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Infrared Photography

Infrared photography lets humans look at light waves they can’t see. They do this by taking pictures with sensitive materials. These materials show us light waves that our eyes can’t process. These are infrared light waves. This is useful because it shows things like temperature.
 An image taken with infrared photography of a woman's hands.

What is Infrared?

Infrared light waves are electromagnetic waves. They are like visible light (except we can’t see them) and radio waves. The waves have lengths between 740 nanometers and 30 centimeters. That’s longer than the length of visible light. Because of that humans can’t see them. We can only see a certain range of light. To see this we have to use special cameras that can detect infrared waves. 


This is the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Infrared is a type of electromagnetic radiation.

Many things in nature give off infrared light waves. We feel it on our skin as heat. For example, the Sun gives off lots of this radiation. Special cameras detect these light waves from objects, living things, and even starsWith these cameras, we can take images that tell us more about an object. This technology is the basis for night vision as well. Night vision allows you to see in the dark by reading the temperature of the things around you.

An image of a living room taken on an infrared camera. Everything is in right colors determined by temperature.

Everything gives off infrared, even things in your home. Which things in this living room seem the warmest?

How We Use Infrared Photography

Many fields use this special type of photography. Here are a few examples. 
  • Doctors: Some doctors take pictures using Medical Infrared Thermography (MIT). This shows the surface temperature of the body.  It can help a doctor find an infection or cancer. Think of it like a thermometer that reads the outside of your body.
  • Weather: Infrared photography shows cloud temperatures. This helps predict weather events like large storms or hurricanes. If storms can be predicted, we can prepare for them.
  • Environment: Infrared technology helps the environment. It can detect diseases in plants, contamination in water, and insect infestations.  
  • Space: Infrared telescopes help astronomers learn more about outer space. Infrared telescopes show things in space, like the explosion of stars (supernovae).
  • Art: Some artists use this type of photography to take pictures of nature. Infrared photographs of trees are interesting to look at. Some of these pictures have color, but some do not.

    An infrared photo of some animals and trees.

    It makes these trees look shiny!