Have you ever thought of using your digital camera, including your phone, to see in infrared? You have no doubt seen presets and other effects on your digital camera, but what about using it to take some amazing infrared photos.

Can a digital camera see infrared? Many digital cameras can see infrared right away unless they have an infrared filter on them, making the infrared invisible. To use your digital camera to see infrared you can take the filter off or buy an attachment to use on your smart phone. Other cameras without an infrared filter can detect infrared light just fine.

But how can you tell if your camera has an infrared filter or not? Read on below to see how to test your camera to find out. All you need is your camera and a television remote control device.

Here Is an Easy Way to Test Your Digital Camera at Home

Gather your digital camera and a television remote control device. The remote control uses infrared light to send info to your television set. If your camera does not have an infrared filter on it, you should be able to see the light from the remote control when you press a button.

Next, just follow these simple steps to test your camera:

  • Use your remote control to turn the television on and off to make sure it is working properly.
  • Take a photo of the remote control while pressing the power button on.
  • If your photo detects a light coming from the remote, your camera does not have an infrared filter and it can see infrared.
  • If your photo does not show any light, try changing the batteries in the remote and performing the test again.
  • If your photo still does not see the light from the remote control, it must have an infrared filter.

If you don’t have a TV, you can also use any remote with an IR blaster.

Why Do They Put Infrared Filters on Cameras?

The camera manufacturers install infrared filters on many cameras to make the photo quality better. To make the camera see what we see with our own eyes, the camera manufacturers install the filters or films to block the infrared light to reduce the amount of infrared light coming through.

Filter Use: Without infrared filters, many of your photos taken outdoors or in harsh lighting can be washed out or hazy.

Why Would You Use an Infrared Camera?

With your typical digital camera, you can only detect light that your eyes can see. The infrared camera can see things that are invisible to the naked eye. With the infrared camera, the brighter and whiter the image, the hotter the subject is.

One thing that infrared cameras can do is see in the dark. With a security camera or a game camera (trail camera), night vision is the same thing as infrared vision. If a person or animal walks into the view of the camera at night, it will show up as a brighter color than everything around it.

In addition, certain experts use infrared in their work. For example:

  • Meteorologists use infrared light to gauge the temperatures of the clouds to predict storms.
  • Researchers and museums use it for examining and restoring paintings.
  • Astronomers can find planets around stars with infrared light that are not visible with the naked eye.

Interesting Fact: Bees can see colors in the ultraviolet range and snakes can see infrared light.

How You Can Make Your Camera See Infrared

The easiest and most effective way to change your digital camera into an infrared camera is to take it to a professional. They can easily remove the infrared filter from your camera or block it with a different filter. However, this will cause your camera to permanently shoot in infrared only.

You can also get a filter that allows the infrared colors to pass through. These typically cost anywhere from $15 to over $100, and all you have to do is attach it to the camera lens and you are ready to go.

With these filters, your camera itself will still be able to shoot regular photographs when you remove them. There are many different brands and you will have to get the right size for your lens. Here are the top three choices of filters from Amazon:

  • Hoya 77mm SOLAS IRND 3.0 (10-Stops) Infrared Neutral Density Filter
    The Hoya is just over $120 and is a professional quality lens that can take exceptionally detailed long-range photos. The density ranges from .3 to 3 from 1-10 stop light reduction. It will maintain a more consistent color balance and suppresses the visible light evenly. It is also covered by a one-year warranty.

You Can Use Your Old Smart Phone as an Infrared Camera

Most people get new cell phones every one to two years, but what do you do with your old phone? Some people trade them in, but many others have a junk drawer full of old cell phones. Why not use it as an infrared camera?

Many of the old phones already can see infrared colors. All you have to do to test this is to try the television remote control trick explained above. If the rear facing camera on your phone does not work, try the front-facing camera. Sometimes these are better at picking up infrared temperatures because they often don’t have a thermal filter.

If your phone still does not pick up the infrared colors, it has a thermal filter. You can remove it yourself by taking the back of the phone off and carefully prying the lens filter off your phone’s camera lens. Then put the phone back together and it should now pick up thermal colors.

Choosing a Thermal Imaging Camera Attachment

You can also use a thermal camera attachment for your phone. Some of the top choices on Amazon include:

  • FLIR ONE Generation 3 Infrared Camera for Smart Phones with MSX Image Enhancement Technology
    For under $200, this attachment has many options and blends visible and thermal spectrums to get better resolution. The detail with the Flir One is amazing. With MSX technology, you get a visible image over a thermal image to get a crisper view. And it is made for both iOS and Android phones. The Flir One has a one-year warranty and comes with a charger and convenient carrying case.
  • FLIR ONE Pro Professional Grade Infrared Camera for iPhone or Android with both Vivid IR and MSX Technology
    For those who are using infrared photography on their phone or tablet, the Flir One Pro has vivid enhancement technology to find hidden electrical problems, water damage, and pest infestations in your home. With 4,800 pixels, this one is able to get thermal measurements from 14 degrees Fahrenheit to 302 degrees Fahrenheit.

    It comes with a case and charging cable and has a 12-month warranty. Although it has a hefty price tag of about $400, it can be used in many professional applications, so it can help earn that money back. You can also get one with a voltage detector for about $35 more.

How About Some Infrared Goggles?

