Leopards - 21st Century cats - Behind the scenes - part 1

Under the skin of Infrared photography


Leopard female shot with Infrared converted 5D

Ever since I finished filming for the BBC film Leopards - 21st century cat, my fascination for non traditional imaging has increased many fold. We used 3 different imaging systems to capture footage of leopards at night. All three had their advantages and short comings but ,in the end they mixed together beautifully to create an absorbing film with some really unique sequences. In this series of articles i wanted to talk about the various approaches we took to achieve it.

The workhorse set-up was the Canon 5D mark2  converted to shoot Infrared footage. All DSLR sensors are sensitive to Infrared light and are inherently capable of shooting infrared images. But the trouble is that this will interfere with normal pictures in the visible light spectrum. To sort this problem , camera manufacturers add an infrared filter to the DSLR to completely cut out the interference.  

For shooting this film, we had the camera modified ( by a professional of course) and shipped into India with some infrared lights.  The same night the kit landed , we set it  up outside my home and started testing. The fascinating part of this set-up is that the infrared light cannot be seen by the human-eye,  but the camera was picking up the image with ease. It was pitch dark but i could film people walk up and down very clearly. I guess they were hardly aware of my presence. The downside was that the image was black n white and people had a deathly look with their eyes glowing. But i knew we had a winner when it comes to leopard filming

On the field , the infrared set up had its limitations. First of all, one had to focus the beam onto the animal once we spotted it, and then find the animal through the tele lens. When it is all pitch black and when you cannot see the beam of IR light, its impossible to correctly point the light. But we got used to the system and eventually got some great footage. 

Where it came really useful was all the many night shots that we needed as pick-ups. People moving about, goats , dogs and many other critical elements that were needed to build the sequence. 

The infrared converted 5D with IR lights is the most economical option for doing unobtrusive night filming and still get broadcast quality footage.

In my next article i will talk about a big leap forward - The magic Star light Camera.

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