Shooting infrared – a tripodless journey
Shooting infrared – a tripodless journey

Shooting infrared – a tripodless journey

Overconfidence of a lazy person or “nah, I don’t need a tripod, how hard can shooting the same frame twice even be?”, a cautionary tale.

There is something magical in shooting b/w film. You see color, but you have to vision what the frame will or would look like without it. And that is something that you, the analog photographer, have to learn by simply trying over and over again (or simplify your life by shooting b/w digital, but where’s the fun in not needlessly complicating everything?). There were many times where a photo would look stunning in my mind’s eye, only for me to realize later that the only thing I shot was a sea of gray (sometimes literally) without any texture or character. And shooting infrared is a whole other level of visioning because you can’t see anything (or very little). That is of course the point of the infrared filter – letting only the infrared light in, and blocking everything else. Hence the need for the tripod. Framing the photo before putting on the filter, and after that it’s all fun and games. The camera is not moving, the frame is set, you just need to put on the filter and push a button. The tripod is especially important if you, like me, want to shoot the same frame with and without the infrared filter to be able to compare regular and infrared photo. And with that in mind, let’s not do that. Let us freestyle the whole thing. Let us be free, and be wrong. But firstly, a little bit about the camera, the film and the infrared filter themselves. But not the tripod because I did not use it.

The camera: My old and faithful partner Olympus OM10 with Olympus Zuiko 50mm f8 lens. A camera slightly older than I am, but much more reliable and sturdy.

The film: Rollei Infrared is a “highly sensitive, hyper-panchromatically sensitized black-and-white film with a nominal sensitivity of ISO 200/24° to 400/27°“, in a sleek black packaging and canister with grey and pink letters. It includes sizes of 35mm, 120 roll film, 35mm bulk ware, and 4×5” sheet. I used a 35mm version.

The filter: Hoya RM90 49mm infrared filter, with 2.5mm thickness. And after those initial information, things get a bit too technical for this liberal arts major, but the gist of it is that RM90 filters all light bellow ~900nm, as it is shown in this helpful1 graph.

The tripod: probably chilling at the beach 🌴🏖ī¸

The whole process of shooting was fairly simple, as it does not require any special skills or technical knowledge – and I can say that with confidence because I do not possess any of that and the pictures still managed to turn out quite good (that is of course open to interpretation, but I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, as practice is everything and I’m not Ansel Adams). What it does require is a steady hand, or, you know, the tripod. The other stumbling block is focus. You have to focus by hand, and that can be kinda difficult when the filter is on and the only thing you see is vast blackness. The advice I got was “focus while the filter is off, and then adjust the focus ever so slightly after you put on the filter”. A great and succinct advice, wouldn’t you say? I would, if I didn’t have the experience of doing just that and the focus on infrared photos still wasn’t right. It was ok, but not perfect. I still don’t know how to solve that part (with a tripod, maybe?), but that’s a problem I’ll grapple with next time. For now, let’s just say the focusing is something you should be aware of while shooting infrared.

The other problem I had isn’t so universal, and maybe I was just having a bad day, but the loading the film onto a development reel was a nightmare, like some sort of twisted medieval torture designed specifically for me. It was twisting, it was turning, it was slipping out of the reel, it was cackling maniacally at the sight of my struggle. I managed to do it after a few years (or half an hour) of painful trip down the memory lane of every little thing in my life I handled wrongly, with this somehow being the worst.

Without further ado, let’s embark on a journey of photography FAFO.

basically the only shots that resulted in almost identical frames,
as I put the camera onto the balustrade, which acted as…well, a tripod.
as you can probably guess, no balustrade here
this one could be worse, as you’ll clearly see in a few moments
this is by far my favorite of the bunch, but the difference in framing is keeping me up at night
there are no words in elvish, entish or the tongues of men to describe what the hell I did here,
and this one isn’t even the worst offender
this one is
I would like to go back in time just to ask myself how. just…”how??”
you can guess that camera was resting on a table here, right?

The insane differences in frames aside, I’d say that the overall experience of shooting infrared was a positive one. The results could have been better, of course, but that can be said about everything and everyone. There’s always room for improvement, especially for a semi-beginner like me. I’m well aware of my faults and the main one is–impatience. Which can be quite a big problem in photography (and in every other aspect of life), but that’s something I’m working on, and it might not look like it, but this pictures are a big improvement from before. All in all, infrared is wonderful and magical, shooting with it is not complicated nor difficult, but it does require patience. And a tripod.

  1. Helpful to someone who knows anything above the bare minimum about infrared light. So, not me. ↩ī¸Ž