LED artwork disappears right before your eyes


If you walked into an art gallery and saw nothing but blank canvases lining the wall, you might be compelled to demand your money back, or assume that you had discovered the world’s laziest artist. If this gallery happened to be displaying work by [Brad Blucher and Kyle Clements] however, you would be mistaken.

These two artists have collaborated to create a series of works titled, “Take a Picture“. Each picture they have built is constructed to look like an empty canvas when viewed with the naked eye. If you were to take a picture of the canvas with your cell phone or digital camera however, a whole new world would open up in front of your eyes. Their artwork is constructed using infrared LEDs, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, but are visible to nearly any CMOS or CCD sensor on the market. The images range from simple smiley faces and objects to abstract geometric shapes.

It’s a very simple, yet novel approach, and we happen to think it’s pretty cool. The artists have not said what they have planned for this project in the future, but we’d love to see it expanded using larger LED arrays to display higher-resolution images, or even short movies.

Keep reading to see how they went about creating these works of art as well as a promo video demonstrating the effect.


  1. This is very clever, I wish I had thought of it! I’ve used my phone to test IR remotes for activity for years… it’s a great little hack.

  2. Bob says:

    Why didn’t I think of this?

    I too have used my phone to test IR devices (usually gates) all the time.

    very, very clever. I hope the media gives this guy some recognition

  3. biozz says:

    i have seen an IR projector at a magic show in DC
    they play a video and say “take a photograph with your cellphone and you will see the ghost of [blah blah blah]”
    they use one visible light projector and one IR
    its an interesting trick XP

  4. concino says:

    Who knew my TV Remote was a piece of art. :P

  5. strider_mt2k says:

    I myself have received props at work for pointing out that the cameras many techs are already carrying can be used to spot-check the IR LEDs in light curtains and other IR devices we service.

    Much fun!

  6. Adam Outler says:

    strider_mt2k: I use the same method to test presence sensing LEDs in medical equipment.

  7. alxy says:

    will this work with my film camera?

  8. jeditalian says:

    an infrared sign that says “F* off” or something similar, would be nice for paranoid individuals who think that people are spying on them. also would be funny to put up IR ‘billboards’ on your roof, your front yard, etc, for those planes that fly over taking pictures of your house and trying to sell them to you, google vans, quadcopters, etc.

  9. smilr says:


    yes and no you would need infrared sensitive film, standard photographic film won’t pick up this light.

    Another thing to note is that many digital cameras and webcams have infrared filters in place to block this sort of light. YMMV

  10. J. Peterson says:

    Funny, most guards in art museums come after you the moment you pull out your phone/camera, “No Photos!”.

  11. Dallas says:

    Doesn’t this sound like the art projects that were in William Gibson’s Zero History?
    I didn’t read the whole thing. Drug dealers investigating cool pants, I sort of wandered off as far as interest.

  12. therian says:

    do people really cant see IR LED? I always see light, yes it very dim but visible. On other hand I dot her pass 15khz

  13. therian says:

    *don’t hear

  14. makomk says:

    therian: you sure you’re entirely human ;-)? Seriously, though, the human eye can’t normally see infrared. (Near-infrared can be seen faintly.) I think people who’ve got certain types of artificial retina can perceive UV, but not IR

  15. Oren Beck says:

    NEAT Art Hack. Arguably, it’s an example of overlooked potentials. There’s a related reminder too- Someone recently got booted from a mall when the Universal Remote they were using to mess with food court flatscreens- became visible on the night vision capable security cameras. Yeah- those can see IR really well.

  16. cfox says:

    I didn’t think this was too creative at all, our theatre department at my school uses an IR array so we can watch what’s happening on set at all times (scene changes, etc.) I’ve seen IR artwork before as well.

  17. Hitek146 says:

    Like therian said, I can also see high-powered infrared LEDs quite well. They are dim, but easy to see. In the dark, in fact, they are quite obvious.

    Also, they should try this with a large LCD and an IR backlight. This submission may not be a “hack”, but they implemented a great idea. Awesome post, Mike! BTW, LDR usually called photocell, these days… ;p

  18. biozz says:

    @ everyone confused about beign able to see IR

    IR is Infra-Red
    Infra = before
    if you can see it it is no longer IR it is visible light therefor red
    you just have an extended visible spectrum

  19. gcat122 says:

    LDR (light dependent resistor) is different than a photodiode/photo voltaic device/solar cell. The term photocell is often misused or just ambiguous.
    Also, there are IRLEDs that are near to red and glow slightly, and there are very invisible IRLEDs that are a little further away from red.

    Fun project. I like the invisible signage ideas. How about a name badge that reads differently in photos?

  20. Hitek146 says:

    “LDR (light dependent resistor) is different than a photodiode/photo voltaic device/solar cell. The term photocell is often misused or just ambiguous.”

    Not to be argumentative, and I was really just joking, but I was referring to the usage of the term as I learned it studying 1965-1980 paper texts when I was young. I was definitely not referring to a phototransistor or solar cell. Light Dependant Resistors, as I learned the term, migrated in general conversation/tech notes to be referred to more precisely as a CdS(Cadmium-Sulfide)Photocell…

  21. me says:

    I can see 850nm IRLEDs.
    I can’t see 940nm IRLEDs.
    I suspect this is true for many folks and it really just depends which ones you’ve been looking at.

