Fluorescence imaging, utilizing molecular fluorophores, often acts as a central tool for the investigation of fundamental biological processes and offers huge future potential for human imaging coupled to therapeutic procedures. An often encountered limitation with fluorescence imaging is the difficulty in discriminating nonspecific background fluorophore emission from a fluorophore localized at a specific region of interest. This limits imaging to individual time points at which background fluorescence has been minimized. It would be of significant advantage if the fluorescence output could be modulated from off to on in response to specific biological events as this would permit imaging of such events in real time without background interference. Here we report our approach to achieve this for the most fundamental of cellular processes, i.e. endocytosis. We describe a new near-infrared off to on fluorescence switchable nanoparticle construct that is capable of switching its fluorescence on following cellular uptake but remains switched off in extracellular environments. This permits continuous real-time imaging of the uptake process as extracellular particles are nonfluorescent. The principles behind the fluorescence off/on switch can be understood by encapsulation of particles in cellular organelles which effect a microenvironmental change establishing a fluorescence signal.