You know what is even more fun than an infrared camera? Night vision goggles! If you have an old pair of welding goggles with removable lenses, that will work great. If not, you will need to go on a little shopping spree to find some.

Thrift stores are a great place for getting these older items for cheap. Or you can go to a home improvement or hardware store and buy some. Just make sure the lenses can be removed before you buy them.

  • Get some red and blue stage lighting gels from a lighting store or you can even get them from Amazon. You will need two of each color.
  • Remove the original lenses by snapping them out or unscrewing them.
  • Use the old lens as a pattern to cut out circles from the lighting gels. You will need eight lenses from each color.
  • Insert the gels by putting two red gel circles in between two blue gel circles on one side and two blue gel circles between two red gel circles on the other.
  • Test them by going out into the bright sunlight. If the sky looks dark and other objects show up as violet and pink, you did it right. Now you should be able to see people in the dark.

Other Things You Can Do with an Infrared Camera

Even though you cannot exactly see through walls with your infrared camera, you can get pretty close. However, what you will detect is likely the pipes and electrical heat, not people or animals. Unless the walls are super thin and have no insulation, you cannot really see people through walls. Here are some other cool uses for infrared technology:

  • Law enforcement – uses it often to find criminals that are hiding in the woods, water, and certain structures. In fact, the Massachusetts State Police used their infrared camera to find the suspect from the Boston Marathon bombing hiding in a boat covered by a tarp.
  • Firefighters – can also use infrared cameras to find a fire hiding inside a structure like a tree or in the walls of a building. Search and rescue with infrared cameras is also handy for finding victims inside a smoky or dark room.
  • Boating at night – can be dangerous if you do not have infrared cameras. Infrared cameras are able to see other boats and people in the water at night. This is easy because the water is much colder than the human body or a boat motor.
  • Night driving safety can also benefit – Because an infrared camera does not need any kind of light to see, these cameras can pick up things that are lurking in the dark. For example, if you are driving at night and there are deer or other animals on the side of the road, a thermal camera can help you see in the dark.
  • Animal rescues – can be done with infrared cameras as well. Stranded or injured animals unable to be seen in the dark can be easily found with an infrared camera by picking up on their body heat signature.
  • Finding pests – also works in the same way. Use your infrared camera to see if there are any rats, mice, or raccoons hanging out in your walls or attic. They can even pick up on termites in the walls.
  • Medical personnel – can also use infrared technology to find temperature changes in the skin that can indicate infection, circulatory problems, and even cancer.
  • Household troubles – like water leaks and electrical issues in the walls can be found with infrared technology.

Taking Great Photos with Infrared Cameras

The amazing thing about infrared photography is that you can see things that are hiding. When it is dark out and you investigate the woods, you probably will not see anything. However, use your camera to take some infrared photos or videos and you are likely to see some hidden animals like:

  • Raccoons
  • Mice
  • Opossums

Using a tripod is best when shooting infrared photos or videos with slow exposures. But if you have a steady hand, take a seat outside and just start taking pictures. You may be surprised later by what was out there with you when you upload your photos to your computer.

You can also shoot great infrared photos during the day. Try some black and white photography using your infrared camera or filter. Explore your surroundings while taking photos of everything you see. Black clothing looks white, sunglasses are transparent, the grass looks like snow, and trees are yellow.

Try some portrait photography or selfies with your infrared camera. The contrast and light effects make skin look like alabaster and everything looks softer.

What Is Infrared Light?

Infrared light, also known as radiation, is a radiant energy that is invisible to the human eye but can be felt as heat. Infrared light is all around us, but we cannot see it with our naked eye. The human eye can detect colors in wave lengths that are between 400 and 700 nanometers, but infrared is above 700.

Color Spectrum Infrared to Ultravioloet Light

Even though we cannot see infrared light, it can be felt as heat because heat is transferred in different temperatures depending on the object. For example, humans give off heat of about 97 to 99 degrees while the trees or grass are only giving off about 30 degrees or less.

This is not the air temperature it is the reflecting temperature. Humans reflect a lot of infrared light. Some objects give off such a high heat level that they are visible to the naked eye, like fire.

The Discovery of Infrared Light

The discovery of infrared light happened way back in 1800 by William Herschel. As he was conducting an experiment to measure the differences in temperatures between colors on the visible spectrum, he noticed a new temperature.

By placing thermometers in each color of the spectrum, he found that the temperature increased from blue to red. But when he saw an even warmer temperature beyond the red measurement, he had discovered infrared light.

Infrared vs. Ultraviolet Light

There is another version of light that we cannot see with the naked eye called ultraviolet light. That is because ultraviolet lights give off shorter wavelengths that are just past the violet light on the electromagnetic spectrum. Ultraviolet ranges from 10 to 400 nanometers while infrared ranges from 700 to 1,000 nanometers.

Everyone knows that the sun gives off ultraviolet light, which is why we use sunscreen that reflects that light. Too much ultraviolet light can lead to sunburn and even skin cancers.

Although visible light and infrared light do not damage the skin on their own, they can increase the damage done by ultraviolet light. The effect of infrared light is increased tenfold or more with the added effect of ultraviolet light.

Find What You Are Looking For

Whatever your reason for wanting to turn your camera into an infrared camera, it can certainly be done with any camera with the right technology. You can even turn your phone or tablet device into an infrared camera to help detect electrical or water damage, find lost pets, and to see if there are any wildlife hiding in your walls or attic.