About Infrared Photography

A nativity scene in Miami, Fla.

The Effect

You've probably seen infrared pictures before: ghostly, dreamlike, high-contrast images outside the realm of traditional black and white photography and the human eye.

Foliage, such as the leaves on a vine, are a pure white with a "halo" of light around them. Skies are an unusually deep color while white clouds pop out of the horizon. Human skin looks rubbery and ghostly, free of blemishes, while eyes are strange dark voids.


In the 1930s, film producers started using infrared film to shoot night shots during the day. The infrared made the skies appear oddly dark against bright clouds

Kodak created the first popular infrared film during World War II. Infrared film help the military distinguish between plants and camouflage in forests. Soldiers popped out of the landscape instead of dissolving into the forest plants.

Infrared evolved into an art form after psychedelic bands in the 1960s used it in album art. The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix all released covers with infrared photos. Although infrared film can be hard to find today, digital cameras revolutionized infrared. It's easier than ever to shoot infrared film.

Infrared and visible light within the spectrum of light.


Normal digital cameras and film are sensitive to a spectrum of light close to what the human eye can see. Infrared film picks up what infrared light along with what the human eye usually sees.

Red filters block the visible light so the camera can see just infrared.

Most infrared light comes from the sun, but certain objects reflect more light than others. The lighter an object in infrared film, the more infrared radiation it reflects and visible light it absorbs. Infrared doesn't record sources of heat.

Subject Ideas

Here are some tips about shooting different places, people and objects. Infrared photography is meant to be unpredictable. Experiment with different shots to see what looks best.


Outdoor portraits show off infrared photography's odd qualities best. Humans look almost alien. Sunglasses are often see-through and veins appear under skin. Dark hair and dark eyes appear especially dark.

Indoor portraits with flash can also make the "dewey" quality skin gets more noticeable.

Plants and outdoors

Plants winding around a post or crawling up a building exaggerate the contrast between hard surface and foliage.

Forests, fields and other areas with lots of plants. The greener the plant, the whiter it will be in infrared.

Sand and snow appear lighter than they do in real life. Water is more transparent because the film doesn't pick up the shiny reflection of visible light.


Clear skies appear very dark, especially on a day lots of puffy clouds and an otherwise clear sky. This effect is greatest mid-day.


Blue, brown and dark green will be dark in infrared. Red, white and bright green will appear close to white.

Created for MMC3260 by Jennifer Jenkins in 2008.