New VSCO filters digitally recreate the signature look of infrared photography

Lead image credit: Earlington, VSCO

VSCO has announced simulated infrared filters. These filters aim to recreate the signature look of infrared photography digitally.

Before diving into VSCO’s creation, what is infrared photography? Infrared, or IR, light is beyond the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that we can see with our eyes. The cameras we regularly use instead work within the visible light spectrum.

That’s not to say that there aren’t cameras that record infrared light. Many scientific instruments and specialized cameras can see infrared light. Further, infrared film has a rich history of nearly a century. VSCO writes, ‘Color infrared film was originally developed by Kodak for military surveillance use in the 1940s to detect camouflaged enemy forces on the ground. Since plants full of chlorophyll emit far more infrared light than camouflaged military vehicles, it made once hidden enemies easy to spot. The film worked by converting invisible infrared light into a pink or red color that was visible in an image, allowing this invisible spectrum to be seen. The results are bubble-gum pink forests and crimson red plants layered into an otherwise typical-looking landscape.’

Credit: Kyle Hale, VSCO

Consumers first got their hands on infrared film in the 1960s. IR photography has been used for some famous images, including album covers for famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Donovan. IR film has also been used for dedicated photographic projects, including Richard Mosse’s award-winning work documenting the violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Credit: Kyle Hale, VSCO

Color infrared film is now discontinued, but IR photography lives on. You can send your camera to specialized stores to have the infrared-blocking filter removed from the front of the image sensor. You could do it yourself instead, of course.

If your camera still blocks IR light, though, how do VSCO’s IR filters create the look of infrared photography? VSCO states that the filters are ‘an approximation of the most common visual features of real infrared photos without actually having access to infrared information. Greens and yellows are turned to pink and red, blue skies are darkened, and brightness is especially influenced by the red channel.’

Click to enlarge. Credit: Joel Flory, VSCO

There are two color infrared filters, one for landscapes and the other for portraits. The strength of the effect can be adjusted, moving between turning green plants pink or making them appear redder. In the Infrared Portrait filter (IR2), skin tones are preserved for a more natural look to the skin.

Black and white infrared photography has an even longer history than color infrared photography. VSCO has developed a B&W IR filter as well. This filter turns certain greens into a white or light gray tone while also darkening the blues in the sky. This filter also has a strength setting, which will primarily control the IR effect on plants.

Credit: Victoria Hills, VSCO

VSCO’s infrared filters are available now. To learn more, visit VSCO.