UNDEFINED an experiment in Infrared.

Many times we have had to travel along the Eastern Sierras on highway 395. It is a fairly empty landscape with several parts still having limited to no cell service and virtually no services altogether.  So many amazing videos/photos have come from this area. When Ryan Southwell and I wanted tell a story about this area, what could we offer, that hadn’t already been done.

We recently purchased RED Epic-W’s and knew with this camera came great possibilities.  Just Shooting in 8k alone with new Helium sensor would be amazing, but there had to be more. One of our favorite parts of the camera is the swappable OLPF system (optical low pass filter).   With the RED OLPF’s comes the ability to work with lowlight, skin tone, underwater, and standard all offered by RED for the purpose of preserving and capturing the overall color and detail of your specific scene.      RED_OLPF

We were very excited to find that there are a few companies offering 3rd party OLPF’s.  The one we were most interested in was a UK based company called  KIPPERTIE . They offer an IR Spectrum and Full Spectrum IR OLPF. We purchased both OLPF’s. With this being our first time attempting an IR project and using an OLPF, we honestly didn’t know what would work best. After a few tests we found the Full Spectrum IR Filter gave us an image a bit closer to a standard sensor, with IR properties. We chose the IR Spectrum OLPF, believing this would give us the look we wanted for the locations we had chosen. Setting up the Filter in the RED was simple and only took a few minutes. With the new DSMC2 we only needed to go into the settings and change the OLPF as 3rd party. When turning on the camera for the first time, the image was pink.  All that was necessary was going into the menu settings and turning RAW on, allowing us to see a cleaner image in black and white.  

 The next part of our process was how to approach shooting using the IR Filter and what could we do and not do. Right out of the gate we learned sunlight makes it all work. It would seem completely obvious, but it was a cloudy day during testing with occasional bits of sun. We could watch as the images went flat then came alive, then flat again and so on as the clouds passed overhead. It was also extremely obvious on anything green. Another note was the skies; during testing we found that if the skies were a bit overcast or hazy it left the image looking almost blown out or flat with very little detail. Very simply the IR filter affects the image like this, blue skies, blue water, and darker objects go darker. Green colors on the other hand trend toward white. So our recipe for the imagery became sunlight, blue skies with clouds, and greenery.  

Now that we had this initial testing out of the way, we did a bit more testing and scouting of a few areas in the Eastern Sierra’s. Mono Lake, the Inyo Forest, and Mammoth Lakes became our locations of choice. The final piece of the puzzle was again what could we do that was different especially for a piece in IR. We wanted to write something short, thought provoking, and involving a character experiencing this very empty, beautiful high desert wilderness for the first time. There was just one very big hurdle, we didn’t want our talent to be affected by the infrared light making her skin translucent. What we found that seemed to work best for us was keeping her skin shaded wherever possible. Shooting backlit or inside a structure, helped the skin maintain some color and tone. We also chose to place our subject in such a way as to minimize the noticeable infrared change to the skin, like shooting from the side or behind, so only some of the skin might show.  


Now came the project.  After we had a working script, locations, and our actress; we split the shoot into two days. We watched the weather forecasts to help predict which days looked best, (especially since we chose to film in February in the back country of the Sierras).  

 For the gear people here is what we used for the shoot: 2 RED Epic-Ws, one on sticks and a slider, one on the new Movi-Pro and combined with the Alta 6. Lens choices were Canon 70-200, Sigma Art 18-35, Sigma Art 50, Canon 100macro, and a GDU 24 (Global Dynamics United). Our settings for the RED were 8K WS, with frame rates between 24 and 38fps. 38fps at 7:1 compression was the maximum we could do for the Epic-W without stepping down in resolution.  

On day one of our shoot the weather cooperated perfectly with us. Great blue skies, sunlight and clouds. That being said, if anyone knows the Sierras, weather can change quickly. By the end of day the wind picked up, clouds built up, and we found ourselves waiting for a bit for sunlight to break through for a few final shots.

This happened for both days, making it a bit more difficult to get what we needed. We had to be patient and wait for the Sun to come out. In the end we were able to capture almost everything we wanted.   

The final part of the process was editing the images.  We used RED CINEX-PRO

for the look and Premiere Pro for the edit. Once in CineX-Pro we were able to see just how great the new Helium sensor is. The dynamic range held so much information in the shadows and highlights which really added to the overall contrast. Then of course the 8k just put an exclamation mark on the details in the image.   

This experience challenged us in ways we hadn’t had to think about before. First being what are the perfect conditions for Infrared filming. Second, because we chose the infrared, we had to make sure our subject matter or our focus actually stepped into the light or in some cases stayed out of the light. Last being patient and waiting for the right ray of light to make the scene come alive.  

We are no experts in Infrared filming, there are several others more versed in the nuances of this style. We just wanted to share our learning experience trying Infrared for the first time with the Red Epic-W and the Kippertie IR Spectrum OLPF. We at Frontsidefilms hope our experience helped or motivated you to get out and try infrared. Thank you for reading.