Ultraviolet Photographs

Jennifer Betts
fluorescent portrait under ultraviolet

Light comes in spectrums. In a typical photograph, we see the normal rainbow spectrum or visible light. But there is another spectrum that is not seen by the human eye normally: the ultraviolet or UV spectrum. While it can take some specialized equipment, setting your camera to shoot UV photography can bring a whole other world to light, literally.

Starting UV Photography

Before shooting these images, it is important to understand UV light. The ultraviolet spectrum is responsible for your summer burn, and in technical terms, UV light is electromagnetic radiation that falls in ranges from 8x1014 to 3x1016 Hertz.

UV photography is the art of using your camera to capture this light. These images can be bold and neon or high-contrast with vibrant lights and darks. It is a vast field and open to all types of photography, including portrait, landscape, macro, etc. This type of photography is also used in technical fields like forensics and archeology.

human finger prints under ultraviolet

Types of UV Photography

If you think that you can just slap a black light into your image and start taking pictures, you won't get the most out of this field. First, you need to understand that there are different methods for capturing a UV photograph.

Reflected Ultraviolet Photography

The first type of UV photography is called reflected ultraviolet. In this type of photography, you use lamps that emit UV light to illuminate your area or subject. For example, in portrait photography, you would surround your subject with UV lights. Then you would have a specialized filter on your camera that only allows UV light through the lens. This will allow you to shoot a UV image.

Instead of showing visible light, your image would illuminate the subject with UV light. While this can be done in color, black and white is a great way to highlight this style. Typically, reflected UV photography is the preferred method in technical or forensic photography for fingerprints and bruising.

Reflected Ultraviolet Photography

Ultraviolet-Induced Fluorescence Photography

In this type of photography, you use UV lights and agents that react with or highlight that radiation, like laundry detergent, to capture the UV light. You are working to make the UV light visible to the human eye rather than only reflect UV light.

Ultraviolet-induced fluorescence can take on a psychedelic twist showing you the natural ultraviolet or blue light that is emitted by specific substances or subjects. Of the two, this type of photography is usually more fun and requires less equipment. Additionally, it can make for some unique images.

slime in ultraviolet light

Getting the Right Equipment

There are several pieces of equipment that you'll need for this photography style. They include specialized lights, filters, and a camera - which may need modification.

Camera

A camera sensor has the capability to take UV pictures, even a digital camera. However, if you want true UV images for analytical or technical purposes, like forensic photography, this can take modifying the digital camera slightly.

Film cameras simply need some black and white film and a specialized filter; however, a digital camera will require some modification to be converted to a full spectrum. When used in conjunction with specialized filters, these modified sensors will do UV and infrared photography.

Filters

Another must-have for UV photography is a filter. This is a specialized filter that will go over the camera lens and only allow UV light to pass through. This will block out the other spectrums, allowing the image to be illuminated by your intended light source.

Lenses

In addition to a camera and a filter that can capture the UV spectrum light, to get true UV images, you must have a UV lens as well. These lenses meet special specifications and are coated in a certain way to allow UV light to transmit through the lens. If you want to shoot true UV images, it is important to shop around for the right lens and consider things like diffraction, how the light beams will spread on the image, and focus. Focus is important because the shorter, higher frequency UV waves will focus differently than other light spectrums.

Tips for Ultraviolet Photographs

Like any art form, UV photography is all about trial and error. It takes time and patience to get what you are looking for, especially if you are doing this as a creative art form rather than for its technical ability, like in forensic photography. However, there are a few tips that can help to get you started:

Vary Your Settings

Playing with your camera setting and lighting placement can help to vary the images that you get. Additionally, varying the exposure can give you some creative and interesting imagery.

Use Different Formats

Try your image in both black and white and color. This photography type does interesting things to skin and objects, allowing you to see different elements that you wouldn't normally be able to. For example, UV photography of the skin reveals sun damage and freckles that wouldn't be otherwise visible. By varying the color, you can create different effects, especially if you work with ultraviolet-induced fluorescence.

Neon make-up in ultraviolet light

Play With Props, Makeup, and Liquids

Try adding props like UV wool to your images. This can really create fun and unique textures within your photographs.

Adding UV makeup and liquids can enhance the vibrancy of the images. For example, adding splashes of UV liquid onto your models along with UV makeup, like lipstick, can have some really interesting effects.

Woman with UV makeup

Try Different Lighting

Play with your lighting. Try using different UV lights and lamps to vary the different effects that you get.

makeup and skin under black lights

Consider Bubbles

Create bubbles with a UV liquid. Adding the bubbles in addition to a model sprayed in a UV liquid can really make your images pop.

Woman blowing bubbles in UV light

Lighting Your Images

UV light is a light spectrum that can't be seen with the human eye. However, it can be seen by a camera sensor with the right lenses or modifications. UV photography can be used as a unique art form or in technical images for areas like forensic science. Additionally, there are multiple ways that you can capture this frequency of light, but it takes a bit of trial and error to get it right. Have fun experimenting with this unique photography type.

Ultraviolet Photographs