More than black and white

Someone recently gave me a roll of interesting film, Kodak HIE High Speed Infrared.  This is something I’ve wanted to play with for a bit but I thought it would be in the digital world.  Infrared film is finicky stuff but the results can be very intriguing.  This roll was well over seven years old but it had been kept in its canister unopened and I took care to handle it according to instructions – load the camera in complete darkness, use a red filter, offset the focus a bit to account for the longer wavelength, and over expose just a bit.  I loaded it in my OM-1, put on the 35-75mm lens with a Kodak 29 red filter and went out on a nicely bright day with some clouds in the sky.

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Baraboo, WI – ISO 50, 1/30 sec., f/11

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Merton, WI – ISO 50, 1/30 sec., f/11

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Lisbon, WI – ISO 50, 1/30th sec., f/11

The film certainly shows its age with fogging in the dark areas and general loss of contrast.  Out of a roll of 36 I got about 12 good shots.  Still, not bad for a roll of this age and a photographer with no experience in this medium.

Contrary to popular belief, infrared film doesn’t ‘see’ heat.  It is sensitive to infrared radiation reflected by objects; that’s why a bright, overhead sun is the best light source.  The water drops and foliage are great infrared reflectors, which is why clouds, grass and leaves show up so bright in the images.  They are reflecting the most light at this wavelength.  The sky, on the other hand, is not reflecting much infrared because it is absorbing it.  Thus the sky looks dark.  Other objects reflect or absorb depending on their surface.  Which makes this type of photography fun – you don’t exactly know what you are going to see in the image.

So, this initial experiment has gotten me enthused about continuing infrared.  I’m pleased at the sharpness of focus (remember, I was pretty much guessing) and the general ‘correctness’ of exposure (benefit of having a good light meter).  This really stretches you to see in a different way, though.  Not only do you have to see tones instead of color, but in many cases the tones are reversed from what traditional B&W photographers use to compose.

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