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Infrared photography captures the near-infrared part of the electro magnetic spectrum, a wavelength of light that is invisible to the naked eye but when caught by camera produces astonishing imagery. Far-infrared is the domain of thermal imaging, however, this post is concerned with photography of the near-infrared field, where everyday objects and scenes are given an otherworldly allure by showing the light that is otherwise undetectable by the human eye.
In this type of photography an infrared-sensitive film or image sensor is used, usually in conjunction with an infrared filter. This type of filter blocks most of the visible light spectrum, but allows infrared light to pass, thus the filter looks dark red or black.
Below is a selection of the best examples of cool infrared photography, images that reveal the startling effects this technique produces.
1. Parked Car
This photograph shows the average scene of a car parked in a driveway but recorded through an infrared filter we see the dreamlike quality typical of the technique. Clouds appear bright and somehow out of scale, with deep shadows and reflections in water. Metal objects reflect little infrared light so they appear dark, while leaves and foliage glow with light, similar to the way snow reflects visible light. The effect of infrared light on foliage is called the ‘Wood Effect’, named after the infrared photography pioneer Robert W. Wood.
The simple setting of an ordinary playground is completely changed by the use of infrared technology. The brilliance of the midday sun is captured well and emphasizes the light quality of the lazily drifting clouds.
This landscape and cloud shot has the characteristic surreal quality of infrared photography.
The leaves of these trees glow as if covered in frost, due to the ‘Wood Effect’. Robert W. Woods (1868 – 1955) was a physicist and inventor, who contributed a pivotal role in the field of optics. His theories developed human understanding of the nature and physics of the invisible parts of the light spectrum.
Infrared portrait photography often features a certain milky appearance because the wavelengths penetrate a few millimetres into the skin, while eyes often look black. Because infrared photography can see under the surface of the skin, the technique can be applied to medical inspections, for skin conditions for instance.
6. Water Wheel
Once again we see glowing foliage typical of infrared photography, along with the blurred motion of a spinning water wheel.
This infrared photograph captures and emphasizes the presence of the boat on the water, thus giving the entire view a startlingly vivid quality.
8. Blurred Water Motion
Classic ‘Wood Effect’ and blurred water motion, typical characteristics of infrared photos.
Here we see the contrasting effects that infrared wavelengths play on vegetation and metal forms, in this case a VW Beetle.
10. Carina Nebula
Taken by the Hubble Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, this photograph captures the infrared light of a pillar of gas and dust in the Carina Nebula. The nebula is found 7,500 light years from the earth, in the southern constellation of Carina.
11. Dark Sky
One of the attributes of infrared photography is that sky appears very dark, while clouds glow with brightness. The darkness of the sky is due to infrared penetration of atmospheric haze, caused by a reduction in Rayleigh and Mie scattering when compared with visual light. This type of scattering is the distribution of light and electro magnetic radiation in the atmosphere. When captured with infrared photography, the dark skies often lend images an extraterrestrial feel.
12. Gas Station
The moody atmosphere of a late night gas station recorded in infrared.
13. Tree Reflection
The ghostly image of a tree reflecting on water makes an incredibly interesting scene.
14. Artistic Potential
The contrast between the clouds and the trees really stands out, which shows the artistic potential of infrared photography.
The purple ambience of this photograph captures the minarets of Brighton Pavilion.
16. Waterfall and Stream
Infrared photographers often employ false colour in the post-production work on their pictures, using contrasting hues to pick out details and emphasize composition.
17. Japanese Landscape
This stunning photo of a Japanese landscape shows the typical blurred effect of running water, as well as the interesting look of the foliage of the trees.
This beautiful yet somehow haunting image shows the particular effects of infrared photography when applied to portraiture.
19. Rays of Light
In this photograph, the rays of light breaking through the clouds makes an astounding visual effect, while the grass contrasts nicely with other objects like the road and the signpost.
20. Surreal Image
The nuances of light in infrared photography create a dreamlike atmosphere, where ordinary scenes become unsettlingly surreal.
21. Balancing Rock
The effects of infrared light often make natural surfaces take on an unusual appearance, such as the weightless feel of this balancing rock.
22. San Isidro
This photo shows psychedelic glow of blue palms of San Isidro against a glowing Californian sky.
23. Street Scene
A simple street scene takes on the feel of a dream when captured in infrared.
24. Twisted Tree
This photograph details the forms of an ancient and twisted tree.
25. White Clouds, Dark Sky
Once again we see the characteristic wispy white clouds and dark sky of infrared photography.
26. Dust and Gas
This picture shows an enormous column of dust and gas, capturing infrared light that has traveled through vast distances of deep space.