Near-infrared (NIR) dyes are desirable for biological imaging applications including photoacoustic (PA) and fluorescence imaging. Nonetheless, current NIR dyes are often plagued by relatively large molecular weights, poor water solubility, and limited photostability. Herein, we provide the first examples of azaphosphinate dyes which display desirable properties such as low molecular weight, absorption/emission above 750 nm, and remarkable water solubility. In PA imaging, an azaphosphinate dye exhibited a 4.1-fold enhancement in intensity compared to commonly used standards, the ability to multiplex with existing dyes in whole blood, imaging depths of 2.75 cm in a tissue model, and contrast in mice. An improved derivative for fluorescence imaging displayed a >10-fold reduction in photobleaching in water compared to the FDA-approved indocyanine green dye and could be visualized in mice. This new dye class provides a robust scaffold for the development of photoacoustic or NIR fluorescence imaging agents.