PetaPixel

An Introduction to Playing with Ultraviolet Fluorescence in Photographs

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Ultraviolet fluorescence is a mechanism in which UV radiation excites chemicals in an object and causes them to release visible light. There are many household objects which fluoresce, such as some washing detergents (anything that ‘makes your whites whiter), soda water (it contains a chemical called quinine which makes it taste bitter, and also causes the fluorescence), the dyes found in highlighters, the bacteria found on the face (which cause spots and acne), bodily fluids (including urine) and much more.

Subjects

There are many fun and exciting subjects for UV fluorescence, a little experimentation is always good, as it helps you to see what works and what doesn’t.

Try making fluorescent bubbles by dropping the felt from a highlighter into a bubble mixture and letting it diffuse (you may have to add extra soap or water), or look around the house to see how clean it really is. UV security markers can also be fun to leave hidden messages!

Equipment

  • UV Source: I’m using a converted Metz flash which I’ve been lent, however a simple UV Torch or a black light tube will be more than sufficient.
  • Camera: A DSLR with manual controls is ideal, however if you do not have one, a simple point and shoot may work
  • UV Blocking Filter: To filter out stray UV radiation, not totally necessary but helpful!
  • Fluorescent Object: Look above for some ideas

Method

This is a fairly straight forward method: simply place the UV filter over the lens of the camera and illuminate the subject with the UV light.

If fluorescence occurs it will be visible as the object should emit visible light. If you’re using a DSLR, you’ll have a lot more control over the exposure so experiment with how much you can see the glow.

Shooting RAW, as ever with this sort of thing, is advised, you can process the images a lot more to enhance the effect.

You can try and mix ambient exposure with a dash of UV – this can be interesting when using UV markers.

UV Florescence image. Illuminated with UV converted Metz Flash. Nikon D700, 50mm f/1.8D, 1/30s f/5.0, 1600ISO

UV Florescence image. Illuminated with UV converted Metz Flash.
Nikon D700, 50mm f/1.8D, 1/30s f/5.0, 1600ISO

Try taking some pictures of yourself or a friend, show your teeth and nails to the camera as these fluoresce, if you see orange dots, that’s probably Propionibacterium acnes, but that’s completely normal as it’s part of your skins natural flora.

UV Fluorescence Image, illuminated with UV converted flash. D700, 35mm f/2D, 1/160s, f/13, ISO800.

UV Fluorescence Image, illuminated with UV converted flash.
D700, 35mm f/2D, 1/160s, f/13, ISO800.

Tonic water is a great substance for experimenting with this type of photography as it can be used in many ways. Adding mentos to a bottle of tonic water gives a fountain effect (same as coke & mentos) and looks particularly interesting due to the fluorescence.

Tonic Water fountain – Tonic water & Mentos illuminated with UV Metz Flash. Nikon D700 & 105mm f/2.8 AF-S Micro

Tonic Water fountain – Tonic water & Mentos illuminated with UV Metz Flash.
Nikon D700 & 105mm f/2.8 AF-S Micro

Experimenting with tonic water, UV fluorescence and high speed photography Nikon D700, 50mm f/1.8D & UV converted Metz Flash

Experimenting with tonic water, UV fluorescence and high speed photography
Nikon D700, 50mm f/1.8D & UV converted Metz Flash

Flourescent bubbles created by soaking highlighter stems in bubble mixture. Nikon D700 & 50mm f/1.8 with UV Metz Flash

Flourescent bubbles created by soaking highlighter stems in bubble mixture.
Nikon D700 & 50mm f/1.8 with UV Metz Flash

So there you have it: a new concept you can play around with in your experiments with photography.


About the author: Thomas Langley is a photographer based in the South East of England who specializes in wedding and portrait photography. Visit his website here. This article originally appeared here.


 
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  • http://twitter.com/oldsweng Patrick Magee

    UV light is not without its risks. Too much UV can contribute to Cataracts as I found out the hard way. I was exposed to UV at my workplace and have had to have both eyes surgically repaired. There is no way I would expose anyone to UV light without eye protection.

  • wickerprints

    Thanks for warning of the hazard of UV radiation. Yes, it is true that UV light is present in sunlight as well as man-made light sources, and that our eyes (and bodies) are exposed to such radiation on a daily basis, but there are a few things to consider:

    1. “UV” is a spectrum of wavelengths, some of which are more hazardous than others.

    2. The intensity of UV light and duration of exposure is extremely important. Even short, concentrated bursts of UV can cause damage.

    3. The crystalline lens of the human eye is extremely susceptible to UV radiation. It is more or less opaque to UV light in order to protect the sensitive vision cells of the retina. But excessive exposure will cause the lens to become cloudy, resulting in cataracts.

    With respect to doing UV photography, a UV flash is not something to play around with casually. These are extremely intense even though their durations are typically very short. Never allow someone to look at the flash directly without proper eye protection. Moreover, if there is no visible light component, such illumination sources must be operated with caution, as UV wavelengths are not visible. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not doing damage to your eyes. Your subjects may not know not to look in the direction of the flash.

  • wickerprints

    I just went back and noticed the third picture in this article, showing the person grimacing with their hands spread out. This is a perfect example of what NOT TO DO. The camera settings show the image was taken at f/13 at 1/160s, at ISO 800, which we can easily calculate to be about EV +11.7 for the mostly UV illuminated image. The subject’s eyes are totally unprotected! You really are risking damaging your subjects’ eyes with such a high-intensity UV flash. The author needs to realize this IMMEDIATELY and STOP.

  • inek saban

    That’s your money shot right there! :)

  • http://twitter.com/latente_flickr Latente

    Laundry detergent :)

  • Thomas Langley

    I do completely realise the risks of UV exposure, the terribly unflattering grimace is of me (the author).
    In hindsight I should have put a little bit on the safety of working with UV.

    However, some of the sources such as the torches or backlight tubes (which are on all the time at nightclubs) pose much less risk, however care should be taken!

    Thank’s for sharing the knowledge though! It’s good to see people looking out for others!