Puzzlewood With an IR Modified Sony NEX-5N - by Charles Higham

Puzzlewood With an IR Modified Sony NEX-5N – by Charles Higham

Puzzlewood is a 14 acre ancient woodland in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England. It’s experienced opencast iron ore mining dating from the Roman period, and probably earlier during the Iron Age. Since the 19th century its strange rock formations, lush growth and unusual appearance has attracted the curious, and it’s been used as a location for film-makers in recent times.

I had a Sony NEX-5n modified to full spectrum some time before I went there, which involves removing the UV/IR cut filter normally covering the sensor. The NEX-5n was launched in 2011 and has an APS-C format 16.1MP CMOS sensor, and it’s quite small and light. It has a tilting LED panel which I’ve found useful, and I bought a cover/hood for it which is a help in bright conditions as there’s no EVF.

Despite being now 10 years old, these cameras are still very capable and you can pick them up used on ebay for a reasonable price. I chose this model not just because I was interested in infrared photography in general, but also for low light wildlife photography.

With the UV/IR filter removed it’s become sensitive well into the near-infrared range and actually beyond 920nm. So supplemented by an appropriate IR illuminator you can capture images of wildlife without disturbing them. But I like the results in daytime too hand-holding it like any other camera.

Having seen what the camera could do at other places, I felt it might provide an interesting angle on this extraordinary woodland site. If you try IR photography I recommend reading up about the subject to maximise its potential in your shots. Time of day, sunlight, cloud cover, subject matter, all of these and more influence the look you will get.

These were taken in 2020 between lockdowns and used the 18-55mm f/3.5 – 5.6 kit lens with a Hoya R [25A] red filter which allows a mix of infrared and visible light to be captured. I used the black and white setting on the camera, and as you see the fresh green vegetation such as the ferns and leaves stand out as they reflect infrared light more than the rocks, ground and tree bark.

I tried to compose these shots to produce a sense of the atmosphere of the place. There is a secret, labyrinthine and ancient feel to Puzzlewood and I hope this comes across in the images. Having said that, until I got home and viewed them at a decent size on a computer screen it wasn’t easy to know exactly how they would look in detail,  but I often get quite a kick out of  the results from this camera.

I’ve one roll of kodak HIE infrared film and when restrictions are lifted I’m tempted to go back to the wood and try that too. I posted about using HIE back in 2018, and it provides a particular dreamy glowing look which would be appropriate here. But I’ve been happy with the modified Sony as its exposures have a nice clarity and sharpness and, being digital, you have instant results with no processing costs.

If you find yourself in the Forest of Dean area consider a visit. It’s privately owned and there’s a modest entry fee. When I was there families with children were having a great time. It is quite a magical place.

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Charles Higham

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