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[IR] False-colour IR Ektachrome: The Early Days

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#1 nfoto

    Former Fierce Bear of the North

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Posted 17 March 2020 - 21:36

My first encounter with "False-color IR Ektachrome IE 2443" was at the very end of the '60s, when I was an intern for aquatic botany at one of the research institutes in Oslo. I was already deeply involved in, and committed to, photography at the time. Thus, when the question of mapping of aquatic vegetation came up in connection with one of our projects, I stuck my head out and brazenly declared "why not use aerial photography with IR film?". Almost nobody had heard of this high-tech invention at that time and I was given a green light to commence with a pilot study. That involved hiring a small aircraft, finding a pilot willing to fly low enough under my command, deciding what exposure to use, and finally, finding a lab qualified to run the film in E-4 chemicals. What I didn't think of beforehand, but soon became apparent, was the need for myself as the photographer to combat any trace of airsickness. Which was easier said than done when we were only a few 100 m up. Suffice it to say I really did suffer for the footage brought back. Oh yes.

Anyway, I evidently got enough examples to convince the higher authorities of granting more money for the upcoming years. Thus started my relationship with false-coloured film, which I should like to add, had much nicer colour rendition than what garish outcome we today present as "Aerochrome". But that's a topic for another day.

Most of the images from those days went into project files inaccessible to me now, or got lost during later upheavals in my civil life.

The photos below are a reminder to me of those glorious days. Airsickness is thankfully forgotten by now although that took some time to overcome.

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All images with Nikon F (or later, F2) and 55/3.5 Micro-Nikkor or 85 mm f/1.8 Nikkor-HC. Filtration Wratten K12, development process E-4.

Later the institute initiated "Remote Sensing" as a separate research topic and 10 years later branched out to include satellite imagery.

#2 nfoto

    Former Fierce Bear of the North

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Posted 20 March 2020 - 11:10

Back to the actual output delivered by the IE film (note 'IE' not the 'EIR' that followed some 20 years or so later).

Although I did use most of the supply for its intended purpose, viz. aerial photography, there were always excuses for making test exposures to better understand how the film behaved and what kind of exposure latitude it had. Hint for the latter: almost none, well within 1/2 stop. Thus I realised the best approach was to standardise on weather and only fly the photography missions on sunny days in summer with little or no cloud cover, between 1200 to 1500 hours. Fortunately we experienced a lot of those sunny days back then.

However, for work outside the strict parameter envelope for the aerial stuff, I had some serious fun. And lots of badly exposed slides, I'd like to add. One never knew before the developed films were obtained.

A few examples, all of these with Nikon F and various Nikkors (15-24mm most of them)

Calystegia sepium
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Sea stars washed up on a rocky surface after a heavy storm and swell
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Sparganium angustifolium under water (Nikonos 15mm f/2.8 lens and underwater flash) -- I was adventurous in those long gone days ...
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Bunias orientalis -- a weed introduced from the Black Sea region of Russia in the early 1800's, has spread rapidly in the last 100 years
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IE was easy to scan as long as there were no underexposure and blackened shadows. Underexposed slides, when scanned, got a pointillistic structure that sometimes had a good impact on the outcome, but more often ruined the image.

#3 nfoto

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Posted 20 March 2020 - 23:10

In the first half of the '70s, we experienced severely dry summers in the southern parts of the country. That led to vegetation wilting over large areas, but this wasn't immediately obvious in native vegetation, although arable fields clearly showed the unfavourable conditions.

In 1975, I lived for a while outside the capital, Oslo, in a forested rural region. I had dogs that time so walked them in the forests everyday, with the IE-film loaded in my Nikons (mainly F2 at that time). Here are a few impressions of forest droughts, all of them captured by the Nikkor-N 24/2.8 lens which I adored and (ab)used at every opportunity.

The IE did show stressed vegetation that was invisible to the naked eye. Mainly, the wilting plants came out in yellow, orange, or even green hues compared to the reddish hues of the plants on less dry soils.

No miracles in terms of composition, but documentation of a special period. We have seen many dry spells in the later years though, due to climate effects.

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Getting a decent exposure with a narrow-latitude film like IE was a nightmare under the forest canopy, given that one never could trust either built-in meters or a handheld meter for incident light readings (my Gossen Lunasix).