Light is an excellent means to externally control the properties of materials and small molecules for many applications. Light's ability to initiate chemistries largely independent of a material's local environment makes it particularly useful as a bio-orthogonal and on-demand trigger in living systems. Materials responsive to UV light are widely reported in the literature; however, UV light has substantial limitations for in vitro and in vivo applications. Many biological molecules absorb these energetic wavelengths directly, not only preventing substantial tissue penetration but also causing detrimental photochemical reactions. The more innocuous nature of long-wavelength light (> 400 nm) and its ability at longer wavelengths (600–950 nm) to effectively penetrate tissues is ideal for biological applications. Multi-photon processes (e.g. two-photon excitation and upconversion) using longer wavelength light, often in the near-infrared (NIR) range, have been proposed as a means of avoiding the negative characteristics of UV light. However, high-power focused laser light and long irradiation times are often required to initiate photorelease using these inefficient non-linear optical methods, limiting their in vivo use in mammalian tissues where NIR light is readily scattered. The development of materials that efficiently convert a single photon of long-wavelength light to chemical change is a viable solution to achieve in vivo photorelease. However, to date only a few such materials have been reported. Here we review current technologies for photo-regulated release using photoactive organic materials that directly absorb visible and NIR light.