Introduction: Photography in the Ultraviolet Spectrum

Picture of Photography in the Ultraviolet Spectrum

or "See the World Through the Eyes of a Bee".

For years I've wanted to mess around with UV photography. Unfortunately, all the websites on DIY UV seem to assume an infinite amount of money and access to specialized equipment on my part. There are two things that I don't like, when someone tells me I HAVE to spend a lot of money (quartz lenses starting at $3000) or that i need specialized equipment (Wratten 18A filters, not cheap either).

So I set out to do it my way, and here's my $5 solution to UV wavelength photography.

Step 1: Finding a Filter

Picture of Finding a Filter

I was wracking my brains trying to find a UV bandpass filter, when, quite literally, a light bulb went off in my head. A blacklight bulb that is. Blacklight bulbs are formed from wood's glass. Wood's glass is a uv & ir bandpass filter.

There are two kinds of blacklight bulb (at least), incandescent and fluorescent. I tested both, good for you, because the fluorescent kind DID NOT WORK. This is good because the incandescent is safer to work with, and cheaper.

Step 2: Take Your Light Bulb

Picture of Take Your Light Bulb

and break it, once you've broken it, take a piece that will cover your camera lens and work out a mount. I used the same mounting technique from my previous instructable. Okay, I cheated and used a glass cutter.

Here it is already to mount on my digital camera.

Step 3: Go Outside and Take Some Pictures

Picture of Go Outside and Take Some Pictures

You'll need bright sunshine, and maybe a tripod, you can use flash, it puts out plenty of UV and gives you a different look.


Dr KlausS made it! (author)2015-05-17

This is basically UV with quite a bit IR (infrade) in int unfortunately. You woudl need to stack an UV transmitting, blue-green filter glass to that proposed DIY filter! Like Schott BG38 oder BG40, 2mm thickness at least to filter out unwanted IR.

I have a tutorial about UV photography and how to avoid falling into pits on my BLOG here:

pillboxhat1 (author)2014-09-19

I know this is an ancient article, but it is still up and since it is not accurate, I thought I'd chime in. You see, most cameras, (talking mainly about DSLRs, I am not very familiar with compacts and with some exceptions like Nikon D40/D70) have an IR/UV cut filter built-in, right in front of the sensor. So, if you manage to record an image on them with this method, it means you are not recording the UV spectrum, but the blue/violet part of the visual spectrum. Let's not also mention the fact that a real UV pass filter would be completely opaque to the naked eye. To actually get a UV image you will need a proper filter, but, more importantly, for most cameras you will have to do a "full spectrum" modification to remove the IR/UV blocking filter in front of the sensor (usually a $100-$200 service).

dnaman (author)pillboxhat12015-04-29

I think perhaps the article is somewhat more accurate than your reply. Sure, most digital cameras have IR and perhaps UV blocking filters over the sensor but no consumer-priced filter is 100% effective - they pass some IR and UV albeit only a little compared with visible light. So if you are shooting in visible light, with exposures in the hundredths or thousandths of a second range, to all intents and purposes they act as blocks to IR/UV.

However, if you, for example, put an IR pass filter over the lens, put the camera on a tripod, set auto-exposure and shoot, the resulting (1/2 - 1 sec probably in bright light) exposure will be a decent IR shot. The IR pass filter effectively blocks visible light (again not perfectly but good enough) and passes IR. With a long enough exposure, this IR will get through the camera's IR blocking filter on the sensor. This is a recognised way of doing mostly static IR photography at minimum expense and without hacking the camera and many people do it.

A similar argument is true for UV photography - and note that the author did state "You'll need bright sunshine and maybe a tripod .... "

chris.franzese.779 (author)2015-02-01

Finding an affordable way to get UV quality pics like the ones recorded in this video would be nice to know

Franciscodr (author)2014-10-04

Hi! Great trick!

I'm developing a DIY UV meter and I need a UV pass filter to block any IR and visible light. They are rare/expensive. Any idea? Thanks!

_Magician_ (author)2014-09-16

This is very useful to begin training in the ultraviolet spectrum as well. I passed it along to my uncles (who teach Lights and Shadows) and they've had great success with it. Thank you for posting.

thassaj (author)2012-07-15

Very cool. I have heard that some white flowers have extravagant patterns under UV. That would make a nice example photo!

