Ultraviolet photography is something that relatively few photographers explore, but it’s a fascinating realm to wander around in.
Much of my photography revolves around the world that we cannot see with our own eyes. This “unseen world” approach can make otherworldly beautiful images from everyday ordinary subjects. Using light beyond our own spectrum is a great way to start these explorations – enter the world of ultraviolet fluorescence photography.
Interestingly, just about everything in nature fluoresces to some degree. You may have heard about scorpions or certain millipedes glowing under UV light, but if you bring forward enough UV-only light, everything can “glow”. The intensity of the light is key, and it needs to be “pure” as even a fraction of a percentage of spill-over into the visible spectrum will contaminate your results.
This is a typical setup for an ultraviolet shot. Each of these Yongnuo flashes has been modified to output exclusively UV light, and the process only takes about five minutes but requires some extra filters. I have recorded a video of the modification, check it out on youtube.
Since the flashes are usually at point-blank range to the subject at 100% output, getting the right lower angle is important, but so is stability. I have used tabletop tripods in the past but the front-heavy flashes topple over, sometimes damaging the subject. The Platypod Ultra handles this front weight perfectly.
These stonecrop flowers light up like fireworks from their normal dull yellow colors, adding addition hues of reds and purples In the stems and buds that were completely absent in the original image. These flowers transform like something out of science fiction – all you need is the right light to witness this metamorphosis.
The same kind of interesting glow can come from minerals! The below image depicts a cerussite crystal, a lead-based mineral that happens to fluoresce a vibrant yellow color, much like the color of the sun. I thought it would be interesting to stage a narrative – as if the sun had gone out, but this little rock was still producing light, and the flowers were bending towards it like they would normally bend to follow the sun through the sky. Multiple flashes extra close – as close as possible, with flowers held in place with various clamps exactly aligned to the camera’s focal plane.
The only light illuminating this scene is ultraviolet, which in turn fluoresces, making it seem like it was lit from within. By some definitions, it is. While this story is not one that is naturally occurring, the fact that is can be created with natural elements and some inventive choices “in camera” makes it artwork.
These obscure macro photography techniques, as well as basic tutorials through masterclasses of expert knowledge will be included in the upcoming book Macro Photography: The Universe at Our Feet which is currently being funded on Kickstarter, running until Sun, July 14. The 352pg hardcover book aims to be the best instructional macro photography book ever written, and will be shipping in December 2019.