Zach Hodgesr&d

VSCO Labs Infrared

VSCO Infrared filters. Image by Carter Moore.


At VSCO, we’re always working on new ideas for creative expression. Today we want to share something we’ve been working on recently that we’re excited to release soon: simulated infrared filters.

With its bright pinks, deep magentas, crimson reds, and other-worldly coloring, the look of infrared images is stunning, and anything but normal. But what is infrared photography really?

What is Infrared Photography?

Infrared, or IR, refers to light that is beyond the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that we can see. We can however feel it as heat, and the warmer something is, the more infrared radiation it emits. For this reason, infrared has many interesting uses in science, astronomy, archeology, forensics, medicine, military surveillance, and many more.

ir light

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.

Infrared film was later released as a consumer product in the 1960s where it found fertile soil in the emerging psychedelic movement. A few iconic album covers from Jimmy Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Donovan famously used infrared film to create their psychedelic colors.

Perhaps the most famous use of infrared photography is Richard Mosse’s documentation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seeking to show the devastation of a civil war that is invisible to most of the world, he used recently discontinued Aerochrome film to create arresting images of war in pink jungles for his book “Infra” in 2012, and later with video film. (More here and here)

Nowadays, color infrared film is discontinued, but infrared photography is very much alive. By removing the infrared blocking filter in digital cameras, modern photographers are still creating beautiful, other-worldly infrared images.

How the New Filters Work

This, however, brings up the question: “If my camera blocks infrared light, how will VSCO’s IR filters create this look?” The answer is that they 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.

Here you can see how the colors are changed in 3D space in the IR1 filter. Specifically, see how the greens are all being pulled to red.

The first filter is built for landscape images to ensure that plants whose color so often spills past green into yellow still turn to red and pink with the filter. However, people may turn odd colors in some situations with this look, and for that reason, we’ve created a second filter that is similar to the first but with more consideration for skin tones remaining natural colors. While real infrared photography can render people in unnatural colors at times, the look of bubblegum pink plants behind a portrait is so interesting (such as those by Richard Mosse), we made this alternate version to enable this expression.

Note in both images how the landscape version affects the skin but the portrait version does not. Images by Killivvn and Nikki Recicki

Note how the portrait version doesn’t turn all the grass red but the landscape version does. Image by Joel Flory

With both of these filters, the strength slider presented an interesting challenge during development. Halfway between green plants and pink plants is an unattractive dull orange that is neither natural nor infrared. We needed something else to do with that slider.

bad orange Dull orange color between green and magenta. Image by Zach Hodges.

During our research, we had noticed that many infrared images feature either red plants or pink plants, and we learned that this was due to color filters that photographers place over their lens to change the infrared effect. This was the perfect solution to our problem, so we designed the strength slider to move between pink greens and red greens to capture the full look of infrared photography.

IR1 & IR2 color changes with slider. Images by Zach Hodges & Lafir Mager.

Lastly, we created a black and white infrared look. We haven’t discussed B&W infrared here, but it’s even older than color infrared and renders plants and trees into a ghostly white while darkening skies for tremendously dramatic landscape images. The strength slider here adjusts the brightness of the infrared look on plants.

victoriahills original treecluster BW Max small

IR3 changes with slider. Image by Victoria Hills.

Try It Early

In anticipation of this launch, we would like to extend an offer to our community to try these presets out early. In order to do this, you’ll need to send us your images using THIS FORM, we will apply the infrared presets and email these back to you on June 28th with the presets applied. Please include your first and last name in the file description so we know who to email the edited images back to. E.g. liam.hollingsworth-1.jpeg, liam.hollingsworth-2.jpeg

You can then choose to share these images the same day you receive them back from us.

If you decide you want to share the images on VSCO, Instagram, or other social channels, use #vscoinfrared

We also invite you to come and discuss the new infrared presets, or any VSCO feature or topic in our official VSCO Discord channel:

We are excited to see your images with these effects applied and we can’t wait to launch these filters alongside you!

Sample Images

01 Image by Zach Hodges 02 Image by Apricot Berlin 03 Image by Kyle Hale 04 Image by Kyle Hale 05 Image by Kyle Hale 06 Image by Christina Rouse 07 Image by Dolly & Fife 08 Image by Zach hodges 09 Image by Earlington 10 Image by Kyle Hale 11 Image by Kyle Hale 12 Image by Kyle Hale 13 Image by Zach Hodges 14 Image by Kyle Hale 15 Image by Kyle Hale 16 Image by Kyle Hale 17 Image by Kyle Hale 18 Image by Kyle Hale 19 Image by Kyle Hale 20 Image by Kyle Hale 21 Image by Killivvn 22 Image by Lafir Mager 23 Image by Logan Haven 24 Image by manmeetsstyle 25 Image by Nikki Recicki

Share this post



Film FX Part 3: Frames

Zach Hodges

Film FX Part 2: Distressed

Zach Hodges

Film FX Part 1: Light & Texture

Zach Hodges

1. How We Execute - Ways of Working

Rahul Rudradevan
© VSCO 2022. All rights reserved.