Visible Spectrum and Beyond

One of the most popular HCP workshops to date was a meeting at which members tried their hands at infrared photography. Here the two organizers of the event describe their responses to the material, and we show some of their work.

Infrared photos that don't scream "infrared" are the ones I find most interesting. Stark white foliage, puffy white clouds, and black skies are too obvious. Critics of IR often suggest it's used as a gimmick to substitute for a lack of artistic vision.

I appreciate black and white IR for its ability to see beyond the visible spectrum — it gives me a chance to explore a new dimension of the light spectrum. Once you've gotten a few camouflage detection shots out of your system you can begin to explore the more subtle opportunities this
film offers.

Black and white infrared film is sensitive to the visible light spectrum plus the range from 700 to over 900 nanometers. Foliage and clouds reflect a lot of IR, hence they're white. Metal and plastic do too, some so strongly the film will produce haloes around these objects.

Most modern lenses have an IR focus mark. Especially for closeups and anything but small F stops (16, 22), focus the lens, then shift the distance to the IR mark (usually a red slash).

Kodak markets IR primarily in the 35mm format, four by five and 70mm aerographic 2424 is available. Both of these latter films offer exciting potential. The four by five format would be the easiest to adapt to pictorial use though the convenience of 70mm film hand-loaded into cassettes (it comes in 150 foot rolls with 45 to 90 exposures) is tempting. The fact that 70mm backs, and the cameras to use them, are expensive is the easy part. Try to get a 15 ft. roll of IR developed. Even doing it yourself is tough because tanks with reels are scarce and expensive. I managed to buy a 100 foot reel. It's 17 inches in diameter and the tanks (which leak) required three and a half gallons of chemical.

Sakura has produced a slower emulsion 120 IR, but to date it's not been available in the US. Recent attempts to obtain this film from Japan have also failed. Anyone going that way?

Sensitivity to infrared light makes handling these films difficult. They need to be kept cool. Freeze for storage (55 degrees is suggested as a maximum). Higher temperatures for brief periods are often necessary, but don't ignore this precaution entirely, or you'll have some heat-fogged negatives to match mine. I usually carry film in an ice chest with several refreezable cans.

Kodak recommends that their 35mm high speed IR cassettes be loaded into the camera in total darkness. This means carrying a changing bag or looking for darkrooms to change film in. Similar caution should be exercised with 70mm or four by five. I don't think I can load my 70mm back in the dark, but dim light is sufficient. Four by Five holders are carried in X-ray bags until just before use in the camera.

These films are generally used with a filter to narrow exposure to the IR portion of the spectrum. No filter will give a less dramatic infrared effect than the normally recommended red (25) filter. Dark reds like 89B. Available as a gel, will limit the range of sensitivity almost solely to the infrared portion of the spectrum. Yellow, green, orange filters, etc. will also have some effect.

Suggested film speed with a red filter is 100. Light meters, though, don't register IR so use this recommendation and rely on the modified zone system (bracketing one to two stops over and under guesstimated exposure).

Several film developers are recommended for IR film and many others wait to be tried. Kodak suggests D76, HC110, dilution B, and D19. D76 produces the longest tonal range and seems easiest to use. Recently I've been using HC110 and I like its snappy contrast; there's also less latitude. D19 is capable of even more contrast.

My first negatives with HC110 turned out quite dense. Printing them anyway, I produced some very grainy but interesting prints. Infrared is undeniably inconsistent, but perhaps this too, is part of its appeal for me since my work is consistently inconsistent.

Color IR has been more difficult for me to accept. It is even more obvious — red trees, green skies. It's like being on bad drugs (or so 1 would imagine). False colors 1 can live with, but personally I prefer a more monochromatic rendering — perhaps a nude study with a burgandyish background. Some possible color IR results are: no filter — overall blue to magenta; yellow filter — magenta foliage and blue skies; red filter — similar but more yellow in highlights; deep green — purple foliage.

By Bill Adams

The infrared workshop was a great opportunity to clarify on a personal level some ideas concerning the aesthetic application of infrared film to my work. It is taken to rather quickly and devotedly by the newcomer because of its magical, surreal visual translations — the unique, dreamlike qualities are highly seductive. But after working with it almost exclusively for ten years, the fascination holds.

I find my reasons to be somewhat different now, however, and often elusive. Essentially, my concerns are these: the film records in a manner that the unaided eye simply cannot perceive — thus enters the clement of surprise. Secondly, it is technically difficult to control, which affords the clement of chance I find so imperative. It is this technical instability which prompts in me a disregard for the traditional applications, and in fact inspires a general technical abuse of the film. It is, under certain conditions, very non-photographic, printerly.

I am drawn to a sense of atmospheric awareness as well. For example, because of the nature of infrared reflection, one begins to imagine the individual water drops that form clouds. That which we see as whole breaks up into lesser parts — unity as ion. I he visual appeal is extended into the sensual, as one begins almost to feel the heat, halation, radiant on a red hot Texas day. The way the film "sees" has allowed me to explore fantasy in my work, because although it is accurate, it simply doesn't record a visual truth that one is used to interpreting or even seeing as real.

By April Rapier