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Color Infrared Photography
by Chuck McKern

In Understanding & Using Black & White Infrared Film I covered the quirks and characteristics of shooting with black & white infrared film. 

With the basics out of the way lets take a look at what we can do with color infrared film. If you haven't read the article on black and white infrared in issue #29 you'll want to click on the link above and read it first.

Color infrared film is not as popular as black and white for pictorial use, but it does have its place. Color infrared film is sometimes referred to as false color. This is because this film is designed to differentiate between colors rather than reproduce them accurately.

Kodak is the primary manufacturer of color infrared film. As a matter of fact, they make three films. One type is made for the movie industry. It is the same emulsion as the film you would buy at your high-end camera store, but it in bulk lengths and modified to work in motion picture cameras. This film mostly used for special effects. Another variety is designed for aerial photography and is available in two versions. Then there is Ektachrome Infrared. This is the film most commonly used by photographers and is the film that we'll concentrate on in this article.

Kodak Ektachrome Professional Infrared EIR Film is a fine grain film that can be developed in Process E-6 or AR-5. The AR-5 process produces a more accurate infrared rendition while the E-6 process produces more color saturation and higher contrast. The sensitivity range spans 380 to 900 nanometers (near ultraviolet to infrared). Because this film's sensitivity extends to the infrared spectrum, you want to follow the same precautions as with the Kodak High-Speed Infrared for loading and unloading. In other words, complete darkness. Also follow the same precautions in selecting or preparing the camera you are going to use. See the black and white infrared article in the last issue for more detailed information on how to do this.

Light spectrum chart courtesy of "The Art of Color Infrared Photography" 
by Steven H. Begleiter

You can refrigerate EIR for up to a month, longer than that and it's best to freeze it. You'll want to make sure to let it warm up to room temperature before opening the package. One hour will do it for refrigerated film. Allow two hours for frozen film.

When choosing an E-6 lab be sure to pick a lab that does processing on site. I find it best to talk to the people who will process the film and explain its light sensitivity to them beforehand. They will need to turn off any infrared sensors in the processor and their infrared goggles will be off limits for the lab folks loading the machine. When talking to a "counter person" you have to worry whether they will properly relay the information to the lab. If you want to use the AR-5 process you'll have to send it away. I know of only two labs in the United States that offer this process (they're listed at the end of the article).

Film speed settings for EIR will vary depending on your light source and if you'll be developing in E-6 or AR-5. See the chart below. This film is a typical slide film. By that I mean that the exposure latitude is very narrow, +/- a stop. So be sure to bracket.

The recommended filter for use with this film is a deep yellow. When using this filter and a daylight light source, the recommended ISO for E-6 process is 200, and for Process AR-5 use ISO 100. Orange filters will also work well with EIR. A polarizing filter can be used to help darken blue skies. Just be careful stacking glass filters with wide angle lenses as this may cause vignetting. You may want to limit filter stacking to longer focal length lenses to avoid this problem.

With this film, green foliage that is alive and healthy will appear red in your photos. Adding color-compensating filters can help you control color shifts to get close to a desired look. See the chart below.

Color Balance Shift

From to More

Compensating Filter

Green Magenta Cyan
Yellow Blue Cyan
Cyan Red Blue
Blue Yellow Magenta

One advantage of this film over the black & white IR films is no focus adjustment is needed. You can focus visually or use autofocus with no problem.

A Unique Look 
Images produced with color infrared film have a unique look that can be used to create dramatic images. Once you understand how the film interprets colors and how you can control it with color filters you can make it work for you creatively. It's not likely you'll use this film all the time, but it could well become one that you come back when you're looking for something a little different.

Kodak Ektachrome Infrared 
with green filter

Kodak Ektachrome Infrared 
with red filter

Kodak Ektachrome Infrared 
with yellow filter

Maco IR 820C with #87 
opaque filter

Fuji Provia 100F 
no filter
Fuji Provia 100F 
with yellow filter

Labs Offering Process AR-5
HAS Images, Inc. 
136 North St. Clair Street 
Dayton, Ohio 45402 
(937) 222-3856
Precision Photo Lab 
5758 North Webster Street 
PO Box 14595 
Dayton, Ohio 45414

Related Links

Understanding & Using Black & White Infrared Film

KODAK EKTACHROME Professional Infrared EIR Film Processing & Handling Instructions

KODAK EKTACHROME Professional Infrared EIR Film Tech Pub

Creating Digital Infrared Images in Photoshop

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