CSS Image Effects #6: Infrared Photography

November 7, 2015

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This is the final post in a series which breaks down visual effects using CSS filters and blend modes. Read Part 1: The Vintage Washout Effect, Part 2: 3d Glasses, Part 3: Vignettes, Part 4: Bokeh Textures, and Part 5: Lomography for some background on blend modes and filters. Let's end the series with something short and sweet that has a lot of impact for minimal lines of code: a faux infrared photo effect.

Infrared Photography

Infrared photography captures light in a spectrum beyond what is visible to the human eye (light which lies between the visible spectrum and radio waves 1). There is a special kind of film you can buy to capture this light and create some really stunning, surreal effects.

infrared image example infrared image example

The key to the Infrared effect is actually a little photo hack, and we can fake it pretty easily in CSS. It basically comes down to 4 steps: Duplicate, Invert, Color Blend, and Play With Hue.

Step 1: Duplicate

The first step is to duplicate your base image. This can be done with multiple elements or with pseudo elements. Remember, you can't use pseudo elements on the <img> tag so you'll either need to line up two images, or use the <figure> tag in this. If you're using two images, you should technically be placing those two elements within a <figure> anyway, so I'm just going to be using a sole <figure> for this example.

<!-- HTML -->
<figure class="creek--infra"></figure>

Step 2: Invert

Now, we will use filter: invert on only the top layer, so it will look a little bit like this (this is a live effect, so you'll only see it in a compatible browser):

original image

inverted image

Step 3: Color Blend

So now, making sure these two are layered on top of one another, we will use blend-mode: color on the top image (the one which is inverted). This is where the magic happens! We're colorizing our image with the inverse of itself! How meta!

The HTML is: <figure class="creek--infra"></figure> and the CSS code looks like this:

.creek--infra {
  background-image: url('creek.jpg');
  height: 400px;
  background-size: cover;
  position: relative;

.creek--infra:after {
  content: '';
  position: absolute;
  top:0; left:0;
  width: 100%;
  background-image: url('creek.jpg');
  -webkit-filter: invert();
    filter: invert(1);
  height: 400px;
  background-size: cover;
  mix-blend-mode: color;

Play With Hue

Now, this is a little vivid, so we may want to decrease the saturation a bit by setting filter: saturate() to a value less than 1. At the same time, we can use filter: hue-rotate() to play with the color.

The only difference in the image this time is that I'm using filter: invert(1) saturate(.75) hue-rotate(60deg); instead of only filter: invert(1) on the top layer. Pretty cool, right?

Mixin Time!

To make our lives easier, I made a little mixin to recreate this effect! You just specify image url and degree of hue-rotation when calling the mixin.

The @mixin looks like this:

@mixin infrared($img, $deg: -60) {
  position: relative;
  background: url('#{$img}');
  background-size: cover;

  &:after {
    background:  url('#{$img}');
    filter: invert(1) saturate(.75) hue-rotate(#{$deg}deg);
    mix-blend-mode: color;
    background-size: cover;

And the usage of this @mixin would be:

.creek-infra {
  @extend infrared('creek.jpg', 60);

Try out your own images and check out some more examples in this Codepen:

See the Pen Infrared Mixin by Una Kravets (@una) on CodePen.

tl;dr: A faux infrared photo filter in CSS is just 4 steps: duplicate, invert, color-blend, and play with hue

That's it for the series! I hope you enjoyed it! Please share this and check out my other posts for more CSS image manipulation fun :)

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