How-to: convert a toy camera to shoot BW infrared film – by Lucy Wainwright
Ok, so as photography how-to’s go, this one is as simple as they come. There are four things that you absolutely need in order to convert your disposable camera to shoot black and white infrared film…and one thing that will be helpful.
This is going to be a quick guide, so if you’re set, let’s go…
Required bits and pieces
- A Superheadz UWS, Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim, or something very much like them (I’ve done this with a Holga too).
- Some strong but thin tape, like electrician’s tape.
- A proper R72 IR filter (mine’s a Zomei and it’s perfectly good).
- A roll of IR film (obviously!) I use Rollei’s very good Infrared 400 film.
The one helpful thing to have is a dedicated light meter or lightmeter app. I do it by eye on the whole, and just go for it on days that are kind of “WOW! It’s really sunny!”
The filter reduces the ISO by around 5 stops, which gives you a functional ISO of 12.5 on the ISO 400 Rollei Infrared. This is very shootable handheld, even in here the UK. I’ve shot ISO 1 film handheld at the beach so this is a doddle, believe me.
Step 1: the “build”
Tape your filter to the plucky little Superheadz/Vivitar/Holga/camera without covering too much of the glass, and without covering up the viewfinder or wind-on wheel or anything else essential like that.
Step 2: Load
Load your film. You are ready.
That was it.
There is no step 3.
I had my taped-up UWS in my big bag for a year. It went to Anglesey and the Inner Hebrides and all round Derbyshire and Cheshire, I took it out and shot a few frames any day that was a WOW day.
If you are going to meter you need to know that the UWS, or Fatso, as she is also known, has a shutter speed of 1/125 with an aperture of f/11. If you set the ISO on your light meter to 10 or 12 and make sure that the f/11 and 1/125 are reasonably aligned one way or the other, then you will get a usable shot. If your light meter suggests that your shot will be a radical overexposure you can always hold a neutral density filter over the lens. There are flat Cokin-type ones that are handy for this.
Click or tap on the thumbnails below to view the photos full-size.
I like the UWS because everything is fixed, including focus, leaving you nothing to do but love your life and frame your shot.
Shots that didn’t work on my roll didn’t work because they were boring or underexposed, but there weren’t too many of them because IR is thrillingly dark and contrasty! And because you can mostly rescue underexposure in post, if you are really keen on it. You can shoot tons of Rollei because it’s pretty cheap, and you’ll save more if you develop it yourself.
One thing to note if you are new to IR is that however tempting the backlight is, it isn’t optimal for IR photography. Direct front light works best. Having said that, it’s sometimes worth a try:
Most people shoot at around midday, and a few hours either side, when the amount of IR in visible light is at its highest. Interestingly, at dawn and dusk the amount of IR is lower but as a proportion of the total available light, IR is very high. So don’t rule out shooting at 6am and 8pm, because you might be surprised.
I’d love to see your results! The most amazing thing about the film community for me is just what a strong, tight and KIND community it is. All the advice and encouragement you need, and it will even send you a Christmas present! [EMULSIVE Secret Santa!]
EDIT: Thanks to Michael Raso for the advice/nudge on the updated title!
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