NathanielBailey (author)thassaj2012-09-27

Forget about just making some awesome photos, I'm gunu have to get a room full of UV lights and an assortment of different flowers to make an epic party room ready for christmas and any other house parties I have :)
Thanks Nath @ Lincat

uv treatment (author)2012-07-13

I thought this UV light  usage is the similar to the bee UV view. There is a lots of UV treatment usages, like narrowband UVB phototherapy and other ones which could do some harm, so be careful with UV light.

gjones21 (author)2012-05-21

as a photographer myself i tend to go with regular flashes off camera, i hadnt even considered using a UV bulb - this is certainly something i am going to give a go - nice write up for the "poor mans" UV photography

Washroom UK

yrak (author)2011-08-25

I can not thank you enough, you just saved a student $50!

garethjones10 (author)2011-08-05

Nice one.... great work....

CNM online

M2aestro (author)2010-09-11

I'm now nearly cursing this comment posting service, because it keeps on vanishing while I'm posting!
I mistyped "florescences" for the term, "fluorescences" in a previous comment, and a few attempts to post comment, too. The former refers to a subject of my interests, the production of flowers and the period of doing so by a plant, whereas the latter has to do with re-emission by an object of photons at a shifted wavelength. What this has to to with UV is that some materials can be excited by UV to emit in the visible spectrum, and presumably there are cases in which the re-emission is in the UV.
Sorry if the typo caused confusion on the part of any readers.
The subject's original post had to do with the fact that glass is NOT opaque to UV in the A and B near-UV bands, but does start attenuating UV-B significantly by 330nm, I think. You can be much more specific by specifying what kinds of glass, etc., for example, flint glass would attenuate more at higher wave lengths, I think, than crown glass, and there are many glass formulations that are different from those in use in today's lenses. Also, the modern coatings, especially on zoom lenses, tend to attenuate UV, so look for simpler 4-5 element prime lenses with minimal coating to photo in UV. Also consider the simpler enlarger lenses, reversed with appropriate threaded adapters.
Some of the more significant issues would be in getting exactly coincident multiple images, so use solid tripods or camera mounts, bracket shots, consider image focal plane shift for different kinds of lenses (achromatic vs apochromatic, etc.), and have fun experimenting.
Some digital cameras have very poor anti-aliasing filters, and can be use with long exposure times, filters, composition in visible, etc.

M2aestro (author)2010-09-11

Apologies to all who may have found an aborted response from me about belvedere's, Absconido, and others' comments that "That's why you need those expensive lenses..." I was interrupted in my first attempt to post by some sort of automated nuisance that was welcoming me to the site.
      Contrary to poorly informed opinions, glass is not "opaque"to UV, but rather attenuates UV. Therefore, the more glass, the more likely the attenuation will be enough to make it appear opaque. Think now: If glass were opaque to UV, would you need UV filters to remove image haze from film or digital images? No, of course not!  Many of the coatings on modern lenses attenuate UV more than the glass elements, and may actually approach real opacity. BTW, air also attenuates UV beyond what we call near-UV. Therefore, if you wish to do less expensive near-UV photography, and "see as the bees see" (never mind that this would be composite images, etc.) or at least obtain images that are reflected or are products of florescence in near-UV wave lengths (See, I'm sidestepping that silly argument.), then obtain an (or some) triplet or four elements lenses and if needed, thread adapters for your camera(s). There are still prime lenses from the 50s and 60s around on eBay and by other sources. You could use older enlarger lenses reversed. I have 50mm and 68mm Nikkor enlarger lenses. You could also consider quite early 50 or 52mm (58mm) lenses from Olympus in the f/ 1.2-1.8 range, those with white metal stop rings, as contrasted with later items with black rings. Less coating on these excellent earlier lenses. I suggest the faster lenses only because your exposure is going to be long, relative to visible spectrum photography. Forget the idea of punching a pinhole in a body cap to make a pinhole camera. The material is too thick. I think you'd have really ugly images and very long exposures. If you were to drill a much larger hole in the body cap and use black cement or black pigmented methyl cyanoacrylate adhesive, such as a particular black Locktite (spelling?), then you could have a fine pinhole (made before bonding, or punched against a suitable backing), then you could possibly have a pinhole camera. Of course, you'll still have some diffraction and a soft image. With respect to the Woods filters, perhaps you'd wish to experiment here, and find filters that attenuate at different wave lengths below 480nm, I think it is where visible spectrum falls off for those of us who've not had corneal implants.. BTW. if you have had such implants, you are probably familiar with the fact that the human brain processes near UV as essentially a repetition of the blue and violet visible bands. Yes, you see far red, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, blue, violet. So, if you are digitally processing the images, and wish to combine images from near-UV with visible, then take the longer of the near UV, and process that as blue, and the shorter near-UV as violet. If those already exist on your image in the area of interest, then just choose something else, such as a contrasting color or high-contrast white. I have no suggestions about false imaging for the near-IR, except to pick a color that contrasts or suits your artistic proclivities. If you want to use multiple images from black/white film with different filters, and then process the scanned images for composite color, much as artists such as Larry Sanchez used to do with dye printing (not the correct term - a brain constipation is impacting the correct term), you can assemble whatever colors you wish from multiple images. Remember to use a tripod or sturdy stand, and be ultra-careful when you change filters. Perhaps you should make certain that your filter mounts are not leaking visible light into the camera before you invest too much into your subject photography. If you are going to use digital cameras, then if you can't afford to send your camera to a lab that removes IR and UV protective filters from the CCD or whatever detector, then maybe you could look for a used Nikon D-70, for it had a rep for having "crappy" ( I hear) or weak anti-aliasing filters, and Some have used the D-1, I hear. Both should be available at significantly reduced prices, for they have been superseded by better products with better technology for their targeted functions. I hope that I didn't inadvertently misstate something above, and that what I've said helps you find ways to make good UV and UV florescence photos.

