I always wanted to try infrared photography. It seemed so mysterious. The film was expensive and hard to get, you had to keep it refrigerated, you had to load it into your camera in the dark, you needed to know how to adjust for the way your lens focused infrared light, you needed special filters to expose it, you had to process it right away, and the results were unpredictable. In a way, I guess that’s what makes it so appealing.
Ilford and Rollei are the only two manufacturers that still make infrared film, and only in black and white. Also, these are more like regular black-and-white films with increased infrared sensitivity. They aren’t as sensitive as earlier films, nor do they cover as much of the infrared end of the spectrum. But it does mean that they are easier to handle and care for, and also behave like regular films when used without a special filter to block visible light. Of the two, Rollei goes a little deeper into the infrared spectrum, and is a very fine grained film, so that’s the one I thought I’d try.
I ordered a few 120 rolls online and set about spending a day of experimentation. The manufacturer recommends making the first exposure, metered correctly, without any filters, to establish a baseline for comparing the developed images. I wandered off with a camera and tripod to a local park on a bright springtime Saturday morning just as the lilacs were coming into bloom.
As expected, that first shot is pretty lackluster. It’s a good illustration of why every black-and-white photograph benefits from having a coloured filter over the lens. You’d never guess that the trees in the middle are bright with blossoms. With a specialized filter in place to block almost all visible light, the next photograph exposed for infrared wavelengths.
The blossoms and clouds really stand out in this photograph, as do the grasses. I was surprised by the vignetting, caused by the filter. I’ll try experimenting with different lenses and different cameras to see how that might change. Even so, I think the vignetting adds a somewhat vintage look to the photograph.
I spent a little more time wandering about the city to try some different vantage points.
Since this was an experiment, involving a lot of bracketed exposures, it didn’t take long to use up the 15 frames available to me. In the end, I found that my first shot from each group, based on incident light readings, gave me the result I liked best in each case.
These days, you can get your digital camera modified to shoot infrared, in colour. Still, I think it’s more fun and more challenging to work with this infrared film.