Photos & Projects

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

April 7, 2021

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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  • Reply
    Clive Shepherd
    April 7, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Wonderful photos! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    John Furlong
    April 7, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    I loved your images! I looked at the Puzzlewood website and it strikes me your set gives a far more evocative impression of the place than any of their colour stuff. Alternatively, they would sit well in some future reprint of The Hobbit.
    I’ve got a NEX 5N and you’ve given me some food for thought…can you tell me who did the conversion? On much more mundane (and cheaper!) level, I’m very taken by the screen shade you’re using. It looks infinitely better than the cumbersome thing I bought some years ago which attaches via the tripod bush. Do you recall the name of your supplier?
    One last thing (call me Old Mr.Picky…), your final paragraph made me twitch – I got the distinct impression that there was a ‘…modest entry fee…’ for the Forest of Dean. Echoes of “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” !!!
    A visit to the Puzzlewood website soon corrected my impression – I must have been having one of those ‘literal moments’ :0)
    Best wishes,
    John F.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      April 7, 2021 at 7:30 pm

      Well thank you John that’s very kind. Yes, when I last looked it was £7.00 entry fee for an adult and I recommend a visit with your camera if you are in that area. I suggest May onwards to get the full green lushness. I got a full spectrum conversion done on the Sony NEX 5N by this guy –

      There are various things he can do but have a read of his website. He certainly seems to know his subject and did a good job for me, but I expect there are also others doing similar conversions. Some cameras need the AF re-calibrating but can’t remember if that applied with the Sony. The conversion cost a bit more to do than the price of the camera which I bought used. There are also ready-converted cameras available on ebay. The hood I’m using is a JJC LCH-A6. However, after some use the sprung side shades did eventually fall off so it’s not complete now. Thanks again for your response to the post, always appreciated.

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    April 7, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Beautiful images, Charles! Puzzlewood looks like a very underrated place.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      April 7, 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Thank you Ben, glad you like them. Yes, it’s a really unusual place and in a way I hope it doesn’t get overrun with too many visitors!

  • Reply
    April 9, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    A great set of images! I’ve never had much success photographing dense vegetation on BnW (never tried infrared though). On a separate but related note, just yesterday I was admiring a photograph taken by Fay Godwin in the Forest of Dean. She has a whole book of photographs about the Forest as you may know, but it’s out of print and rare; I’ve never seen a copy myself.

    • Reply
      Charles Higham
      April 9, 2021 at 6:03 pm

      Thanks Sroyon, I think infrared images of vegetation can be really interesting, even though it may not always be obvious they are IR shots. There are quite a few Fay Godwin photo books for sale on ebay at the moment, but no ‘The Secret Forest of Dean’ which reinforces your point about rarity.

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