Shooting Kodak Aerochrome vs. Lomochrome Purple
False Colour Film Comparison11 min read by
A colour film that can see things human eyes can’t.
Kodak Aerochrome is the only colour infrared film ever made. There isn’t much of it left; the supplies are so low now that you may find yourself dishing out over $200 for a single 35mm roll in 2023.
Aerochrome, also known as Kodak EIR, has been long discontinued (in 2009) as the military, forestry, and creative industries that benefitted from it have switched to digital sensors. Today, it’s a highly sought-after emulsion for photographers wanting to try something truly exotic in a film camera.
To better understand the creative (and scientific) power of Aerochrome, I will be comparing it against a more common — and more affordable — colour-shifted film stock that can also produce eery palettes: Lomocrhome Purple.
Lomography’s Lomochrome Purple is not sensitive to infrared light. Instead, this C-41 emulsion scans and prints as if all the greens have been painted purple. Lomochrome Purple is a widely available film stock, at much cheaper prices than Aerochrome; it was deliberately created in an effort to emulate Aerochrome.
Download (free) sample scans of Lomochrome Purple and cross-processed Aerochrome.
Both Aerochrome and Lomochrome Purple are highly interpretative emulsions. To see how they may pan out for you or just to play with the really expensive negatives, you can download high-res sample files:
➜ Free Download: Sample uncompressed 48-bit 35mm Film Scans (TIFF)
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Getting started with Aerochrome vs. Lomochrome Purple: film handling.
Aerochrome was developed to be flown at impossibly high altitudes in military planes. When frozen, it seems to last way past its expiration point. It is not a flimsy emulsion. However, the nature of infrared light makes it inadvisable to use in certain plastic cameras or loading in broad daylight. The IR spectrum may penetrate the light seals and fog the film with a bright red wash. You should also not load it into cameras with automatic film transport as they often use infrared sensors to count the frames. My rolls had been hand-spooled by Dean Bennici, and I was advised to be very careful near the last frame not to tear the entire strip off.
To learn more about what it’s like to handle and use Aerochrome film, see this section of the “Kodak Aerochrome — a Colour IR Film Guide & Review.”
Handling Lomochrome Purple, on the other hand, is exactly like any other 35mm colour film: simple.
Choosing your scenes and subjects.
Neither Aerochrome nor Lomochrome Purple is considered to be a general-purpose stock. Both films work great with foliage, but I found them particularly pleasing when exposed to the large, sweeping landscapes without the busy network of branches and leaves of a forest.
Aerochrome can actually be used for portraiture, provided you choose your filter well and spend time colour correcting your work. Human skin does not reflect enough IR for this film to glow red and thus could be made to appear natural. The lips, however, may appear yellow.
Besides adding a red glow to represent infrared light, Aerochrome will change some visible colours as well. For example, it will render red as green, and green as blue (Applied Infrared Photography, 1972, pp. 4-5).
I like the contrast Aerochrome provides with concrete/stone surfaces, water (that may turn black) and sky. Trees covered in snow are may also create an interesting combination.
You may also consider shooting things that reflect little or no IR, like the glaciers on Aerochrome. They won’t glow red but will still look unusual.
Lomochrome Purple isn’t great with skin tones unless you plan to make your subjects look purple, red, or blue.
In the forest, Purple will keep colouring the leaves blue-red, but the trunks will largely remain their actual colour — depending on your post-processing — (in contrast to Aerochrome, which will paint both red).
Just like Aerochrome, Purple will not colour flowers purple — but for a different reason. Aerochrome will not pick up the red glow from blossoms because they do not emit infrared light; Purple — simply because they aren’t green.
Peculiarly, your purples will turn green with Lomochrome Purple.
I also found Purple to be a bit more fine-grained than Aerochrome. It is more uniformly coloured (purple), and there’s less noise. Thus it is easier to shoot — although I find Purple results somewhat predictable.
There’s no need for colour filters on Lomochrome Purple to get the intended effect.
For Aerochrome, however, Kodak recommends their Wratten #12/Y52 (yellow) filter. You can get all kinds of results with this film with various gels — from yellow to green, and even a warming filter for tungsten film. A few examples below and a further discussion here.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that all the filters produced workable results with my Aerochrome roll. I like 133/21 G1 and 85C for mild, somewhat natural-looking results for my personal projects.
Aerochrome is a tricky film to meter light for. It has only three stops of dynamic range and is easy to ruin. I have a few metering, light and scene suggestions in my Aerochrome exposure guide.
Exposing Lomochrome Purple.
