A tribute to Kodak’s false colour Infrared films
By Tony Kajtazi
Sunrise over the Grand Anse beach (Grenada)
Here are some of my favourite shots I’ve taken with a very special breed of near extinct film. Like many other great films falling victim to the digital age, it also, sadly, is no longer in production. There have always been disappointments in the past whenever manufacturers decided to stop making a certain type of film, and especially when there was no direct replacement for it elsewhere. For me, this sentiment is felt strongest with the disappearance of the colour infrared films, as there’s just nothing even remotely like it.
These films are capable of rendering crazy, psychedelic colours with tons of clarity and contrast. It can make the most boring of subjects look stunning. Get the exposure right, and you’ll get instant art through colour alone. Couple it with good composition and an interesting subject matter, and you’ll have a masterpiece.
All photos taken with a Mamiya 7 and the 43mm lens
Kodak was the only company I know of that used to make colour infrared film. Little of it that remains on the market is largely due to one man in Germany who bought up the last batches of Aerochrome film sheets, hand-cut and hand-rolled them onto 120 format spools ready to be used with any medium format film camera. From time to time some of these rolls would trickle down to the rest of us via his website* where he would occasionally put some up for sale, thus delaying the total extinction for that tiny bit longer.
The consumer variation of this film used to be called Kodak Ektachrome Infrared (EIR), and it came in the standard 35mm format. Kodak stopped making it long before they’d stopped making Aerochrome sheets, originally intended for scientific aerial imaging. I have never used the EIR, but I suspect the end-results would be quite similar. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that even though they do pretty much the same thing, they are not the same.
Shoot this film at f8 or smaller for best results, IR light does not behave the same way as normal light. You might have the shot focused precisely for normal light, but the IR light will most likely be out of focus at large apertures.
A rough explanation of how Kodak achieves this special look is as follows: As with other common types of colour slide film, it has three image forming layers: the red-exhibiting layer, which is sensitive to IR light, so the Infrared light and its unique tonality is mapped as red on the slides, the green layer is sensitive to red light and the blue layer is sensitive to green light. All three layers are sensitive to blue and project it as blue. This is why the blue light is most often considered a “pollutant” and has to be filtered out with a yellow or an orange filter in order to achieve the intended look commonly observed here and elsewhere.
I personally prefer to use an orange filter with this film because it paints the skies dark navy and gives the foliage that deep red colour. The orange filter doesn’t just filter out the blues, but goes a step further and blocks most of the green light from hitting the film. Different shades of orange cut different amounts of green and since Aerochrome’s blue layer is sensitive to green light, a green-cutting filter removes the blue cast from the photographs, so magenta foliage you get with a yellow filter becomes red.
Using a red filter on the lens further limits the sensitivity of the film to only the red and the IR spectrum, projecting only green and red respectively. This makes the foliage orange and the skies green/cyan or even yellow. Nice but in my opinion it constricts the chromatic range a bit too much.
The photos shown here have all been taken using the B+W 040 filter on the lens, which on paper at least, is identical to the widely recommended B+W 099 for this purpose. The former is a modern version of the latter, and they work equally well. The ISO rating of Aerochrome is approximately 800, with a Wratten #12 filter this goes down a stop to 400, and with the B+W 040 you should rate it at 200. IR sensitivity will wane pretty quickly with time even if the film is stored in a freezer, so the speed might need to be adjusted accordingly if you plan to use it in say, 2 years’ time, and even then there’s no guarantee that your photos will come out looking the same.
Speaking generally, the future of this type of colour infrared look is closely tied to this film, so the day the last rolls get used up is the day we last see pictures like it. Unless someone can convince Kodak to start making it again or at least licence the technology to a manufacturer that is willing to resurrect it (Lomography?), the only option we’re left with is to try to replicate the look digitally.
For anyone that’s tried to emulate the look of any type of film in Photoshop knows that it’s no easy feat to pull off. Imitating Aerochrome convincingly on the other hand is much harder, because it might involve trickery such as double-takes, channel swapping and quite a bit of post-processing, and even then there’s no fooling the trained eye of an Aerochrome aficionado.
For the end, I’ll leave you with a couple of my best attempts at it, and maybe talk about this digital process in more detail some other time.
Picture taken with a full spectrum camera and post processed to achieve the Kodak EIR look
Close but not the real deal