Dan Wampler is frequently asked why he is a photographer. His response is always the same:
“Because I can’t paint! If I could paint I would never go anywhere, I would stay in my imagination and paint from there. I would take, make, and create pieces even if there was no one around to see them. But I can’t paint – so I paint with my camera.”
Wampler is a digital artist and a master of infrared. He honed his portrait skills early in his career and was always drawn to infrared, but lacked the right tools. The advent of digital was a revelation for him.
“I was a slightly above-average film photographer, but I became an artist with digital. I tried my hand at infrared film in the 90s’ without much success and gave up on it. I tried again using filters with a digital camera – I nearly gave up on that too [because of the requisite 30-60 second exposures] until I took one photo that convinced me to keep going.”
Wampler discovered Life Pixel, a company that does infrared conversions on digital cameras. The ability to fully convert a camera to infrared, to move beyond filters, was a game-changer for him.
“Up to that point everything was a blurry, psychotic dream…but not in a good way.”
Life Pixel provides both camera conversions and a variety of filters: the images in this post were shot with the Life Pixel Super Color Infrared Filter (equivalent to 590 nm) on a converted Canon 7DMKII.
“The thing I love about infrared is how different everything appears. Because you are creating with a light we cannot see, the images have an otherworldly quality to them. I am constantly in awe of how the world appears in infrared, and that is inspiring for me.”
Infrared allows Wampler to experience and share a unique type of wonder.
“Often when I make an image I already have an idea in my mind as to how it should look. I want people to feel that and see that when they view an image. For me, infrared brings out a very child like feeling. Seeing something in Infrared is like seeing the thing for the first time.”
Years after discovering Life Pixel and embarking on his own digital infrared journey, Wampler now works as Life Pixel’s Creative Director and teaches infrared photography to new adopters. His initial advice for students – infrared is NOT like any other form of photography you have experienced.
“[Starting to shoot in infrared] is like being a really good oil painter and then taking up watercolor. You still use a paintbrush, but it’s not the same. It’s incredibly different; it requires a different mindset and a different skill set.”
Wampler’s approach toward infrared education is a combination of in-person and online training. He shared a few pieces of advice with us for infrared beginners, along with part of his process.
“For image capture we need to be there together, to talk it through. When I take students out to shoot I tell them to shoot between 700 and 1000 photos – oftentimes they shoot more than that. I tell them to shoot bracketed, horizontal, vertical. And I always emphasize focus and being clear about what your subject is. Many people don’t have success with shooting because they don’t know what the subject of their photograph is. It’s easy enough to say something is beautiful and snap away, but if you don’t have a subject when you sit down at the computer it’s just not as great as you imagined it to be.”
Post-production is a large part of infrared photography and a passion of Wampler’s. After all, he discovered his visual voice through the advent of digital. But Wampler believes the art is in the shot.
“Image capture is the art of photography – post-production is a trick. If you don’t have a good image to begin with you can’t make a good image out of a bad image in post. A camera captures 2D but we see in 3D – for post, I encourage my students to start thinking in 3D, to see a curved format in their mind, and I teach a process in post to convert an image to 3D.”
Portraits are notoriously difficult to shoot in infrared – it’s hard to get light into the model’s eye. But Wampler has a fix for that.
“If you use a ring flash constantly, as a light and not a flash, you’ll light the eyes. Infrared light penetrates that top layer of skin before it reflects back, that’s where the China doll, Botox look comes from. It’ll make you look 10 years younger! But if you don’t get light in the eyes you’ll get those zombie eyes with massive pupils. Tiny pupils make all the difference in the world.”
Wampler discovered Lensbaby and instantly imagined endless applications for infrared. His extensive experience in manual photography, plus a little luck, gave him a leg up on shooting with our Velvet 56.
“I read an article about Lensbaby and knew I had to try one out. The first image I shot was with my Velvet 56; it was my puppy resting. The image blew me away.”
“Lensbaby lenses are versatile; so there’s not just one scenario that comes to mind. Portraits, macros, scenic…they work for most situations. The Velvet 56 is without a doubt my favorite lens. The blending of sharp and soft are so interesting that I always find something to capture when I use it. And depth of field is narrower in infrared than in color, that’s why the Velvet is so great.”
Wampler became an instant Velvet fanboy but also shoots with Circular Fisheye and Twist 60. There is a bit of a theme – Wampler enjoys the surprise of shooting with a Lensbaby, similar to the surprise of shooting in infrared.
“Lensbaby lenses are geared more towards creating art. Often if I feel momentarily uninspired I can put on a Lensbaby on and find that what I am shooting is much more interesting because of how it looks when captured with the lens.”
Lensbaby has a technical appeal to Wampler as well as artistic inspiration – Lensbaby lenses never hot spot.
“More than one person a week contacts me to ask me which lens they should get for infrared. I always recommend the same thing – Tamron’s Ultra Wide Lens and the Velvet 56. Certain lenses produce “hot spots,” the coating on the inside of the lens reflects it into the the middle of the sensor. At f/22 you’re burnt out, at f/8 you don’t see anything. Lensbaby lenses do NOT hot spot – and they’re so much fun to shoot with.”
For Wampler, inspiration also comes from other Lensbaby photographers – not just the lenses themselves.
“I see other Lensbaby photos and think wow that is so good and so cool but I NEVER would have done that. Why did I not think of that?”
And finally, we asked Dan the question all photographers dread – what is your favorite photograph?
“The next image I take. Once I’m done with a photo I am done with it, and it’s all about what’s next. I’m not capturing reality, I am capturing my version of reality and then making it my reality.”
His response echoes our own artistic philosophy – photography is a journey, and you can’t ever stop expressing yourself.
Learn more about Dan Wampler and Life Pixel: