Kirlian photography

Parapsychologists believe it is the life force being photographed.

The HV hobbyist knows it is corona / HV discharge (or, glow and light of the discharge, combined with electrochemical reactions in the 3..12 film emulsion layers which yields the 'fake' but neat discharge coloring).

There are some cool pictures at: and naturally also via Google images

Polaroid film pictures are a simple version of KP, good for big objects. Small objects can be photographed with standard 100 or slower ASA 35mm color print film.

There are many commercial Kirlian 'cameras' around, but it is not at all difficult to make your own photos - without a 'camera'.

The idea in KP is to take a high frequency HV source (4kV should be enough) like a TV flyback. I used a car ignition coil and low frequency. A very small Tesla coil with no streamers(!) could work.

Here's a compact description on KP : Connect a low power AC [kHz] HV [8..30kV] supply to a small metal plate. Place the film on top of the plate. On the film, the grounded object. Then zapp/fry the object.

Standard film: 
A good Kirlian device construction would be one that allows you to fasten the film roll near one end of the plate, lead the film over the plate, and also has a light-protected drag-in for the film on the other end of the plate. This helps you to easily port the film over plate after each picture, a bit like the film port in a camera.

From my own experience I really recommend building something like that! It is no fun to mess around in absolute pitch black darkness with a small pile of tiny leafs and coins, a high voltage generator with small pushbuttons, a small HV plate and a big bunch of cables, and the bathroom sink directly over your head  - it would take ages just trying to place one leaf properly on top of the film, not to mention the amount of curses when you get HV jolts and your head continuously hits the bathroom sink...

A crude sketch of such a help device is shown above, together with the actual quick-setup I used for the 35mm film photos. The HV is fed to the plate (notice the rounded+filed corners and edges!) via the screw and an internal wire, the film enters and exits through slots in the bottom of the upright standing plexiglass pieces to the left and right, the black-painted piece of plexiglass is placed on top of the plate and film and has a window in it for placement of the objects to be photographed. Finally, there's the transparent plexiglass lid, with a nail through it for connecting the ground wire. Other required parts like the film roll or transparency sheet are not shown in the photo.

First you need a plastic/plexiglass board for everything. Wood is not good for this. 

On the board comes a small metal/aluminium plate for the HV. It should be glued to the board and the surface should be smooth.

n top of the plate you then place either a piece of easily available transparency sheet or, preferrably, teflon sheet, in such a way that it overlaps the plate for maybe 1 inch around all edges. Standard thin teflon sheet is very cheap (way cheaper than transparency sheets actually!) and has excellent HV properties and does not melt. Dielectric breakdown and melting is the major problem with transparency sheets, especially if you have more than ~10 Watts input power to your HV generator... The teflon sheet can be fixed on the board with the same tape that is used t.ex. for copying machine papers. Glue won't work.

You'll also need a plastic lid/plate made of plexiglass or some grey plastic (not black as it is conductive) which will help you to press and keep the photographed object down against the film. One solution is to use get a plastic piece which fits over the HV plate, then cut out a small window into this plastic piece. Inside the window and on top of the film you place the objects for photographing. The previously cut out piece is glued to a longer plastic piece so you can press it down into the "window" without coming too near to neither the HV plate nor the ground connector/needle with your hands.

For photographing the object is placed inside the "window" and the "lid" with the ground connector is gently pressed into the window. 

The only thing left to do now is to turn off the lights, port in some fresh/non-exposed film below the plate, then zapp the object with low-power HV for a short time, maybe 1/2...2 seconds. Draw in the film some centimetres, zap again, draw in, zap, ... until the whole film has been used. After winding the film back into the cartridge you can turn the lights on again and bring the film away for developing & paper prints. You should probably mention in the photo lab that they shouldn't do any special pre/postprocessing, e.g. that the roll contains "lightning pictures".

In the gallery there are a couple of more 35mm photos that maybe are a bit better than those on this page.

Polaroid film work well for big objects, altough the resulting pictures might not be as detailed as with standard film. It's not necessary to buy expensive "fresh" films - films past their expiry date work equally well.

Photographing is simple: first manually empty the cartridge (it must be in total darkness i.e. not even photo development room red lights - these will expose the film) by shifting out the protective black sheet and then all of the polaroid films below it.
Don't use the camera for this! And be careful not to press the chemical bags or whatever at the bottom of the film. Put the film sheets in a light-protected bag.

Take out one film, place it back in the (empty) polaroid cartridge with chemical bags facing up (i.e. photo window up), place the grounded leaf or other object on the film, connect the HV to the metal grid on one side of the cartridge (but not to those metal pads on the bottom side! they are the internal battery you don't want to damage!).

Turn on the HV for 1/2...2 seconds, then remove the HV wire and the object and place the cartridge into the polaroid camera. The film will eject and starts developing.


(C) 2000 Jan Wagner