Lomochrome Purple is a part of Lomography’s XR, “extended range,” series of films. Its box speed is anywhere between ISO 100 and ISO 400. However, the effect (i.e., amount and quality of the purple tint) may depend on the amount of light the emulsion receives — though it is easy to alter those colours in post.
Exposing Lomochrome Purple is much, much easier than Aerochrome.
To ensure the least loss of information on my negatives, I typically expose my Lomochrome Purple at EI 200 and then work on the final look in post.
Focusing on infrared with Aerochrome.
Another unique peculiarity of infrared film is the focus shift. While camera lenses are made to correct the differences in how the red, green, and blue wavelengths converge on the film plane, IR light is often ignored. Some older lenses have a focusing aide (commonly marked in red R) to help you get sharper images of this invisible light.
Due to its longer wavelength, the IR channel may look sharper if you shift your lens’ focus a little closer than the object of interest. However, the amount of shift is hard to tell because the actual recorded infrared wavelength depends on the film and its diffraction depends on the lens.
Thankfully, this artifact isn’t very strong with Aerochrome. As you can see in the photo below, even at a very shallow depth of field, the infrared glow appears to be sufficiently in focus.
Though most will tell you that Aerochrome is a slide film and should be processed in E-6, that isn’t exactly right. It is actually meant to be processed in AR-5 chemicals, which technically makes both E-6 and C-41 the cross-processing options.
I’ve tried both ways and found that the results are almost identical with just a slight dynamic range extension in the negatives.
Developing Lomochrome Purple.
Lomochrome Purple is meant to be developed in C-41 chemicals, available at all labs that develop colour film.
Scanning and post-processing.
Neither film is particularly hard to scan. Right after you get the image from your device, either your software will automatically adjust it, or you can do this by hand by first inverting (if that’s a C-41-processed Aerochrome & Purple) and then equalizing.
My objective for most of my colour images is to ensure that the hues that I can recognize appear as close to reality as possible. For example, skin tones and neutral greys like stones and concrete are to look as they do to my eye. Following this idea, specialty films like Aerochrome should pull in the viewer through recognition that it is not a painting and add more interest with elements out of the ordinary. As long as no part of the picture is separated and the entire process of colour correction occurs wholistically, the film should retain its “voice” (whether it’s Aerochrome or Portra).
I may, sometimes, choose to correct colours differently for different zones, such as adding more red in shadows while increasing blues in the highlights. However, this is not the same as masking a person and doing separate colour work on them.
When it comes to contrast and sharpness, I have a more loose objective, which is making sure that the points of interest are clearly and immediately discernable while at the same time avoiding an unnatural “deep-fried” appearance.
Saturation I usually do not touch.
Another thing that I do to my scans is cleaning up distracting dust and scratches with the Spot Healing Brush tool.
My digital workflow for colour correction is entirely in Adobe Photoshop, limited to Curves and Color Balance adjustment layers.
With Aerochrome, like with Lomochrome Purple, some shots just work; however, others require some work. The trickest shots turned out to be the ones that got awashed with IR flares, shot with unsuitable colour filters, or improperly exposed.
✪ Note: I use this method to scan all film for my reviews. It creates consistent results that make understanding and comparing the emulsion’s colour/contrast attributes possible.
Unlike Lomocrhome Purple, with the right filters, Aerochrome will retain its red highlights while allowing you to ensure correct skin and sky colours. I’ve also noticed that certain types of clothing may reflect IR (despite not being green in visible light).
Lomochrome Purple will only colour green foliage and shift the rest of the colours along the way. With Purple, it is more difficult to balance skin tones since bringing them to a more natural hue removes the purple highlights from the rest of the scene and darkens the colours overall. But it would be a lie to say that it can’t be made to look as good as Aerochrome:
Where to buy Aerochrome film.
I highly recommend you check the seller’s reputation and film description. My purchase was in bulk from an American photographer who decided to unload his supply a couple of years back.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Aerochrome film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!
Where to buy Lomochrome Purple film.
Getting Lomochrome Purple is much easier: most places that sell film will have it.
❤ Please consider making your Lomochrome Purple film purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!
Cameras, filters, and other equipment.
Though it may be tempting to shoot Aerochrome in a half-frame camera, it is rather grainy — something to keep in mind
When it comes to filters, do keep Wratten #12 in mind (similar to Y52) and consider using 85C.
I don’t think you will need a tripod or anything else for either emulsion — they are both fast films meant for hand-held operation.
And if you’re serious about shooting some Aerochrome, check out the guide I wrote specifically for this film and all its quirks.