The optical signature of leaves is an important monitoring and predictive parameter for a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses, including drought. Such signatures derived from spectroscopic measurements provide vegetation indices - a quantitative method for assessing plant health. However, the commonly used metrics suffer from low sensitivity. Relatively small changes in water content in moderately stressed plants demand high-contrast imaging to distinguish affected plants. We present a new approach in deriving sensitive indices using hyperspectral imaging in a short-wave infrared range from 800 nm to 1600 nm. Our method, based on high spectral resolution (1.56 nm) instrumentation and image processing algorithms (quantitative histogram analysis), enables us to distinguish a moderate water stress equivalent of 20% relative water content (RWC). The identified image-derived indices 15XX nm/14XX nm (i.e. 1529 nm/1416 nm) were superior to common vegetation indices, such as WBI, MSI, and NDWI, with significantly better sensitivity, enabling early diagnostics of plant health.