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UV light


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

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UV light

19 Nov 2020 8:18AM   Views : 667 Unique : 393


One of my friends has been suggesting that I do something with UV light for months. And I’ve been a bit reluctant, for a couple of reasons… I’ve now done some serious research, and I have a few caveats to throw at you: if you don’t mind some expense and some risks, this may be for you…

My research (yes. Quite a lot of internet time) threw up an acronym: UVIVF – it stands for ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence. Some materials emit visible light when strong UV light falls on them. This distinguishes what we’re doing here from shooting using the UV part of the spectrum – this requires an adapted camera which is sensitive to all wavelengths, and using a UV transmission filter (the opposite of the UV filter somebody sold you with your lens – this one blocks infrared and visible light, and allows only UV light to reach the sensor. Firms that adapt cameras for IR can also do this.
First, you’ll need a light source. I’ve got a ten-quid UV torch, which is quite effective but not terribly powerful. You can get UV lamps for fish tanks, but beware – the first ones I happened on emit UVC light – what you wear sunblock to avoid. This is seriously bad for you… But will be OK for inanimate subjects. There’s more on this later.

A 450mm UV tube will set you back £19 on eBay, and the type of UV light isn’t stated – but at least it’s sold for parties, rather than killing algae in fish tanks.


Broncolor make a special UV flash accessory, used with the glass UV filter that normally protects very high quality flash tubes. But Broncolor lights are VERY expensive.

To make the sort of pictures we want to take needs stuff that fluoresces under UV light, and there’s a disappointingly limited amount of it in my house! Allegedly, tonic water, honey and plants all work, and most paper with brightening agents in it. Interestingly, a lot of plastics work wonderfully: if you have plenty of children’s cups and plates, you should do well!

And you can buy pens and makeup, even Holi powder that fluoresce under UV. It would be really easy to spend a lot of money on this… And, if you want to get those special model images with wild makeup, you need to be prepared for a shoot that is mostly preparation. If paying a model to sit and be made up for two hours for the sake of less than an hour’s shooting, this won’t be for you…

Both focus and exposure may present problems: the exposure levels will be quite low, and AF may not work terribly efficiently, so you should be prepared to focus manually with ordinary lights on, and then kill the visible light and switch on the UV. The low level of visible light emitted means that slow shutter speeds, wide apertures and a tripod will need to feature.


That low level of emission causes another issue – you will need to ensure that the background light level is very low, or it will overpower the UV-induced light. The glow-in-the-dark look depends on having a lot of dark. Ideal for winter evenings…

Safety – for once, health and safety is something you need to take notice of. UV light damages and ages human tissue: it’s bad for skin, and particularly for eyes. Make sure that you understand the risks and precautions, and if you use a model, make sure that he or she does, too. Use UV sparingly, and don’t look directly at a UV source, or point it at someone else. It’s a good idea to wear eye protection – the good news is that if your glasses have a UV coating, they’ll do. I'll finish by quoting from PhotoExtremist's website:

WARNING: Short-term/long-term overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can contribute to causing sunburn, health problems, skin cancer, premature ageing of the skin, eye damage, DNA damage, immune system suppression, etc. As a photographer, your eyes are very important, you don’t want to damage them, shorten their lifespan, or get cataracts, so always wear proper eye protection whenever using UV lights. You also have to mindful of the things you photograph. Never look directly into a UV light source without proper eye protection and never shine a UV light into another person’s eyes directly.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
19 Nov 2020 8:20AM
There's a lot more info at PhotoExtremist's website, and for my money it's presented better there than on YouTube.

And while it's in no way scientific proof of anything, every moment that I had the UV torch switched on made my eyeballs sweat: I didn't enjoy the experience!
altitude50 Avatar
altitude50 19 24.1k United Kingdom
19 Nov 2020 9:54AM
Very interesting, article by photoextremists, but a bit frightening. It reminded me of the 1970's discos there was always one man there with a shirt that glowed dazzlingly white inder the UV lights, and sometimes a stunning girl with.......well if you were there you might or might not remember. We were told that the glow was due to the whitener in the detergent.
I wonder if the same lighting is still in use in clubs, I'm far to old to go to them now.
I think I will stay with infrared photography.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
19 Nov 2020 10:39AM
Certainly, some of the lights available are advertised as being for discos... And I've hardly ever been in a club, at any age! Always too noisy for conversation!
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
19 Nov 2020 2:28PM
I've never been tempted to try this though the results are fascinating.
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
19 Nov 2020 9:56PM
By coincidence I've literally just built an A3 size UV cabinet for friend to use to produce cyanotype prints. They're surprisingly cheap to make as a 5 metre length of 300 high power (SMD5050) UV emitting LEDs costs just £17 including the 5 amp power adapter, plus a bit extra for wood, solder, and screws. Anyway, apart from it making things plastic turn dayglo coloured, it occurred to me to try another type of UV photography John: ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography. For those who haven't come across it you shine UV light onto a subject in the dark and use a lens filter to cut out the ultraviolet light you're using. What happens then is that some of the illuminated things such as flowers fluoresce into the daylight wavelengths giving beautiful and unexpected results. Here's a website with some lovely images: https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/01/glowing-flowers As an alternative to UV lights, I believe high-powered flash units (such as the Godox AD360) also produce amounts of UV. So it might be worth trying those instead of a UV source with an appropriate filter to either remove the UV for the fluorescence photography, or with a filter that cuts out ordinary light so you only see the UV light produced. So far I've not tried any of the above. So don't blame me if it doesn't work for you!

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
19 Nov 2020 10:22PM
I suspect that the Broncolor attachment for their studio flashes works the way you describe.

I've been wondering why this doesn't appeal to me for a workshop, and I think that it comes down to four things:

Health: the fact that my eyes go funny after seeing UV light worries me, given the warnings, and the damage UV definitely does to skin;
Cost - kitting up to give decent exposures with whole models won't be trivially cheap (I'd need two or three of the units you've made, and for a single session that would necessitate a price way above what I reckon the market will stand. And there'd be a load of UV-sensitive makeup on top;
Time... Workshops flourish on constant picture-taking: UV puts the emphasis on makeup, so the togs would be sitting round for most of hte time, shooting for maybe 20% to 25% of the time theyr'e paying for; and
Colours - I don't like the strident colours that UV fluorescence gives, if I'm honest!
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
20 Nov 2020 11:41AM
I share your apprehension about uv light and models and workshops too. I believe that the modern lights used in clubs and photography are now at least only just the other side of visible and so are mostly safe. But you never can be too careful. It reminds me of a young model I photographed about 20 years ago who decided to go on a sunbed without goggles and just close here eyes. Well, 3 hours later she'd gone blind in both eyes. Very fortunately the blindness only lasted overnight, but the A&E doctor said that she was exceedingly lucky!

As for UV photography, imho I think that it's best kept for still life type projects, where there's the luxury of time to get everything set up for a single 'perfect' shot and then the lights only need to be switched on momentarily.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
20 Nov 2020 11:43AM
That sunbed story is scary...
AltImages Avatar
AltImages 3 4
20 Nov 2020 12:09PM
Very scary. I knew of damage, and increased chances of cataracts, but it never occurred to me that a single 10 minute sunbed session could potentially result in permanent blindness.
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
28 Nov 2020 7:14PM
At least all that UV will boost your Vitamin D levels.

Sadly, if you overdo it there's only a few months left to be a Trump impersonator.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2063 England
30 Nov 2020 11:17AM
I'd be a failure as a Trump impersonator: I lack the unfeasible rug on my head, and I couldn't bear to mangle the language as he does. Wahtever else, he hates English grammar!

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