The interaction of infrared light with the human ocular fundus, particularly sub-retinal structures, was studied in vivo. Visible and infra-red wavelengths and a scanning laser ophthalmoscope were used to acquire digital images of the human fundus. The contrast and reflectance of selected retinal and sub-retinal features were computed for a series of wavelengths or modes of imaging. Near infrared light provides better visibility than visible light for sub-retinal features. Sub-retinal deposits appear light and thickened; the optic nerve head, retinal vessels, and choroidal vessels appear dark. Contrast and visibility of features increases with increasing wavelength from 795 to 895 nm. Optimizing the mode of imaging improves the visibility of some structures. This new quantitative basis for near infrared imaging techniques can be applied to a wide range of imaging modalities for the study of pathophysiology and treatment in diseases affecting the retinal pigment epithelium and Bruch's membrane, such as age-related macular degeneration.