The thermal camera is the fourth in my series of extra-sensory cameras (after underwater, micro, and trail cam), and it comes closest to actually extending the senses: you can literally see something that would otherwise require the sense of touch.
About Thermal Imaging
The camera transforms the temperature data into a heat-mapped image. The colors displayed are all false: they serve as arbitrary codes for differing temperatures.
For example, this temperature reading of the sun uses black as hot and white as cold. It shows the sun at 626 degrees Fahrenheit (actual temp 27 million degrees) in a sixteen-degree sky.
Only a few years ago, thermal images required a stand-alone industrial thermal imaging camera, which cost thousands of dollars.
Seek Thermal Camera
My father asked me what I wanted for Christmas a couple of years ago. I suggested we share a Seek Thermal camera as we have shared the Bushnell trail cam. He could use it to make the house more energy efficient (e.g., identifying leaky windows) and then send it to me.
The camera’s resolution is very low. Few things besides people, animals, and architecture are distinct. In the photo below, yellow is mapped to the hottest temperatures and blue–the cat’s nose–the coldest.
It takes a while to get used to looking at thermal images, and extreme temperature plus changes in body temperature are good places to start.
This animated GIF of three photos shows an empty hand before holding an ice cube, a hand holding an ice cube, and the cold, empty, ice-imprinted hand in the cube’s aftermath.
Like my experience with the micro lens, I’d had the camera for some time without pushing myself to find interesting subjects. I was excited to devote some energy to the effort.
Bathing Rituals through the Thermal Camera’s Lens
For shower and bath scenes, I set up the camera such that the neutral temperatures would be black and white and only extreme temperatures are shown.
Through the lens of the thermal camera, the hot water glowed a beautiful gold.
From inside the lava-like waters, I warmed one foot and kept the other cold.
After a couple of hours, the bottom of the cast-iron tub had heated up too.
In darkness, what I saw through the camera was reality, and that’s how I remember it: lying in a cauldron of liquid light.
I start out with a red and yellow body (hot) and turn on the cold tap in attempt to get all of the color/heat off of my skin.
I ended up cooled down except for my eye sockets. Then I turned on the hot water and the red returned.
The hot water warmed up my hair and front, but my back was still cold.
Melting a Ball of Ice with my Bare Hands
I set up the camera on a tripod with a mirror so I could watched myself melt a ball of ice with my hands in real time. It took about twenty minutes for the ice to melt.
At first it was numbing, but it quickly became a ball of pain. Though I took breaks to prevent frostbite, I don’t think I would have been able to stand the ice if it hadn’t been for its beautiful purple color, and how easy and fun it was to change the colors of my hands and arms.
When I’d look down at my real arms, they seemed fake. The stripes and prints of pain were invisible. The thermal camera told the truth about what was most important.
All Photos by Emily Wick unless otherwise noted