03 August 2009
The invention: The first application of color to infrared photography, which performs tasks not possible for ordinary photography. The person behind the invention: Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), a pioneering English astronomer Invisible Light Photography developed rapidly in the nineteenth century when it became possible to record the colors and shades of visible light on sensitive materials. Visible light is a form of radiation that consists of electromagnetic waves, which also make up other forms of radiation such as X rays and radio waves. Visible light occupies the range of wavelengths from about 400 nanometers (1 nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter) to about 700 nanometers in the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared radiation occupies the range fromabout 700 nanometers to about 1,350 nanometers in the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared rays cannot be seen by the human eye, but they behave in the same way that rays of visible light behave; they can be reflected, diffracted (broken), and refracted (bent). Sir William Herschel, a British astronomer, discovered infrared rays in 1800 by calculating the temperature of the heat that they produced. The term “infrared,” which was probably first used in 1800, was used to indicate rays that had wavelengths that were longer than those on the red end (the high end) of the spectrum of visible light but shorter than those of the microwaves, which appear higher on the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared film is therefore sensitive to the infrared radiation that the human eye cannot see or record. Dyes that were sensitive to infrared radiation were discovered early in the twentieth century, but they were not widely used until the 1930’s. Because these dyes produced only black-and-white images, their usefulness to artists and researchers was limited. After 1930, however, a tidal wave of infrared photographic applications appeared.The Development of Color-Sensitive Infrared Film In the early 1940’s, military intelligence used infrared viewers for night operations and for gathering information about the enemy. One device that was commonly used for such purposes was called a “snooper scope.” Aerial photography with black-and-white infrared film was used to locate enemy hiding places and equipment. The images that were produced, however, often lacked clear definition. The development in 1942 of the first color-sensitive infrared film, Ektachrome Aero Film, became possible when researchers at the Eastman Kodak Company’s laboratories solved some complex chemical and physical problems that had hampered the development of color infrared film up to that point. Regular color film is sensitive to all visible colors of the spectrum; infrared color film is sensitive to violet, blue, and red light as well as to infrared radiation. Typical color film has three layers of emulsion, which are sensitized to blue, green, and red. Infrared color film, however, has its three emulsion layers sensitized to green, red, and infrared. Infrared wavelengths are recorded as reds of varying densities, depending on the intensity of the infrared radiation. The more infrared radiation there is, the darker the color of the red that is recorded. In infrared photography, a filter is placed over the camera lens to block the unwanted rays of visible light. The filter blocks visible and ultraviolet rays but allows infrared radiation to pass. All three layers of infrared film are sensitive to blue, so a yellow filter is used. All blue radiation is absorbed by this filter. In regular photography, color film consists of three basic layers: the top layer is sensitive to blue light, the middle layer is sensitive to green, and the third layer is sensitive to red. Exposing the film to light causes a latent image to be formed in the silver halide crystals that make up each of the three layers. In infrared photography, color film consists of a top layer that is sensitive to infrared radiation, a middle layer sensitive to green, and a bottom layer sensitive to red. “Reversal processing” produces blue in the infrared-sensitive layer, yellow in the green-sensitive layer, and magenta in the red-sensitive layer. The blue, yellow, and magenta layers of the film produce the “false colors” that accentuate the various levels of infrared radiation shown as red in a color transparency, slide, or print.relationship to the color of light to which the layer is sensitive. If the relationship is not complementary, the resulting colors will be false. This means that objects whose colors appear to be similar to the human eye will not necessarily be recorded as similar colors on infrared film. A red rose with healthy green leaves will appear on infrared color film as being yellow with red leaves, because the chlorophyll contained in the plant leaf reflects infrared radiation and causes the green leaves to be recorded as red. Infrared radiation from about 700 nanometers to about 900 nanometers on the electromagnetic spectrum can be recorded by infrared color film. Above 900 nanometers, infrared radiation exists as heat patterns that must be recorded by nonphotographic means. Impact Infrared photography has proved to be valuable in many of the sciences and the arts. It has been used to create artistic images that are often unexpected visual explosions of everyday views. Because infrared radiation penetrates haze easily, infrared films are often used in mapping areas or determining vegetation types. Many cloud-covered tropical areas would be impossible to map without infrared photography. False-color infrared film can differentiate between healthy and unhealthy plants, so it is widely used to study insect and disease problems in plants. Medical research uses infrared photography to trace blood flow, detect and monitor tumor growth, and to study many other physiological functions that are invisible to the human eye. Some forms of cancer can be detected by infrared analysis before any other tests are able to perceive them. Infrared film is used in criminology to photograph illegal activities in the dark and to study evidence at crime scenes. Powder burns around a bullet hole, which are often invisible to the eye, show clearly on infrared film. In addition, forgeries in documents and works of art can often be seen clearly when photographed on infrared film. Archaeologists have used infrared film to locate ancient sites that are invisible in daylight. Wildlife biologists also document the behavior of animals at night with infrared equipment.