Cameras by their nature are capable of experiencing a more expansive light spectrum than most people realize. However, we limit their potential to reflect what our brains process and accept as what our eyes “see.” This has been a fascinating topic to me for a while now on a personal level, as well as very recently on a professional photography level.
All of the sense are such a fascinating topic to me, as a photographer. Vision, being key to the work I create and the enjoyment of people who view my work, is my most important. I think that vision is tied a lot to my self-identity for this reason. You as the reader may find one resonate with you much stronger. Taste maybe? Sound? I’ve been working with two of my closest friends on a fundraiser to support the Batten Disease Support and Research Association (BDSRA) in June here in Portland. Tickets are available here. In short Batten disease is a rare and complicated illness that strikes first the five senses. I’m sure many of us can’t imagine what it would be like to function without one of our five, let alone losing all. I don't really do the description justice, so check out the Batten Foundation (BDSRA) website here.
In my personal journey, I’ve been exploring the notion of turning my own per-conceived notions about “reality” as experiences through the senses on its head. Despite all our best efforts, the brain remains the middle man and keeps the experience of the senses subjective. The one place I thought I was safe was with photography. This is something I’ve done for over a decade now, and clearly in the digital age there is no way a camera was going to teach me anything new about the world. Photoshop doesn’t count. The universe does love to prove me wrong and make a point….
My aforementioned friends gave me one of their cameras for my collection. It’s a Canon 5D. I have one of these already, I use it as my back up, or secondary camera. It was the camera I got some of my best and first shots of Oregon with. From the outside, the two are almost identical. Mine has seen a bit more of an "adventure," to put it nicely. By that I mean mine has battle scars. However, on the inside they couldn’t be more different. Scott had the one he gave me converted to register infrared. Basically, it sees an entirely different spectrum of light.
These two cameras, which were identical when they rolled off the Canon assembly line as twins, have had very different paths in life. If they were able to communicate with each other, would they even realize that they are seeing the entire world differently? Would they argue over who has the "true" view of the world? Again, the camera body is the same, they use the same lenses, they’re the same age, etc. The only thing that changed is that one piece, that one sensor and it makes such a difference! It is hard to imagine that there are any similarities between them.
This creates an interesting shift in perspective when I try using the new camera. My brain sees the outer shell, and the lenses I know so well and doesn’t register a difference. My sense of touch fires when I hold the camera, and muscle memory sends my fingers where they need to go on the camera body, on the focus and zoom rings, and again everything feels the same. My photo instincts kick in with no variations and as the camera comes near my face, my sense of smell fires because cameras do have a distinct smell, a smell of plastic but not quite. Again, nothing to this point is different from my non-IR cameras so life continues as ever.
Once I get to the viewfinder though, things are a little different because the auto-focus system (what you see when you look at the little viewfinder) has a different grid pattern. My brain compensates though, and life goes on as usual. It is only in post-production, or looking at the back of the camera that I realize this is a whole new story yet to be written. A story based on a world that I am only taking my first baby-steps in. I accept and acknowledge that these first steps will be terrible. There will be fumbling and frustration for the first 100,000 hours in this world. I will love every second of this exploration though, and in many ways it will be sadder for me when I master this new world.