Infrared Flash Photography Around Rockefeller Center, New York City

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When I’m not shooting black-and-white film with my Rolleiflexes, or corporate, advertising and wedding photos with my Nikon D850, I’m most likely prowling the night with my newest rig—an infrared converted Nikon D800 and Sunpak infrared flash. In infrared photography the camera sensor creates a unique look by recording specific wavelengths that are invisible to the human eye.

Photographs © Dan Wagner, 2018

Nikon D800 and Sunpak 622 Flash with IR Head
Radio City Music Hall, New York

People often ask which type of photography I enjoy the most. It’s a hard question to answer. I don’t really look at it as one form of photography being superior to others. Some might think infrared is a bit gimmicky—and perhaps they are right. But then, many experimental methods will come up short if composition, technique, and interesting subject matter are neglected. In the end, it’s up to the viewer to decide which “performance” is the most pleasing to the eye.

Rockefeller Center Trumpeter, New York
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York

With the goal of discovering what sort of interesting subject matter I might find during the holiday season, I headed toward Rockefeller Center, New York City, one recent winter’s night, equipped with my infrared gear. When I upgraded from the Nikon D800 to the D850 I was faced with the decision of whether to sell the D800 or convert it to infrared. I knew from prior experience that using a converted DSLR would be preferable because, unlike a mirrorless camera, the infrared filter covering the sensor would not affect low-light focusing.

Ornament Sculptures, Avenue of the Americas, New York
Rockefeller Center Tourists with Mounted Policeman, New York

Next, I had to decide which lens to use. LifePixel, the company that converted my camera, maintains an updated compatibility list of lenses for use with specific cameras. These lenses work best because they produce the least amount of central hot spots, which is especially problematic with zooms. Based on LifePixel’s recommendations, I purchased a Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens. I then sent this very affordable lens to them for infrared-focusing calibration. While this adjustment isn’t as important for photographers using live-view focusing, it’s not possible to use live-view focusing with flash.

Rockefeller Center Ice Rink Zamboni, New York
Rockefeller Center Bronze Youth Statue, New York

With my converted infrared camera and new lens selection good to go, the next step was synching the Sunpak flash. To be safe, I used a Wein Safe-Sync Hot Shoe to Hot Shoe with PC, which protects the camera’s electronics from excessive trigger voltage that can occur with certain flash units. For all I know, the Sunpak’s trigger voltage could be fine with my camera. But I would rather be safe than sorry. I probably could have used a radio remote, as well. One nice thing about the Sunpak is that with an infrared head, wide aperture, and high ISO, it’s powerful enough to light a large building.

Traffic in Times Square, New York
1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York

On my way to Rockefeller Center, I shot some photos in the Times Square area, along the Avenue of Americas, and around Radio City Musical Hall. I shot in RAW format to maximize my imaging choices. It was a cold night so I only spent an hour and a half shooting. Nonetheless, I was very happy with the results.

Fifth Avenue Tourists, New York

During RAW to jpeg conversion, I maxed out the clarity setting, and played with the various sliders until I liked what I saw. With infrared, there really aren’t that many wrong ways to proceed. After selecting my favorite jpegs, I adjusted the hue, saturation, sharpness, contrast, and exposures as needed. All in all, after contemplating the results, I’m very satisfied. The new images support my goal of adding to my collection of infrared flash photos and continuing to see where this approach will lead.

Kris Kringle Spreading Holiday Cheer in New York

Please feel free to ask questions and share your own experiences with infrared flash photography in the Comments section, below. Thanks for looking!

4 Comments

Great photos. I'm looking for a Sunpak 622 with the various heads and the Canon sensor for my A-1 and New F-1. I may get that hot-shoe converter so I can use my 522 with my 5D Mk III.

Thanks Ralph. Ah, the beautiful Canon F-1 Niiiice! 

The Wein safe shoe and the Vello hot shoe adapter https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1119628-REG/vello_hsa_pvu_hot_shoe_adapter.html will do the trick.

I have the regular and wide standard flash heads for Sunpak 622, but almost never use them. For me it's all about the IR head and shooting with "invisible" flash at night. Every time I take an invisible flash shot, I'm amazed that the infrared converted camera sensor can see what I can't.

Very cool

Thanks! :)

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