  22. Kimura says:

    @jeditalian: Trolling Google 2.0? Win. (But I think remote mapping satellites have filters so they only capture certain bands, if I remember Phys Geo correctly. Presumably, Google would only use the RGB bands for Google Maps. Now Google Street View…)

  23. elektronisk says:

    > IR is Infra-Red
    > Infra = before
    > if you can see it it is no longer IR it is visible light therefor red
    > you just have an extended visible spectrum

    No. If you can see IR, it is not the same as red. ‘Red’ and ‘IR’ are defined as certain bands in the EM spectrum. That definition does not depend on the visibility of the radiation.

  24. Chris says:

    The idea is not new.

    Mr. Huber built a IR-clock http://www.hubersoft.net/elektronik/iruhr/iruhr.html in 2009…

  25. Hendi (dg3hda) says:

    Not new – in 1996 i ordered a bunch of then-still-expensive in comparision to today IR-LED and wired them up heart-shaped with a resistor and a battery – the girl i was dating liked not just me but also her video camera, which was a kludgy panasonic vhs-c. Very recently during development of a pulseoximeter I used the IR-sensitivity of my cellphone camera again: A IR and a RED LED is used to measure the transmission losses thru the finger due to absorption by “color-changing” Hemoglobin.

  26. mikey says:

    It is a simple and cool effect for someone unfamiliar with infrared light.

    I sincerely hope they measured the amount of infrared light they are emitting with their ‘art’.

    Infrared can damage your eyes if the intensity is too high, since your pupils won’t contract if there is too much light.

  27. bogdan says:

    Not all cameras will be able to see it. Most higher quality cameras have IR blocking filters.

    And there is another reason why you can see IR leds as faint red, and it’s not because you are superhumans. It has to do with the fact that, as opposed to a laser that emits a narrow spectrum light, LEDs will emit light in a wider spectrum. Some of that spectrum spans through the visible RED. Most energy is still in IR, but some is visible.

  28. Wow! Thanks for the response and the kind words, everyone.

    I’d like to respond to J. Peterson’s comment,
    “Funny, most guards in art museums come after you the moment you pull out your phone/camera, “No Photos!”.

    That was one of the main motivations behind this project!

    ‘Art’ is supposed to be about culture. An important development in our culture is the ubiquity of digital cameras, yet museums prohibit this.

    My ultimate hope is for this to get put in a museum, where their stupid anti-photography policies completely ruin the artwork.

  29. PKM says:

    How long until we start seeing these showing anti-piracy ads on cinema screens to stop people camcording movies?

  30. bogdan says:

    It shouldn’t be too efficient, an IR blocking filter on the camera fill fix the problem….

  31. James says:

    “How long until we start seeing these showing anti-piracy ads on cinema screens to stop people camcording movies?”

    You sir, are a genius.

  32. alan says:

    @james & @PKM

    cameras can have IR filters. would be a total waste of money considering most people recording the shows can google how to get rid of the annoying ad. just saying.

  33. isama says:

    @PKM, Less CAM’s released is better for everyone.

  34. Brad Blucher says:

    I would like to mirror Kyle’s thanks. I am so glad that you have all enjoyed the work. Kyle made my comment pretty clearly so I will leave it at that.

  35. dude says:


    nope that was augmented reality…(source code by W Gibson)

  36. bob battle says:

    Better they should describe why smiley face didnt show in the picture, how cameras incorporate IR filter. obviously using a digital camera doesn’t always work ;-)

  37. Alex says:

    Here is another neat example of the same technique: http://www.vimeo.com/3936520

  38. momo says:

    take a picture??

    butbutbut copyright :P

  39. rschlagle says:

    Been doing this for awhile. Have made seen neckalces and hats that ruin sec/cams from “seeing” you. Also have plans to put in lic plates and visor so traffic cams are disabled as well.

  40. Chris says:

    So, anyone think about how they took that picture for the top of this article? Personally, I see two options.
    1) The camera picked up the IR smiley face, but the artists photoshopped the canvas back to tan.
    2) The camera used didn’t detect the IR smiley face, thereby ruining the entire idea of the project.
    Just saying. One way it’s fraud; the other disproves the entire point of the project. But I am open to being corrected if anyone has brilliant insights.

  41. Geter_Priffen says:


    At best, it is a digicam with an IR filter installed and a cheap cell phone cam without one.

    At worst, its a ‘shop. In either case, does it really matter? Every promo shot for just about everything is ‘shopped these days.

  42. Brad Blucher says:

    This was a promotional image and has been retouched to enhance the effect.

    If you want to see a more authentic video of the work in action, check out this link from Nuit Blanche 2010:

    @ Geter_Priffen

    Thanks, you were right on the money.

  43. James says:

    [quote]cameras can have IR filters. would be a total waste of money considering most people recording the shows can google how to get rid of the annoying ad. just saying.[/quote]

    They can, but they rarely do and it’s an additional difficulty, IR filters are not generally available attachments for normal cameras meaning they’d have to fashion something themselves after they recognised the problem etc.

  44. Koray says:

    @ James

    So you’ve never heard of Leica M8 and free IR-cut filters sent out by the manufacturer?


  45. jackalek says:

    I’ve just tested my AV Recevier remote with two cameras – HTC Desire and Nokia E71 – nothing,
    So either both phones have good IR filter or my remote is not infra-red…..

  46. wosser says:

    I was astonished to see that they were actually using a small PCB for each LED! This build sounds incredibly expensive on that factor alone.

    Why not just solder the resistor straight to the LED? That would cut down expenses and also manual labour.

    How about a big multiplexed grid of IR LEDs that you could play animations on?

  47. icesmoker says:

    Fuck. I just thought of doing this. Googled it and bam well there goes my unique idea.

    Actually was thinking of making it a smiley face too lol. Oh well at least it exists. Love it!

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