I spent a year preparing to shoot a roll of portraits on Kodak AEROCHROME III Infrared 1443, the false-color infrared-sensitive film manufactured by Kodak for aerial reconnaissance and scientific purposes in one shape or form between the early 1940s and 2010. There are some informative articles on the web about the film and how to shoot it correctly, including this interview here on EMULSIVE with Mr AEROCHROME himself, Dean Bennici. As a result, everyone can find the complete specs of modern AEROCHROME film. In this article, I am going to explain my planning/process for shooting portraits on AEROCHROME, which I hope will be the subject of your interest.
By the time I discovered this Kodak film I’d already tried most of the currently available photographic films on the market. Those I hadn’t simply didn’t offer something essentially new to me. In other words, I got bored and wanted to try something new in analog color photography.
Stock color films, negative or slide, have a broadly “normal” color rendition; therefore, the output is quite predictable. The differences in color rendition between emulsions are only seen under certain nuances, the colors are relatively natural in general.
At that time, I already knew about certain techniques to process film with a variety of chemicals, even frying it, boiling and so on; however, I was looking for something extremely unique. I had no interest in preprocessed consumer films, such as redscale and others and was aware of the existence of black and white infrared film, but never heard about a color version. I performed my research and found Kodak AEROCHROME – the ultimate film I was looking for.
The ultimate photographic film
On a 6×6 camera, There are only twelve frames per roll on the remaining several hundred rolls on the entire Earth! That was the reason it took me a long time to get ready for shooting and saving the irretrievable shots. Looking through dozens of red and magenta photographs helped me to understand the features of Aerochrome and how it is going to possibly behave under different conditions.
I decided to shoot it deliberately in summer due to its demands for bright light. I also was aware that the film isn’t forgiving in terms of exposure, and wrong settings could have ruined it. I overthought thing, and as a result I missed the last summer and; therefore, was patiently waiting for the next. I had enough time to make my choice of the scenes and to learn any possible things about this film.
The moment of truth
All of the photographs that I post here were taken with the Kiev-6C camera inside an abandoned glasshouse on a sunny evening. Turned out that it was the best choice: the light was very soft, without hard shadows in the scene.
I used a waist level finder with a deep yellow filter on the lens. Because of this monochrome yellow vision, it was very easy to concentrate on the composition in the frame and not be distracted by the variety of different colors.
Of course, I tried to imagine the result images during the photoshoot, but it was far from what I thought.
With every film in the world, you get something that is a little different from what you expect. This discrepancy goes way wider with color infrared-sensitive film. Almost all of the photos on the Kodak Aerochrome I’ve seen are landscapes. I challenged myself with shooting portraits on it.
What is so interesting about it? You get not only mind-blowing not-from-this-world red and magenta colors, but really practical things. I was told that the best EI for shooting indoors is 250, and 200 for outdoor shots. And you know, that was very useful advice, because I didn’t want to get eye-burning shots with extremely dense and oversaturated reds.
The skin tones are something I’ve never seen before: from unrealistically natural to copper-sunburned. The veins become more visible, and if you use a telephoto lens, you’ll get a very distinct vein pattern, I guess.
It seems that all the model’s skin flaws that may exist vanish due to infrared witchery.
This influences significantly not on the color only, but even on the transparency of the glass and on the color of textile. The red dress on the model was actually black.
The price you pay…
Shooting portraits on Kodak AEROCHROME, with its false-color infrared-sensitive rendering is a great experience. The endless variety of conditions that affect the final image, which makes the result hard to predict, is the essence of Kodak AEROCHROME III Infrared 1443 in my opinion.I take photos to learn how the world looks in photos. Kodak Aerochrome gives the magic opportunity to go beyond imagination.
Before I finish, I’d like to give special thanks to Dean Bennici (the Aerochrome Shop owner) from whom I bought the film, and to Denis Korolev – possibly the only person to using a personal concoction of Kodak AEROCHROME’s native AN-6 process.
Finally, a word of extreme caution: after this unique experience I ran into a side effect. I didn’t see any sense to shoot any other film for about 3 months!
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