Ever since the first infrared photographs appeared over a century ago, the aesthetic has fascinated viewers with its otherworldly images. Making regular landscapes seem psychedelic and alien, the style is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity as digital cameras have allowed a new generation to experiment with capturing different infrared wavelengths.
Our eyes can only see a quite narrow wavelength of light. Often referred to as the "visible light" spectrum, this usually spans the wavelengths between 380 and 700 nanometers. Above 700 nanometers is a spectrum referred to as infrared, and most infrared photography is concerned with capturing the narrow band of wavelengths between 700 and 1,000 nanometers – usually dubbed "near-infrared", so as to separate it from the longer infrared wavelengths more associated with thermal imaging.
One of the most iconic infrared film stocks of the 20th century was Kodak Ektachrome Infrared EIR (or the iteration developed for military uses called Aerochrome). Kodak discontinued production of the film in 2007 making it a highly sought-after commodity. Artist Richard Mosse famously utilized this discontinued Aerochrome film in a 2011 series called "Infra". Mosse traveled deep into the jungles of the Congo to photograph fighters in the local civil war and the bizarre yet beautiful pinks of the images contrast with the disturbing reality of the conflict.
The advent of digital photography has birthed a whole new generation of infrared photographers, despite modern DSLR cameras generally containing built-in infrared blockers that keep out infrared wavelengths. The easiest way around this is to use an infrared filter, but more dedicated photographers tend to actively convert cameras to solely pick up the infrared spectrum by removing this blocker and replacing it with a similar device that blocks the visible light spectrum.
Many modern digital infrared photographers are still toying with the classic pink/red hues reminiscent of older Kodak film. Paolo Pettigiani's series capturing New York's Central Park is an especially wonderful example of a modern digital infrared style. Kate Ballis' series Infra Realism is an even more extreme and stylized take on the style, contrasting images of classic mid-century Palm Springs architecture with jarringly sharp and disorientating infrared purples and reds.
More recently, a vast array of digital photographers have experimented with different types of infrared images, some more subtle than others, but all highlighting the fascinating visions that can be captured by imaging the wavelengths of light that our eyes cannot naturally see.
Take a look through the gallery for a trip through the world of infrared photography.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more