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.



47 thoughts on “LED Artwork Disappears Right Before Your Eyes

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. @alxy

    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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. @ 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

  12. 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?

  13. “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…

  14. @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…)

  15. > 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. @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.

  21. 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 ;-)

  22. 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.

  23. @Chris

    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.

  24. [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.

  25. 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…..

  26. 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?

  27. 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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