#1293. The Hillsborough Churchyard in Infrared

By Henry Rinne | Travel Photography

Jun 13

The country churchyard is at once universal and unique in the Christian world. They exist all across Europe and North America, providing an air of quiet contemplation and reverence in small villages and major metro areas. Novels have been written where the churchyard plays a significant role and, in some books, becomes one of the characters.


The tombstones scattered across the yard seem to reach upward engaging a sense of mystery as to who lies below. Worn inscriptions may identify the occupants of the grave and often provide insight into a life once lived. Despite the fact that death surrounds the church, congregants continue to arrive for regular services and other events that support the community.


Visiting the small town of Hillsborough in central North Carolina on several occasions, I photographed the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church and the Old Town Cemetery, which dates to 1757. (OK, by European standards mid-18th century is not very old, but North Carolina was still a frontier at the time). The churchyard houses 184 graves, including one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Hooper. The cemetery as a whole is actually comprised of many smaller family cemeteries, delineated by brick and stone walls. The enclosure directly in front of the church was a plot purchased by the wealthy and politically connected Graham family.


The sculpted dove sits on top of the headstone of Sophronia Graham who died at age eight. Old cemeteries remind us of the fragility of early childhood prior to the advent of modern medicine.


After making several stops in Hillsborough looking for photographic opportunities, I was never pleased with the images made with my conventional cameras. I decided to return with my digital camera converted to infrared (720nm). I was very excited about the results, seeing the high values in the foliage offsetting the darker mid-tones in the headstones, walkways, and walls as well as the dark sky and clouds. I try to create tension through the contrast which is more compelling because of the infrared shifts to our regular perceptions


All images were created using a converted Sony a99 with a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 (ignore the Exif data as it is incorrect). At present it is the only zoom lens I use on a regular basis except for my “grandchildren” lens on my Fujifilm, the 18mm-55mm f2.8-4. I process the RAW files in CaptureOne Pro 23. I have created several presets that coax the inner black & white I prefer from the RAW files—full tonal range and neutral to cool.


Churchyards are beautiful places that can evoke a restful, calm mood; however, the infrared treatment creates a jarring effect on our vision as the white foliage defeats our normal expectations.


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  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Henry,

    The infrared certainly gives the subject matter a surreal and other worldy look. Quite befitting the subject matter.

  • Jim Greeson says:

    These are really ethereal images, and the visual color shift creates some arresting and memorable scenes.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Creative and imaginative – and in most of these shots, I can quite see why you elected to go with infra red. It’s not a question of “being different” – the treatment you’ve given to the subject matter of the matters genuinely suits the images, and lifts them in a manner which would otherwise be quite impossible.
    Do you ever hang enlargements of your photos around your house, Henry? Or aren’t you as vain as I am?
    Some of these images stirred memories from earlier chapters in my life. My great-great-great-grandfather had a fight with the local parish priest, and built his own chapel on his own farm, after that – importing his own priest. Then in the following few years he fought with that priest & replaced him with another – and again, another., And finally a bushfire swept through that paddock, burning the church down. So he gave up. But the family continued to use the graveyard beside the remains of the church. Which, in Australia, is totally illegal – burials can only take place in cemeteries approved & registered under various “Cemeteries Acts” that apply from state to state. The farm was sold after my great-uncle died – goodness only knows what the new owners thought of the family cemetery. Or the remains of the church, for that matter.
    And when my mother died, I arranged for a [very!] temporary re-opening of an old church in the hills above the city where I was born and grew up – the church might even have been the one where her parents married, I know they married in one in that locality – and the fact that my grandmother’s first child, her first son, was buried there makes me think that’s probably correct. The kid died, unfortunately, at the age of 18 months, and my poor grandmother never recovered from the loss of her first child. So mother’s ashes are now buried with him – her little/oldest brother.
    That’s a story for another day – but it was the funniest funeral I’ve ever been to ! All too often these are very sad occasions, and before it started I certainly wasn’t looking forward to it. But by the time it finished I was laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks!

  • PaulB says:


    Nicely done! You use of infrared certainly brings out the hidden nature of your subjects. Your images are inspiration for anyone interested in trying IR.

    Not to mention that cemeteries can be wonderful locations of interesting artwork.


    • Henry Rinne says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I am still searching for my direction with IR. It is distinctly different and find that I must visualize the final image in a different manner than with regular images even those I intend to convert to B&W. HQR

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I must agree with you, the infrared – the way you do it! – adds a very suitable atmosphere!

    And – not being used to watch infrared photos – I find it interesting how easily my eyes / mind adapt to a partly upside down greyscale and accept the engaging “strangeness”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Wonderfully evocative images, Henry! Looking forward to seeing more of your work in future posts.

  • Mer says:

    Hi Henry

    These are a lot of fun, though I have to disagree about them being jarring. The pale foliage and grass feels quite restful to me, cherry blossom or frost perhaps? Whatever, it suits the subject well and I particularly like the foliage in the second to last image. Also, the glowing headstone in the second photo provides a great focal point.

    Nice stuff, I look forward to seeing some more of your IR images.


  • John Wilson says:

    Henry – Excellent work and I’m with Mer. I don’t find IR the least bit jarring. It actually adds an etherial softness to the images that pure BW struggles to achieve. Your post is prophetic as I just got back from 10 days upcountry with about 80% of the images shot in (850nm) infrared on my old X-T1. It does take a little getting used to, but with a little more practice you’ll immediately know which images will look good in IR and which won’t.

    Look forward to seeing more.

    • Henry Rinne says:

      I have become fairly adept at pre-visualization of regular B&W images. I can look at a scene, comprehend how I will process it, and create the final image in my mind before clicking the shutter. When working with IR, I am slowly coming to that point, but I still find some surprises when I process images in Capture One Pro. I have created a preset for my primary lens (Tamron 28-75mm f2.8) on my converted Sony a99V. I apply the preset on import and then work on individual images. Thanks for your kind words.

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