Experimenting with Kodak Aerochrome Color Infrared Film
By Alexandra Shapiro – See her Flickr Here.
Around five years ago I became interested in digital infrared, or IR, photography. It is a very unique and interesting way of capturing somewhat surreal images. One can achieve a variety of different effects, whether in “faux color” or black and white. Since then, I have continued to pursue that interest, using a variety of cameras specially converted for that purpose. I’ve previously written a couple of posts about digital IR for Steve’s website, which you can check out here and here.
More recently, I decided to try my hand at infrared film photography, using a special type of color IR film that Kodak used to make, which is called Aerochrome film. It was discontinued in 2011. This film can be hard to find, and it has gotten pretty expensive, but the Film Photography Project sells 35mm rolls, and occasionally one can find 120 rolls on ebay.
As you can see from the photos below, with Aerochrome film you can achieve a very unique look if you shoot under the right conditions and with the right filter. That look is typified by the blue skies with vibrant reddish foliage. Generally speaking, shooting in bright daylight will achieve the best results. (For IR shooting in general, whether digital or film, the best effects are usually produced when shooting in bright sunlight.)
The film, which is rated at ISO 400, is a bit tricky to use. It’s a good idea to experiment a bit to get the right settings and use filters that provide the effect you like best. I would recommend, at least for your first roll or two, bracketing and trying different filters and recording what settings and filter you have used. Then when your roll is developed you can see which settings produced the effects you liked best, and keep that in mind for the next roll.
To get the most interesting look, most photographers use a yellow, orange or red color filter. I have tried three different color filters: Yellow #12, Orange #16, and a filter Hoya calls Orange Y3 which I believe is equivalent to Orange #21. I like the look of the Orange Y3 or the Yellow 12 the best; the Orange Y3 seemed to produce the most “pop” for my taste, with the Yellow 12 slightly more subdued. Some people use a red filter, but based on samples I have seen on the internet that look was less appealing to me.
A couple of other notes for those interested in trying this film. First, the 35mm rolls should be loaded in near-complete darkness if possible. Second, not many darkrooms understand how to process this film. To ensure the best results, make sure your lab uses E-6 processing. I would recommend using thedarkroom.com, as they know how to process this unique film and do a great job.
Below you can see some examples of landscapes that I shot with Kodak Aerochrome, using either a Leica M3 or a Hasselblad 50 C/M camera. (The Hasselblad shots are not square because it is hard to find true 120 rolls of Aerochrome, but I had located a dealer who hand-rolled it in a rectangular format that could be loaded into an A12 back. This was not optimal for various reasons, not the least of which was that it was hard to know exactly what was in the frame until after the film was developed.)
I shot two of these photos in the Palouse region in Washington/Idaho and the remainer in the area surrounding Austerlitz, New York. Most were exposed at F16 and either 1/125 or 1/250. Two (the Palouse shots) were taken with a Yellow 12 filter, and most of the rest were taken with the Hoya Orange Y3. The two different shots of the barn with the silo demonstrate the differences between the effects produced by two filters: the Orange #16 and the Hoya Y3. They were shot at the same time, both at F16 and 1/125 for the exposure time. The one with the brighter blue sky and purplish-red foliage was taken with the Orange 16, the one with the more subdued sky with the Hoya Y3.
Just for fun at the end of the series I included a few digital IR shots processed to try to emulate the Aerochrome film look. (The two with the lens ball and one with one of the barns that appears in a film shot as well.) Although the digital emulation creates its own unique look that also appeals to me, I think the film look really can’t be replicated and has its own unique signature.