garethjones10 (author)2010-06-23

Hello This is Gareth Jones Great idea, but I had a couple of problems. Tried it on a Nikon D80, and got nothing but black images. Then moved the filter to a Fuji IS-1: an IR camera, which has simply had the IR filter left off the CCD, but still needs IR filters, which block visible light, to take IR images. It behaved the same as an IR filter. So I presume it was letting IR through as well as UV. Any suggestions? Regards, Gareth CNM Online

scrow (author)2008-10-06

Nice idea! Is it also possible to see UV-ink on the Camera which usally is only visible under blacklight?

wupme (author)scrow2009-01-03

UV-Ink is something different. It doesn't emit UV Light (well maybe a tiny bit), it does glow under UV Light. So the UV Light is needed to make that Ink Glow.

lclippard (author)wupme2009-04-26

in this case you could make a UV filter for the flash, which would allow the UV ink to be photographed.

wupme (author)lclippard2009-04-27

Yeah i already did that, but big problem... It seems my flash doesn't emit alot of UV light, but it gots so much power that it rapidly destroys filters not made for flashes. On the other hand that method probably works best in the dark with a different UV source than the flash.

g3thig4chri5 (author)wupme2009-12-29

Even filters for flashes fyi :)

Rynny (author)2009-06-22

Great idea, but I had a couple of problems. Tried it on a Nikon D80, and got nothing but black images. Then moved the filter to a Fuji IS-1: an IR camera, which has simply had the IR filter left off the CCD, but still needs IR filters, which block visible light, to take IR images. It behaved the same as an IR filter. So I presume it was letting IR through as well as UV. Any suggestions?

Tool Using Animal (author)Rynny2009-06-22

Right, it let's through both UV and IR, you can get a much better picture using a "hot mirror" with the UV filter. It could be that the Nikon lenses have a much bette UV coating than the ones in the $80 kodak I did these picks with ;-). So for the nikon I'd suggest taking it out in the bright sun and opening up the aperture and seeing if you can get anything. If not try adding a hot mirror to the fuji and see what happens. Here's a pic I did before I broke the camera using a hot mirror with the black glass and then false coloring in GIMP.

Plasmana (author)2008-11-30

Wow! That is very clever! I am going to try this...

