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Process 111 ☼ Shooting Rare Infrared Film (Weird! Spooky!)
Spooky landscapes on 35mm with the Pentax LX
This week's letter is about my experience shooting a roll of expired infrared film in the forest and waterfront of Amsterdam. This is a very hard-to-find film and I love it.
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Amsterdam’s FCC account featured some of my most recent Hasselblad images as part of their ongoing series In The Picture about the city center of Amsterdam.
I found myself in the heart of a serene little waterfront in a forest south of Amsterdam, a secluded little haven where the world felt hushed and time seemed to slow. Armed with my trusty Pentax LX and a 24mm lens, I was here for a little photographic adventure into the realm of infrared photography.
Infrared Film: Unveiling the Veil of Reality
Before I share my experience, let's take a step back and talk about the nature of infrared stocks. Imagine a film that can capture a reality unseen by the naked eye, where green foliage turns into pure white magic, skies darken to coal black, and warm skin tones become as pale as moonlight. This is the power of infrared film, a medium designed to reveal the hidden spectrum of light.
Created for scientific and specialized applications, infrared film was originally developed in the early 1900s and was mostly used in aerial photography, in particular vegetation and forestry surveys. But it wasn't long before photographers recognized its artistic potential. It allowed us to paint with light in entirely new ways, creating surreal landscapes and dreamlike portraits.
Infrared vs. Black and White
On that tranquil day in the Amsterdam forest, I embarked on a visual experiment, shooting one roll of Konica Infrared 750nm ISO 32 film that had expired back in the year 2000. At the same time, I loaded up a roll of bulk-rolled Double X film, a cinema stock turned still film, gifted with its unique charm. The Pentax LX, my trusted companion, was ready to capture the dance of light and shadow that awaited me.
A Quiet Oasis: Nature's Canvas for Infrared
The forest was alive with shades of green, a paradise of foliage and tranquility. With the infrared film and an infrared-passing filter, I was about to embark on a voyage of discovery. It wouldn’t be until I would get my scans back that I would truly get to see what I was capturing and the infrared-passing filter made it difficult to even see the world as it was. It’s a very dark filter which made focusing and framing the image quite challenging.
Once I got the scans back I saw that the lush greens turned to stark whites, and the blue sky darkened into an inky abyss. It was as if the forest had whispered its secrets to my lens. Notice the gentleman appearing at the end of the path.
Infrared photography, with its ability to penetrate the veil of reality, bathed the forest in an otherworldly glow. Each leaf, each blade of grass, seemed to radiate its inner light, casting enchanting spells on the landscape. The contrast between the stark whites and deep blacks was a visual symphony that drew me deeper into this magical world.
Two Lovely Spirits: A Chance Encounter
As I ventured deeper into the forest, I stumbled upon two lovely elderly ladies. They had sought solace from the summer's heat in a quiet wild swimming spot. Their laughter and stories echoed through the trees, adding a touch of human warmth to the enchanting atmosphere. Witnesses their playful interaction with the vast body of water, I felt a profound connection between the natural world and the human spirit.
I couldn't resist capturing their presence in this enchanting setting. With the infrared film, their skin took on a luminous quality, their laughter frozen in time as if it were a precious artifact of the moment. It was a testament to the unique storytelling power of infrared photography, a way to transform simple scenes into timeless narratives.
Infrared's Unique Allure
The allure of infrared photography lies in its ability to reveal a hidden layer of reality. While black-and-white film captures the world as we perceive it, infrared film transports us to a parallel universe where the familiar becomes dreamlike and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
When I compare the results of the infrared film to the black-and-white negative film, the difference is striking. The Double X film, known for its classic cinematic look, rendered the forest in shades of gray, capturing the essence of the scene faithfully. It's a reliable choice for capturing the world as we see it, with all its nuances of light and shadow. See below, a Double X shot of the parked bicycles of our two swimmers.
In contrast, the infrared film added a layer of magic to the same landscape. It transformed the greens into a dazzling, almost surreal white, giving the scene an otherworldly quality. The dark skies and waters lent an eerie, almost gothic atmosphere to the forest. It was as if I had stepped into a forgotten fairy tale, where the rules of reality no longer applied. See below for an infrared shot of the same scene.
Hard To Find
Even though it was invented by and for scientists, in 2023 infrared photography is a medium that attracts curious dreamers and artists. It offers an analog way of documenting a whimsical and magical interpretation of our world. But, the sad truth is that it's becoming increasingly rare. No one has produced new infrared film in years, and if you can even find old stock it’s prohibitively expensive.
But perhaps that's what makes it all the more precious. In a world saturated with digital images, infrared photography reminds us of the beauty of the analog, of the patience it takes to capture a moment that reveals itself only to those willing to listen.
My infra-red adventure in the Amsterdam forest was both meditative and exciting, a reminder that photography is not just about capturing reality but about bending it to our creative will. Infrared photography shows us that the world is filled with hidden mysteries waiting to be unveiled.
So, fellow photographers and dreamers, as we travel through the landscapes of creativity, let us remember that every roll of film, every click of the shutter, is an opportunity to explore and redefine our visual language. In the hushed serenity of nature, I found yet another way of seeing, and I invite you to do the same.
That’s it for this week! If you enjoyed this issue I’d love for you to share it with friends.
Next Week: How to successfully pitch a newspaper photo editor! Also, the return of the Process Giveaway! Subscribe if you’re new here, it’ll be a good one!
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others. <3
If you'd like to support my writing at Process, please consider buying my photo book NOTICE. It’s a book of meditative still-life work shot in Vancouver, limited edition, hard-cover, linen bound, and I’m tremendously proud of it.
Gear & Tools Used
Camera: All analog images included in this issue of Process were shot on the Pentax LX with an SMC Pentax 24mm F2.8 lens.
Film: Konica Infrared 750nm ISO 32 and bulk-rolled Double X.
Lab: All my analog work is developed and scanned by my friends at Carmencita Film Lab. They’re my favorite lab in the world. Use code “PROCESS” to get a free upgrade.
Portfolio Site: Big shout out to Squarespace for helping make this issue of Process possible. If you need a website, I can’t recommend using Squarespace more. I have been a paying customer for more than 10 years (!!?) and it’s been so easy to build and maintain a beautiful and professional portfolio. I even added a webshop to it recently.
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