Tuesday, 8 May 2007

How not to shoot Infra red film (Kodak HIE).

One of the things I derive most pleasure from is Infra red film. Specifically, Kodak HIE. Nothing is safe from me and an old Nikon loaded up with this film.

In case you don't know, and care enough to find out, IR film has a few odd characteristics, the most obvious of which is that it turns any foliage white - this is due to the way in which green foliage reflects IR light (I think!). It will also turn the sky black if you have a deep blue sky.

Above, is one of my earliest IR attempts using Konica IR film. The grass and leaves went white but the sky remained resolutely pale. Why? Because I was treating the IR filter as I would a polariser - that is, shooting at 90 degrees to the sun. I now know that all you have to do is look for the darkest part of the sky, and this is where the IR effect will be strongest.

Graveyards make great subjects for IR photography as you get a fair bit of peace and quiet. They also tend to have large expanses of grass and foliage. The graves themselves obviously add some pictorial interest and the grey stonework tones are unaffected.

In the photo above, the sky has almost gone black, but the slight haze and cloud cover meant that I was never going to get a good, rich, black sky.

What you need to shoot Infra Red photos

Surprisingly, not that much in the way of special kit.

I use an old Nikon FM or FM2n, an F90 and until recently, a selection of medium format Bronica cameras. Be aware that some modern cameras may fog yer film

Either a deep red or a full on IR filter

A tripod is a good idea, and a necessity if you're using an opaque IR filter

A shutter release, if you're going down the tripod route

Loadsa money for writing off the films that didn't work.

How to shoot and process Kodak HIE Infra red film

I have developed a method of shooting Kodak HIE which (mostly) works for me. This has cost me daft amounts of cash to develop, so give it a whirl.

Don't let this film see the light of day, at any point in the proceedings. Use a changing bag to load the camera and to load your dev tank. Rate the film at 400 ISO (ASA) for starters and set the apperture to f11. I mostly use a Kood deep red filter now, as you can hand hold the camera and see what you're shooting. Due to the focus difference when using IR film (see later) this size of apperture will give you a bit of lattitude. Whatever the meter tells you at this stage, I find it best to close up at least one stop and then bracket another two, i.e., f11 @125th, f11 @250th, f11 @500th.

When I first started shooting, I frequently got really dense negs, so now I err on the side of caution and underexpose the neg somewhat. The fastest shutter speed of my bracketed set (thinnest neg) almost always seems to print the best.

Once you've set up the scene and are happy with the composition, you need to refocus. There's tons of stuff on the web regarding this, so suffice to say, there's probably a little line, or red dot on the focussing barrel of your lens. Turn the focussing barrel to line up your original point of focus with this mark, and you're ready to shoot. I've been known to guesstimate this without serious consequences.

Once you've shot your HIE, get it into your developing tank ASAP - it doesn't like sitting about in a black metal or plastic camera in the sunshine. Again, use a changing bag and never underestimate the lengths this film will go to in order to fog itself. The stuff is like some kind of mutant infra red lemming.

Get the loading of the spiral done as quickly as you possibly can. I've learnt through very, very bitter experience that even the heat from your hands will fog this film. If you're sweating and cursing with a sticky spiral for more than about ten minutes, you can expect fogged negs.

On a similar note, I find that a cotton changing bag works better than a rubbery / nylon one, as less heat is generated and there is less gooey hand sweat to gunk up the spiral. Use scissors to cut the corners off the end of the roll of film - it'll go on much more easily.

To develop my HIE, I use Agfa Rodinal at a dilution of one to fifty and give it ten and a half minutes, with pretty heavy agitation (15 seconds every minute). Stop and fix in the usual manner.

Voila! Great negs, hopefully.

OK - so we've established that deep blue skies with little, white, puffy clouds are the ideal conditions for shooting IR film. The picture on the left shows that you can get interesting results in less than perfect conditions (am I sounding a little too like Lee Frost here? Feel free to pickle me in speed fix if so....).

This sunken lane (left) was shot in pretty murky conditions, with just a hint of sunlight on the moss and foliage. It had to be a tripod and shutter release cable job as it was f8 @ an eighth of a second.

The gravestones on the right were shot almost directly into the sun which is like, totally not advised, but it has given an interesting backlit effect, with the overhanging branches almost completely bleached out. The print needed a lot of dodging - all the pics shown here are scanned negs and have all been a wee bit prettified in CS2. They're not a patch on a quality fibre based print produced in tray though, should you have such facilities to hand.

Above is another example of HIE exposed under less than perfect conditions. This tree was far too weird not to photograph, set as it was in a primaeval swamp, and with its insect-like branches reaching out to eat the brains of humans......

Anyhoo, it was another case of the sun being in the wrong place at the wrong time - on this occasion, at about 10 O' clock (in the sky, not the actual time). I couldn't help myself and shot away, acheiving this near silhouette of the tree (devourer of human kind) fading into the mysterious forest at the right of the frame. The sky is totally washed out but this, I think, can occasionally be a price worth paying.

If 'n you'd be good enough, ladies and gents, to cast your eyes upwards, you'll see another early effort at IR photography. This one was shot on Maco film (now Rollei to all intents and purposes) using an IR filter and a polariser.

Never again. IR film is already so contrasty that putting a circular polariser in front of the lens is asking for trouble, and I got it in bucket-loads. The contrast was off the scale - all blacks and whites with hardly anything in between. The location is a disused magnesium extraction plant in Hartlepool. I have hundreds of pictures of this fascinating place (now pretty much levelled) on various formats. They form a good record of its slow, inexorable decline and I shall post some more shortly.


r_runa07 said...

Phenomenal pics.Great job.

Jamie said...

Thanks! I've actually just Googled myself as I'm about to dev my first roll of HIE for about a year and a half, and couldn't remember how long to dev it for *blushes*