Plasmana (author)Plasmana2008-11-30

Oh, and 5 stars!

wirecutter (author)2008-08-25

'Nice touch' saves the cost of a filter but kills a black light bulb unless you have a friendly stage 'sparks' for duff ones. Two ways of getting most of a light bulb with out just shattering it #1 Remove the end cap and snap the stem ( Try this on some old household bulbs, first remember goggles & gloves! ) #2 Loop and tie a light string around the neck of the bulb (on the glass not the metal ) hold in a clamp around the bulb with neck/base vertical, run a small quantity of alcohol on to the string and with care light the string and stand clear ( Try this on some old household bulbs, first remember goggles & gloves! ) Note not all Blue UV bulbs have Woods glass as some "Fly killer " bulbs are just painted! Have fun

orangesrhyme (author)2008-06-26

Was the M. Strigillosa a type of sensitive plant? The flowers look very similar, but I remember it [sensitive plant scientific name] being M. Pudica.

it's the same Genus, it's less sensitive, the leaves close at night, when it rains, or if you walk on it, but over a period of minutes.

I see. I only know that stuff because my brother went to malaysia for a couple of years, and he saw some pudica sensitive plants, so I ordered some seeds. They're pretty neat.

asanthai (author)2008-06-25

the fluorescent bulb didn't work because of the differences in the way the two bulbs work. A typical mercury vapor fluorescent bulb actually gives off UV light, which causes the phosphors coating the inside of the glass to fluoresce, or glow, giving off the light you see. Generally a fluorescent bulb won't need standard spectrum filters. an incandescent bulb, on the other hand gives off a fairly wide spectrum (though heavy on the yellow, typically) that is generated from the filament, but to be narrowed down to just the UV blacklight frequencies, must be filtered by the glass. case anyone cared to know why the fluorescent bulb won't work for this project. (Not to mention the fact that breaking open a fluorescent bulb for its glass exposes you to mercury vapor, which is harmful.)

shadow_of_steel (author)2008-05-14

This is brilliant, seriously. I never thought of that... Simple and efficient.

tslibertan (author)2008-04-30

A thought provoking business. It occurred to me that the whole 'transmittance of lens' issue would be resolved simply by using a pinhole camera. This would unambiguously be UV photography.

A simple solution for SLR owners would be to simply replace the lens with a body cap that has a small pinhole punched into it. A source of well filtered UV illumination would be useful to reduce the exposure times.

One could also achieve some very sharp photos above the diffraction limit, since the hole can be smaller than that used at visible wavelengths.

I've done regular photography similar in spirit to your work. Although I was mainly interested in UV luminescence, whereby UV light is turned into lower energy light - re-emitted at visible wavelengths. I found some interesting things in the woods, including a leaf stem that glowed under UV and squirrel urine that glowed intensely compared to water. The peculiar effects on regular items due to reflectance was also noted.

!Andrew_Modder! (author)2007-11-20

oh.. Nice! :-D

Tool Using Animal (author)2006-12-31

And a case for this being UV photography..

First on the question of optics, I tested several different optical systems for transmissivity . The test was done by shining my Flashlight O'Death through the optical system onto a fluorescent target, although I was unable to test the optical system of my camera this way, the optical system of my Canonette, a pair of "coated" binoculars and the disassembled lens system of a camcorder all showed strong transmission in the 390 nm region. Also three stacked "sky filters" caused no apparent diminishment in apparent fluorescence.

Second, specific to this camera, pictures of my FO'D show that my camera is sensitive to UV.

Third, on the use of wood's glass, a quick search shows that 18a filters were once called "wood's filters" because they're made from Wood's glass according to the MIT medical imaging website.

Finally, with a caveat, an image. The image shows three shots each of the same pink tabebuia. One is natural light, the pinkish one is illuminated by sunlight using my filter, and the third is illuminated by my FO'D at 390 nm. And on par, I think with Mr. Rorslett. So in conclusion, I do think this qualifies as UV photography, the caveat being that if your source of UV is the sun then there will be considerable IR "contamination".

tmihai (author)Tool Using Animal2007-10-26

Yes your arguments are believable and tend to make sense so that I agree with you on these being a case of UV photography

Yours simply doesn't have the telltale color difference of true UV photography.

As I previously stated, I believe there is more UV light in your photos than in a standard photograph, but it's still being washed out by the visible spectrum. While the images are likely UV "enhanced" they're mostly just magenta/blue.

