Kodak EIR needs no introduction. Preceded by its reputation for being one of the most surreal photographic films ever made, EIR renders reflected infrared light in surreal shades of hot pink, lurid magenta and blood red. To the layman, it can detect light beyond the limits of human vision and does so in style.
Keen to try shooting some for yourself? EIR was discontinued in 2007, and if you’re lucky enough to find some now, averages about $100 per roll from hoarders on websites like Ebay. Even if you did happen to get your hands on some, expect to carry an ice box alongside your camera bag because this film MUST be stored in temperatures of at least 0°F or lower. More than a week at room temperature and the roll is ruined. Better hope your seller ships priority…
While you dream, I am going to show you 4 ways to recreate the look of EIR color-infrared film digitally, no ice chest required.
1. Have An Infrared Camera?
There nothing quite like looking at the world in infrared. Darkened skies that would normally blow the right hand side of a histogram out the SD card door, combined with a glowing landscape, offer a unique tonality reminiscent of a pre-processed HDR. Color, however, depends entirely on the cut-off wavelength of the glass used to filter out visible light; A shorter wavelength IR filter (such as 590nm) allows virtually half of the visible light spectrum to mix with that of near-infrared spectrum giving a vibrant, saturated photo. A longer wavelength filter (such as 900nm) begins far beyond the point where the visible light spectrum ends, resulting in a desaturated monotonic, yet definitively infrared, landscape.
Affix your gaze on this 720nm infrared photo I took from an aerial surveillance station overlooking the beautiful Tamavua Valley in Fiji. As you can see, a small amount of color is present in the final picture in the form of 2 distinct false colors: yellow & blue.
Because they are false colors (as with EIR film), we are free to change them as we wish. To do this, first open up the Hue/Saturation window, found in Image > Adjustments.
Use the ‘click-and-drag-to-modify’ tool (circled in red) and select the color range to modify. The pixels of my apparently yellow vegetation fall under the red color category according to Photoshop. As such, feel free to change, expand or subtract from your selection (Above).
The next part is according to taste. Drag the hue slider and watch as the color you’ve selected becomes the color of your choice (above). I drag mine around until I get that familiar bubblegum pink color in the leaves. A bit of saturation brings them to life:
It’s not a perfect EIR emulation – it lacks the tonality of color infrared film – but a vividly viable alternative indeed. But what if you don’t have an infrared camera?
2. Have a Normal Camera?
Visible light is the spectrum through which humans visualize the earth. Sight in itself is a miracle, but 20 something years of blue skies and that all too familiar green of the leaf just got boring to me. If you, like 95% of other photographers, only have a ‘normal’ (read ‘boring’) camera, the EIR treatment is not yet out of reach.
We could use the same hue shift method in the 1st step, however the wide color gamut present in the vegetation of a visible light picture (greens, yellows and oranges) would require hue shifts of multiple color channels on a trial & error basis (and potentially further masked editing) to warp those green leaves into a cohesive color scheme on crack. Instead, we will take the whole picture and dunk it into the mystical waters of Photoshop’s Channel Mixer plugin. Here, a Blue/Green channel swap should sufficiently bring a magenta tinge to everything remotely green in this image.
First, go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer.
With the green output channel selected, set the green source channel value to 0% and blue to 100% (Above).
Likewise, with the blue output channel selected, set the blue source channel value to 0% and green to 100% (above).
The result is… pretty weird, but there is no denying the vegetation looks sizzurply purple. You can even go so far as to use the hue shift method from step 1 to correct the green sky like so:
Even though the colors are correct, visible light photography lacks the tonality of infrared photography. While jerking away at sliders and trying to replicate the ‘look’ of infrared film, we are missing out on the main thing EIR can offer us: Vision beyond the limits of our own.
3. Have a Film Camera?
Shoot a roll of Lomochrome Purple. Designed by the analog photography movement called Lomography, this roll of film is specifically designed to mimic Kodak’s color-infrared films like aerochrome and EIR. It doesn’t need a fridge, it can be used in any 35mm film camera with any lens and is developed using the standard c41-process. Lomochrome’s dirty little secret lies in the fact that it is not actually infrared. The EIR-esque look is achieved by a form of channel swapping that takes place within the photographic emulsion itself. A blue/green channel swap to be exact. It is essentially the film version of the previous step.
4. Have No Camera?
Make an Easychrome – a DIY point & shoot camera that digitally emulates the look of color-infrared film like Aerochrome and EIR. Much more than a mere shift in hue or channel swap, the Easychrome camera accurately renders reflected infrared light in sizzurp-stained shades of purple, pink and red.
The same concept behind the unique method EIR/Aerochrome film uses to create its colors is applied to an old Kodak Easyshare P&S camera collecting dust in a cupboard. First, an internal low pass filter is removed, converting it to full spectrum (infrared & visible). Next, a yellow cut-off filter (minus blue) over the lens ushers in a specific mix of visible and infrared light into the 3 recorded color channels (IRG > RGB). The color balanced result is that all infrared reflecting surfaces in the scene (such as vegetation and certain articles of clothing) appear bright pink/magenta/red, while the rest of the world appears in normal color… Just the same as EIR/Aerochrome film. The methods used by the two mediums to render colors and tone couldn’t be more different, but the concept and results are exactly the same.
In the words of Elbee Thrie, “Physically you don’t have to remember me, but don’t forget my energy.” The days of color-infrared film photo photography may be dead and gone, but the spirit of this rare Ektachrome film lives on. And while many argue that technological advancements are culling culture by the day, dissent lingers in the air. “Tools in the hands on an artist yields art.” When photographers embrace technology in any way to deliver their vision, art is anything but dead. It is evolving.