Another film, another planet

Sick of shooting in the visible spectrum? Want to up your game by shooting something you can’t see? If space travel’s in your blood and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it, read on because we’re loading up some infrared film.

Minolta X-570; Rollei Infrared 400; hc110 (b)

Most film is panchromatic and panchromatic film captures visible light. If you paid attention in junior high school science class, you’d know that outside of the visible light spectrum there are wavelengths that the human eye cannot see. Infrared is one of these… but you already knew that because you were a good student in junior high.

Certain film types have extended sensitivity into the infrared range. Options are currently limited though and you can count the different IR film stocks available with one hand… or 2 hands if you had an accident in high school shop class. I’ve only shot Rollei Infrared, but Ilford SFX also has extended sensitivity and I’ve heard JCH Streetpan works, too. No matter which stock you choose, you’ll need some help in the form of a filter that blocks almost all visible light. I use a 720nm filter (which is popular), but there are others out there that block more or less depending on what you’re going for.

Minolta SRT 102; Rollei Infrared 400; hc110 (a)

There are a few caveats with an IR filter though. The first is that unless you have bionic vision, you will not be able to focus with it on the camera if you shoot with an SLR. The filter blocks almost all visible light, remember? This means you have to focus first, then put the filter on. You’ll also need to use extremely slow shutterspeeds to compensate for the filter factor. Like, 4 or 5 stops slower than you would without it. A tripod is pretty much a requirement.

Oh by the way, remember how we focused before putting the IR filter on? Well it turns out that the focus that you set the lens to for visible light doesn’t work for infrared light because SCIENCE! You’ll need to manually adjust your focus to compensate for the difference. On old lenses it’s relatively easy. They have a red dot or a line or some sort of marking that you can use as a guide. All you have to do is shift your focus to line up with the guide as seen below.

The left shot shows initial focus at 5 meters.
Adjusted for IR, the 5m mark now lines up with the red “R” on the lens.

It is recommended that you shoot infrared with small apertures to allow for greater depth of field, which gives you some wiggle room with the focus adjustment. I’d think that you would want to anyway, just to keep the details in the environment. Why blur out the IR effect with a shallow depth of field?

Speaking of the environment, there are some general things you can expect as a result of the IR effect. If the sky is clear, blue, and sunny, it will appear very dark grey on IR film. Vegetation will appear bright white, almost like everything is a cherry blossom tree. Reds will be lighter.

Minolta X-570; Rollei Infrared 400; hc110 (b)

Well, there you go. Get out of the spectrum, you won’t find it irritatin’.

Thanks for reading!

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