May 27

Now for something completely different. I once converted a toy camera (a SiPix Blink II) to take “infrared” pictures. I place infrared in quotes, since it is a very near infrared, that is somewhat visible to humans. However, it is an extremely interesting effect, and easy to do.

There are many materials that are transparent to various wavelengths of infrared light, and that are also opaque to visible light. Some people claim good results with 35mm negatives and floppy disks. I use theatrical lighting gel in the color of Congo Blue.

I started by making viewing goggles, by attaching three layers of Congo Blue to an old pair of safety goggles. When I put them on, it was very dark at first. After a moment of adjustment, I could see plants reflecting a pinkish orange color. It was quite remarkable.  I read that looking at too bright of a light with the goggles on could cause snow blindess, so I tried to be careful about that and not look at the sun or any dazzling gleams. The safety goggles were UV coated to begin with, so it might not have been an issue, but better safe than sorry.

Next, I found my old Kodak Z700. Most digital cameras have a filter that limits the sensor to the wavelengths of light that humans can see. You can remove this filter and take pictures that include some infrared and ultraviolet light. For example, in the Z700, this filter is a tiny sliver of glass resting on a square rubber frame around the image sensor. Transparent to the naked eye, when I looked at it wearing my Congo Blue goggles, it shone like a mirror.

I ended up replacing this filter with a piece of plastic of a similar thickness. It came from the sliding drawer of a parts organizer, and was so transparent in infrared as to be almost invisible. I slid the Congo Blue pieces behind the rubber frame, up against the image sensor, where they’d be held perfectly flat.

When I put the camera back together, it worked amazingly well…


This is a path at Mission Trails Regional Park. It is interesting that the camera interprets the light reflected by the plants as white, rather than pinkish-orange. The sky is dark, as the familiar blue glow is more or less filtered out.

I had a lot of fun with this project, and I plan to post some of the other photos I took to Flickr.

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One thought on “May 27”

  1. Nice colors! The next iPhone should automatically come with camera filters so you won’t need to go through the hassle of creating your own. Can you imagine an iPhone with infrared/night vision capabilities?

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