Life On Mars: The Oahu Infrared Project

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Off The Wall surf check. Photo: Checkwood

Life On Mars: The Oahu Infrared Project

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Besides landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum in Rome, it’s safe to say the North Shore is one of the most photographed destinations in the world. And not just by tourists, but the world’s best surf photographers who have documented the “seven-mile miracle” in and out. People have been bringing unique perspectives to photography from this stretch of beach for decades. In the last year, I’ve started playing with infrared film as a side hobby. Black and white infrared film can make the islands look like tropical snowy wonderlands. Color infrared makes the same scenes look like Mars with trees, and in my mind the North Shore was the perfect place to create beautifully dark blue skies filled with red mountains, pink trees, and dark waves that look like iced tea.

Film cameras have had the ability to shoot on various types of infrared films for years, but they also required dark filters that had long exposure times, which wouldn’t work for photography of a quick-moving subject, which is normally what you’re shooting in surf photography.

Infrared light is light that’s invisible to the human eye but not to the sensors in a digital camera. With the advent of the digital camera, it was discovered that by removing the infrared filter and adding a visible light filter inside, it produced the same effect that adding filters to infrared film did—a “false color” scheme—only the shutter speeds and exposures were the same as you would use in normal situations. Without these built-in filters sensors, the so-called “invisible light” can dilute the colors that we see in photos. Your retina can’t see infrared rays, but the sensor of a digital camera can and it distorts an image from the normal color ranges the human eye is used to.

So when you look at an infrared photo what you see isn’t the normal color the eye sees, it’s the what an infrared filter sees and in the case of trees, or palm trees on the North Shore, the leaves are no longer green, but might be pure white.

For a couple weeks in December and March, with some help of locals like Tai Van Dyke and Flynn Novak, our goal was to surf spots on the North Shore with the greenest backdrops possible. In a few cases they weren’t the easiest places to surf. “It was late winter/early spring on the North Shore,” says Novak, “and a lot of swells were accompanied with rough weather. We ended up surfing practically every novelty wave on the North Shore with no one out, and for good reason, as the victory-at-sea conditions made our sessions testing, and sometimes even ridiculous, where we’d be sitting out a rain squall or a 40-mile-per-hour wind gust laughing at ourselves for being out in the ocean. But the results were more than worth it.”

With this type of photography, many times you take a photo and you never know what certain subjects will look like. “When Checkwood first showed me an infrared photo,” says Novak, “I thought I was looking at a surf image from a different planet.”

The obscure colors create scenes that look like paintings, and in a beautiful place like the North Shore you have what you see here—surfing in infrared and some North Shore locals ripping in scenes that would make Willy Wonka jealous and the world hopeful that the Mars Rover finds water some day.—TWS Photo Editor Aaron Checkwood

Flynn Novak Infrared Surf Photography

Flynn Novak looking to land his lunar module at Freddieland. Photo: Checkwood

For more North Shore photos and video go to the North Shore page