Explore BW Infrared Photography with Two Great FPP Films!

Posted by Michael Raso on

Explore BW Infrared Photography with Two Great FPP Films!

Greetings Fellow Film Shooters!

This week at the FPP, our own Mark O'Brien shares his tips for nailing stunning infrared BW photos, every time!  Read on to find out how you too can incorporate this unique look into your BW photography. 

Happy summer and SHOOT FILM!
Michael Raso 

Maybe you'd like to try shooting black and white infrared film? Two films that are easy to obtain are Ilford's SFX 200 and Svema Foto 200, both available at the Film Photography Project Store.

Svema Foto 200 35mm
Ilford SFX 200 35mm
Ilford SFX 200 120
Ilford SFX 200 620

Both of these films can be used for near-IR images using orange to deep red filters.  Both are panchromatic  BW films that require no special processing, and with the right filters and settings and light conditions, will allow you to produce some stunning images.

Photo above: Aldo Altamirano
Nikon F6 / AF 50mm f/1.4D / Hoya R72 filter

You should be aware that the infrared effect is going to be the strongest on a sunny day, especially mid-day.  Foliage is going to be reflecting a lot of IR, but overcast skies or late day/early morning just are not ideal for what we want to accomplish here.  Keep that in mind to avoid disappointment. 


Above: Spectral sensitivity chart from Ilford. 

Infrared is at 700-900nm, and most films are insensitive to those wavelengths. You can see that the SFX 200 is most senstive to IR at 720nm, which is enough to produce the Wood Effect with filtration.

Let's examine each film and I'll then show examples so that you don't have to do the trial and error.


Ilford's SFX 200 has been around for quite a long time, and while it can be easily used as a "normal" 200 ISO BW film, you can also use filters to eliminate a lot of visible light and let the infrared take over.  However, you should use a tripod as the exposure times are significantly longer.  My rule of thumb is to use a deep red filter (#25 RED) and set the ISO 2-3 stops lower and use what the meter tells you, or keep the ISO at 200, and add 2-3 stops of exposure over the meter reading.  I often use an aperture of f/16, so that I don't have to worry about IR focus as everything will be fine with the minimum aperture - but it does require longer exposures.  In addition, using a polarizer is another 2 stops of light loss, making the exposure even longer.  


Use a R29 deep red filter for good results. 

Above: Filter chart from Ilford.  

What Filters?

The typical mistake made by photographers new to IR film is that they don't expose the film long enough. I recommend using the R25 or R29 filters - not the opaque  R72 IR filter, because it starts at 750nm and blocks most visible light.  However, if you do try a R72 filter,  you'll have to compose without it, and attach it to make the exposure, with at least +5 stops of exposure.  The amount of Wood Effect is determined by the film sensitivity and the filtration, plus some fudge factoring of overexposure.  For the R25 and R29 filters, I suggest that you bracket your shots by  +1, +2, +3 stops and see how the negatives look afterwards.  


above: SFX 200 with a deep red filter, Minolta X700. Photo by Mark O'Brien.


I don't have any fancy charts or exposure information for this film, but I did extensively test it in 2020, and based upon what I shot, it's a good candidate as an extended-red BW film, with similar results that one might expect from the SFX 200.

above: Svema Foto 200 is a favorite film of the FPP Staff (and is a great everyday film to use - with or without filters!) Photo by Leslie Lazenby

In "normal" use, the Svema Foto 200 is a good panchromatic film with low grain on a thin polyester film base.  It pipes light, so load in subdued light!  

Below: Svema Foto 200 in normal light, no filtration:


Below: Svema Foto 200 - This was with a red 25A filter, +1 stop


Below: Svema Foto 200 with Red filter + Polarizer, +1 stop

The great thing about the near-IR sensitivity of Svema Foto 200 is that it should encourage some experimentation. Try a R29 filter instead of a R25 filter, overexpose with a deep red filter and see if that results in the effect you are after.  Try shooting models with these films and with the red filters to see how they affect the skin tone / image.  

Mark O'Brien is a regular contributor to the Film Photography Project. Mark has his own blog - the Random Camera Blog and can also be found on Instagram and Flickr!

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