use of these external filters, specially designed for infrared, allows you to decide the cut of light that you want to capture. On the market there are different types of filters with various cuts of light for infrared photography: with the filters from 720nm to 950nm you have the opportunity to enter the full world of the invisible with low saturated images where the vegetation is slightly colored up to a very intense black and white. There are also filters below the threshold of 720nm that also pass some spectrum of the visible returning images in which both the sky and vegetation are more charged and saturated with colors.  The Chrome IR filter has also been recently designed: This filter has been designed to simulate in the most faithful way possible the colors of the famous Kodak Aerochrome film returning directly in the room the image with the color of the red vegetation without having to swap channel in photoshop. The latter is the filter I used to make this shot.

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Un post condiviso da Paolo Pettigiani (@paolopettigiani)

Not all of your photos are made through this technique. In this, for example, what led to the choice to modify it in an infrared image? Is your vision, even before the shot, already set on the possibility of an infrared alteration? In this case, moreover, we are faced with an aerial shot: how did you realize it? Are there any assistants to help you?

Actually this photo was also made using the infrared technique because, in addition to the Canon EOS R, I made the full spectrum modification also on the camera of a DJI drone and through the use of a set of its small filters I can use it to shoot in infrared. In this case I used the Chrome IR filter.

I can say that with years of experience I have developed such a sensitivity to invisible infrared colors that I can in my mind to pre visualize the shot I want to do. Looking at the materials that characterize the landscape I can get an idea of which composition to use to make the most of this technique and, in this case, I was in the Dolomites. It was a long time that I would have liked to take an aerial view of a beautiful mountain road immersed in the woods and I was sure that in this case the contrast between the color of the asphalt and the red of the foliage of the trees would have returned a strong aesthetic to the image. It was enough to wait a moment to make sure that a car passed that helps us understand the real extension of this magnificent road nicknamed “Snake Road”.

Written by Laura Tota
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