Every once in a while I pull out a roll of infrared film from my fridge and try it out for kicks.
It’s just as well that I have a few rolls in the fridge, too, as my favorite IR film, the Agfa/Rollei Retro 400S, is going through a spell of unavailabilty and when it does re-emerge it may be considerably more pricey. Such is the way of things with film in these niche product days.
This time I wanted to use the film with a true infrared filter. All of my prior shots have been with a R25 red filter that passes visible red as well as near infrared. The advantage of the R25 is that you can still look through your camera and see something, but inevitably your image is going to be the result of a blend of visible and near-infrared. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing – that particular look can be very pleasing.
Nonetheless, I wanted to collect some photographs using purely near-infrared light. There is something rather sweet about capturing an image based on light you cannot see with your own eye. A window, as it were, into a world denied to us in the normal way of things.
Each of these images from a day of heavy flooding of the Mississippi River at Alton and Chouteau Island was taken using the Hoya R72 infrared filter that blocks all light of wavelengths shorter than 700nm; in other words, all visible light.
Yet what do we see? No strangely transformed landscape. All the objects seem pretty much in their place and shaped much as one sees them with the eye. The intensities are shifted, though. Green leaves glow with reflected near-infrared light. Other objects take on a bleak dark hue. It’s a strange familiar yet slightly unfamiliar look – it’s not hard to see why IR photography appeals to a lot of people.
Taking such pictures is a little more of a challenge. As I wrote above, you cannot look through the viewfinder and see anything, so the filter has to come off while the picture is composed and put back on again to take the shot. A tripod is essential, not only to keep the frame but also for the often quite long exposures needed. Also essential is a light meter as the onboard camera meter is useless. Worse than useless actually, it strives to give you a measure but the measure is about 3 or 4 stops too slow and gives a blown-out image when taken. An image that film is much more tolerant of than digital, fortunately. Focus has to be manual too. Not only does the autofocus fail with so little light coming into the camera, the point of focus is shifted with infrared photography. Fortunately the lens I was using, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L, has a focus adjustment scale for IR photography that I was able to use to compensate for this shift. Shooting stopped down helped as was the fact that I was distance photographing. In every case, the resulting depth of focus was as I wished it to be.
Not something to do every day, but fun for once in a while.