Can thermal imaging cameras see through walls?

In the modern film industry, we have seen various depictions of using infrared or thermal imaging technology to catch and defeat the bad guy. However, this technique of locating the enemy is not as simple as it sounds. Do you know whether there’s any truth to these movie scenes? Have movies been feeding you outright lies? Let’s debunk this mystery!

We must understand how thermal imaging works in real life. It’s high time that we stopped depending on movies to update our science knowledge. So, without further ado, let’s find out more about thermal cameras!

Can thermal imaging cameras see through walls?

Some Common Misconceptions about Thermal Imaging

Before talking about thermal cameras, let us establish some basic concepts. Firstly, it is not scientifically possible to actually ‘see’ a person through anything opaque. When we point a thermal camera to see through something, we can only see a colored shape of the person or thing. A thermal camera does not allow us to recognize the person facially. Secondly, thermal imaging does not always show colorization when the temperatures are too hot. This feature varies from camera to camera.

How do Thermal Cameras Function?

You must know how all objects give off heat at varying degrees. Well, a thermal camera takes advantage of this fact. It uses infrared technology to detect where the heat is present. This emitted heat is called a heat signature.

These heat signatures bounce off the object and allow the infrared technology to recognize the object’s location. After performing numerous calculations, it transfers the data to the camera’s processing system. The camera uses this data to form an electronic image and displays this to the viewer.

After many years of innovation and improvement in their working, thermal cameras can now decipher the object’s exact shape just by the heat it emits. That’s pretty cool!

Can Thermal Camera’s see beyond Walls?

You might already have figured out that thermal cameras can’t see through walls. However, this also depends on various circumstances. If the wall is thin enough, the thermal camera can display an obscure image of the person or object beyond that wall. The camera may also be able to detect a person if the wall is not appropriately insulated.

However, if something radiates so much heat that it exceeds the wall’s temperature, the infrared technology can detect the objects emitting the heat. In reality, this feature is used by professional builders to locate any spot on the wall with missing insulation.


To answer the age-old question of whether thermal cameras can see through walls, no, thermal cameras cannot see through a wall. If the heat signature is so massive that it affects the wall’s temperature, the camera will pick up on it and display the heated area in the form of an image.

Note: Thermal imaging can only capture organisms or objects that are warmer than 122 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius. If an item is colder than this, thermal imaging will be unsuccessful in determining the object’s location or dimensions.