Following the principles of Lomography, we do not always seek to respect the rules of composition or those taught to us in photography schools. On the contrary, be fast, don't think, shoot, get close to the subject. However, when it comes to infrared photography, we cannot go with the flow. We have to consider thoroughly what kind of film we have and, above all, think about how we are going to capture the object we have in mind.
In this article, our dear community member @manu2021 explains how to make the most of black and white infrared analogue photography.
Currently, the most popular B&W films for infrared are the Ilford SFX 200 and the Rollei Infrared 400 S. The numbers in the names indicate the ISO type of the film. The Rollei Superpan 200, based on Agfa's discontinued Aviphot Pan 200, may also work.
As for the aperture, the ideal is to work with apertures from 5.4 to 11. In fact, since we will have to correct the focusing error as I explain below, the more closed the aperture, the better definition we will have in the image. However, we will have to increase the exposure time and, therefore, if it is windy or breezy, plants will look blurred. Here we can consider whether we want this movement to give dynamism to the image or, on the contrary, to keep everything still. This depends on our taste or on the sensation we want to provoke in the viewer.
In addition, what we must keep in mind is that this type of photography captures a light spectrum that is not visible to the human eye. This is very important since what we are going to capture is this wave and, therefore, we must aim and focus on the light.
Notice that this last thing I just said is totally the opposite of what our colleague @eparrino tells us in her article of July, 2022: "in analogue photography you should always expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights."
It is very important that you take a notebook with you in which you will write down all the essential information for each of your images: the frame number, the aperture, the exposure time, the time it was taken and other information to take into account such as the position of the sun, if it was windy or not, the conditions of the place... In other words, all those variables that help us to evaluate the image once we have it scanned into the computer.
One recommendation is that it is good to take two or three images of the same frame at different speeds and apertures. In the future, this will allow us to be much safer and not waste film.
Since this is a kind of photography that requires long exposure, we need a tripod and an analogue camera in manual mode.
Without these two elements that we see in images 2 and 3, we will not take good infrared photos. As for the filter, there are many brands. Personally, I like Hoya a lot. I used them a lot in my digital photography days and now, in analogue, I am still loyal to this brand. In any case, the important thing is that they can capture infrared light waves.
That is, technically, that they are able to capture the light spectrum from 750 nm (nanometers). In image 4 we see the spectrum that our eyes are able to capture. In the case of the filter I use, the spectrum it catches ranges from 760 nm to 880 nm, as indicated by Hoya on the box containing the filter.
From my point of view, it is not worth buying an infrared B&W film and not having the filter. Without the filter, all we get are high contrasts like a Washi film, or the Fantôme Kino.
As for our lens, it must have the little red line in order to correct the focusing error that occurs in this technique. You can see it circled in blue in image 3. This has to do with the refraction of light through the prisms - and the lens is just a prism. The wavelength of infrared light is different from the other wavelengths that our eyes can see and that the lens, depending on the prism, can catch.
By the way, if you want to have some fun and investigate further, you can hold the remote control of your TV with a key pressed in the direction of the TV and take a picture with the filter on. You will see the infrared light beam!
Go For It!
For best results, the most striking infrared photography is done on days when the sun is brightest. There may be some clouds, it will add a more ghostly and dramatic touch to the scene. However, if there are too many clouds and the sun tends to hide often, it is not a good day.
The first thing to do is to look for the scenery. To my way of understanding this type of photography, and seen from the internet, the best B&W infrared photos are the ones that contain four almost essential elements or, at least, the combination of three of them:
1. Water: a river, a lake, the sea.
2. Sky: the bluer the better. We will get black with a gray gradient as we go towards the horizon.
3. Green vegetation: trees, grass. The lighter the green, the better.
4. Stone: if, in addition to the two previous ones, we can have a building, bridge or any stone construction, we have the perfect set.
Once we have our camera well attached to the tripod and without the filter on, we frame the image. At this point, the lens does not have the filter assembled! With the filter on, we won't see anything!
As I said at the beginning, let's look for the place where there is the most light. Remember that we must have the sun at our back or, if it is summer, perpendicular to our back. In front of us, let's imagine that we have a lake and, on one side, a tree with green leaves. Personally, I am more interested in the tree than in the lake. I will put the spotlight on the part of the tree's leaves that receives the most light.
Now, let's say that this area of light is, according to the lens, 10 meters away. We mount the filter on the lens, now we can't see anything. Next, we put the number 10 aligned with the little red line of our lens, as we can see in image 3. Now the camera understands that what I mainly want is the infrared light wave.
Let's remember the other important element in our composition, the lake. Even if it is not windy, the water is in constant movement. We also want to give a silky touch to our lake. Let's set the aperture to 11 or even, if you want, you can set it to 8 or 5.6. Since we will have to lengthen the exposure time, the silk effect on the water is assured. On the contrary, or in case it is windy and we want to have an image with little movement, it is best to close the diaphragm to 16 or 22.
In spite of all that has been said, if you can work with apertures of 16 or 22, you will get very well focused images with a great depth of field. In my case, and since I live in an area where it is always windy, many times I am forced to close the aperture.
Playing With Shutter Speeds
As far as creativity is concerned, the best thing to do is to test and see what comes closest to our taste. In any case, it is worth starting by respecting the golden rule of IR photography: lower 5 stops, in this case, those of the shutter speeds.
Let's think of an example. We already have the focus point in an area of light. The exposure meter of the camera in automatic mode, or the handheld exposure meter, tells us that for a film of 400 ISO, and an aperture of 16, the shutter speed is 250. We put the filter, correct the focusing error by aligning it with the red line and put the camera in manual mode. If we look at image 8, five stops less gives us ⅛ . Therefore, our shutter will have to be open for one eighth of a second if we want to capture the infrared wave. Surely, if we had set the aperture to 22, the shutter speed of the exposure meter would be 125.
Once we have mastered this rule, we can play with the exposure compensation, the EV, taking into account that each third lets in more or less light. That is, if we have an aperture of 16 and it gives us a speed of, for example, 350, when we lower it by 5 stops we don't know whether to set it to 1/15 or ⅛. That's where we can play with the EV. If we leave it at 1/15 we can set the EV to +⅓. Conversely, if we set the shutter speed to ⅛, we can set the EV to -⅓.
In any case, the most important thing is to master the 5 steps or stops of the shutter speed. The light compensation, the EV, can be ignored.
There is another way to lower the 5 stops that will not give us so many headaches. Set a slower ISO. So, if we buy a 400 ISO film, we expose it as if it were a 6 ISO film, while if we use a 200 ISO film, we expose it at 3. Set the filter and shoot.
Last but not least: #staybrokeshootfilm
Imagine it and go for it. If you are from the "Stay Broke Shoot Film" tribe you already know that money is always going towards film, cameras, and accessories. IR photography is just another technique that can give very surprising results if we use our intuition and other methods to capture images.
For now I have two albums. The first was made using my intuition and testing. I'll be honest, out of 15 frames I could only use 3. Even so, to try to give the silk effect to the water it takes at least three seconds. Let's see if one day I will be able to do it. It is the album Out of a dream.
The second album is When the day shines with the stars and from which I have taken the images of this article. In this one, I followed the 5 stops rule.