How to film the incredible Kodak aerochrome movie
I recently interviewed Australian film photographer Rob Walwyn about his incredible footage documenting the aftermath of the bushfires that devastated Australia’s east coast in late 2019 and early 2020. Walwyn’s project “Karrikins” led the way at his first solo exhibition at the Head On Photo 2021 festival. In Sydney.
What makes Walwyn’s images of these dramatic scenes even more striking is his use of Kodak’s Aerochrome false-color infrared film. Kodak Aerochrome is a false color infrared film originally designed for aerial photography, with forestry, mapping, industrial and military applications.
In Walwyn’s footage, the green regrowth of bushfire-ravaged New South Wales appears in hues of hot pink and red, mimicking the flames that leapt from blackened trees weeks before.
But how exactly do you shoot Kodak Aerochrome? I have a few rolls in the cold room that I was a little afraid to pull for now. I asked Walwyn’s for some advice on how to shoot this rare, abandoned film, which will likely never be made again. Below is the advice he gave me.
Freeze your movie
Keep the film in your freezer for any long term storage time. Color infrared film degrades much faster than ordinary black and white or color film, so keep it frozen to prolong its life.
Find your camera
Find the camera you plan to use before using it to charge it with Aerochrome. This will allow you to confirm if there are any issues with that specific camera when using infrared films. Some cameras use infrared sensors to advance the film, which can completely cloud your precious roll.
If you want to play it safe, use a fully mechanical camera with no electronics to advance the film. This includes cameras such as the Canon AE-1, the Olympus OM series, the Leica M4, and the Nikon FM3a.
I asked Walwyn about his use of the Aerochrome in his Fujifilm TX-2 (almost identical to the Hasselblad Xpan). I knew the TX-2 had DX encoding, so I asked Walwyn if there was any issues with it fogging up the film.
Fortunately, there were no issues with fogging the film with the TX-2. You can see the effect that the IR film advance sensor has on the film; there is a large magenta drag, but it is confined to the area of the pinion holes and does not encroach on the image area.
I’ve read that Fujifilm specifically improved the IR film advance sensor in the second version of the Xpan / TX cameras to be less intense specifically for IR films, but that’s probably more of an issue when the use of Kodak HIE (the most sensitive of all cinema IRs).
I read on the internet that DX codes are read by LEDs which could scramble the IR film, but I haven’t seen any credible evidence of this or examples of what it looks like. However, I have seen exactly how infrared film advance sensors ruin film.
Release your movie the day before
Take your color infrared film out of the freezer the night before you shoot and allow it to gradually warm to room temperature for several hours before opening the sealed cartridge. Otherwise, you may get stains or iron typing on the film.
Preview your images
Try to preview your shots and what they might look like on this movie before you shoot. The aerochrome doesn’t just turn pink and red from the green trees; anything that reflects infrared light appears in similar colors on this film.
I was very surprised at how some textiles turned bright red on this film. Black clothing often turns bright crimson.
How to measure
I was curious about the metering with this film, so I asked Walwyn if he was using a light meter or if he was relying on the built-in metering of the cameras he was using.
The method I used to be successful is to set the TTL counter on my Pentax 67II to ISO 400 and measure through the filter while attached to the lens. Using the camera’s spotmeter mode on the brightest green leaves in a scene, I set the exposure to 0, which is neutral gray.
I also applied a similar approach using a Sekonic L758 portable spotmeter where I measure through the filter (with ISO set to 400) or increase the exposure by a quarter stop for a filter Orange B + W 040 (eg ISO 250) if I do not go spotmeter through the filter. I got equally good results by simply setting the Pentax’s TTL meter to ISO 400 and using a weighted average meter reading.
It is no more difficult than filming a slide film like the Fujifilm Velvia. You need to understand how limited the dynamic range is and what types of high-contrast scenes you should avoid.
Do not make any focus adjustments
Many photographers are familiar with the infrared focus mark on lenses and often think they should use it when shooting in aerochrome. However, Walwyn advises not to make any focus adjustments when shooting color infrared films.
A common misconception is that all infrared films require you to adjust the focus position due to the difference in wavelength and therefore the focus of infrared light versus visible light.
This is not the case with Aerochrome, as those infrared focus marks that some lenses have on them (a small dot or a red line on the depth of field scale) are only designed for images composed of ” a majority of infrared wavelengths – for example, if you are using black and white infrared film such as Kodak High Speed Infrared (HIE) film with an R72 (720nm) filter.
Since Aerochrome records both visible and infrared wavelengths, with the majority of the image being visible wavelengths, you should not make any focus adjustments and concentrate as you would. normally would do for any normal movie.
Do not rush
Don’t stress or rush too much with finishing your infrared color film roll. Ideally, you would shoot and process the film quickly, but keeping it in the camera for a few extra days or weeks won’t destroy the film if you keep your camera out of direct sunlight or heat.
Talk to your lab
Be sure to speak with your lab before handing them the film. Confirm that they can process color infrared film with no problem, as some developing machines use infrared sensors in the machine to detect chemistry levels that will damage your film.
Rob shot all of his films for this series at the Rewind Photo Lab in Sydney.