The light-promoted conversion of extensively used cyanine dyes to blue-shifted emissive products has been observed in various contexts. However, both the underlying mechanism and the species involved in this photoconversion reaction have remained elusive. Here we report that irradiation of heptamethine cyanines provides pentamethine cyanines, which, in turn, are photoconverted to trimethine cyanines. We detail an examination of the mechanism and substrate scope of this remarkable twocarbon phototruncation reaction. Supported by computational analysis, we propose that this reaction involves a singlet oxygeninitiated multistep sequence involving a key hydroperoxycyclobutanol intermediate. Building on this mechanistic framework, we identify conditions to improve the yield of photoconversion by over an order of magnitude. We then demonstrate that cyanine phototruncation can be applied to super-resolution single-molecule localization microscopy, leading to improved spatial resolution with shorter imaging times. We anticipate these insights will help transform a common, but previously mechanistically ill-defined, chemical transformation into a valuable optical tool.