That picture only proves that filters block their opposites and pass light of the same color. Causing the yellow to shift completely. Just like a red filter causes the sky to turn black in black & white photography.

That image you linked was shot on film, the colors are artifacts of the emulsions, further into his pages he even details how to process digital UV images to get that effect. colorizing. Sadly I suck at photoshopping

If it is just a simple matter of yellow shifting to magenta should not the boundaries in this picture be coterminous? Sorry the flower moved I'll reshoot tomorrow if you insist.

Happy New Year to the nicest bunch of geeks in the world!

eight (author)2007-10-23

If memory serves, I own a Hoya Tech filter (55mm Diam) called a U-360 It is a UV filter passing light at 360nm. This may help someone do some UV photography... Nice instructible BTY ! Thanks !!

SteveUK (author)2007-07-13

As I understand it, the problem is that glass absorbs UV. So how about using a pinhole camera?

jbeale (author)SteveUK2007-07-24

"UV" covers a large range of wavelengths. There is longwave and shortwave UV, "vacuum ultraviolet" etc. The region closest to the visible spectrum is the longwave from 400 nm down to say 320 nm. Most kinds of glass are transparent in longwave UV. Most UV photography is done at the border between visible and UV, only slightly into the longwave UV region.

jbeale (author)2007-07-11

You can buy Wood's Glass at fairly reasonable prices, eg. $15 for 52mm diameter or 2" square piece. Roscoe# 33650 UV "Woods Glass"

Mr. Smart Kid (author)2007-06-28


Tool Using Animal (author)2007-06-22

I'll make one last attempt to convince those who don't believe in this

Here's a lantana picture

the lantana taken with my wood's glass filter and the lantane taken with my secondary method

budwheizzah (author)2007-03-07

This isn't necessarly UV photography but simply UV phosphoresence photography. The reason why this didn't cost much to do is the camera you're using is not picking up UV rays, but only phosphoresence from objects reflecting UV rays in a different frequency. Real UV photography would reveal ONLY the UV rays and nothing else. In this case we're only looking at deformed, reflected UV rays. Capturing UV rays the right way WILL cost at least 600$ (I found surveillance UV cameras for cheap... there is a mini Sony model out there if you want to hunt it down - look for the Sony XCEIEU series) Extremly beautiful picture though. Can't argue with that.

_soapy_ (author)budwheizzah2007-06-22

Ok, that's amazingly pedantic. In general useage, the term "photograph" infers a picture of a thing, rather than shots solely of the sun, and only it's rays, and not all those annoying ones that bounce off other things and make otherwise beautiful pictures of the void of space far too crowded...

Seriously, next you'll be saying "That's not really an image, it's a bandpassed series of photons. If I can't see the radio waves in it, it's fake. And, it's taking a picture of the image formed by the lense! Terrible!"

This is taking a UV image. The way to tell is to try looking through the optics - if it is dark, then it is blocking the light you can normally see, and since your eyes are bad at UV (your corneas block it) even after your eyes adjust, you won't see much. If you then take that set-up, and use the rather higher UV transmission of your glass lenses, with a comparable exposure time, then it *has* to be UV that is making the film react, since we already know there is too little light coming through.

I'm looking forward to the butterfly pictures.

godbacon (author)budwheizzah2007-04-06

the science guy in me agrees to a point .. but the artist in me says "poop poop" lets just call it a UV FX filter .. like so many effects filters out their this home job is an artistic tool ... not a science tool

MadMechanicMike (author)2007-06-17

too much science

pinniped (author)2007-05-03

UV filters are expensive because they are a specialy item. Don't worry about a "Woods" filter or "Wratten" filter - not only are they expensive but they are not as durable as a glass filter such as Schott UG11:
You should be able to find off-the-shelf UG11 filters for at least a 49mm filter fitting.

The lenses are very expensive because they should be using Calcium Fluoride and Fused Silica elements - both materials cost an awful lot more than the usual glasses used for lenses and designing an achromatic lens for UV/Visible is quite a challenge. Of course as someone already pointed out, you can use a Newtonian reflector.

If you're using film you need to check the manufacturer's website for the response to UV. Color film is generally bad and you will simply get bluish/purplish images - I'd recommend B/W because nothing else makes sense - if you want color then you need to use several UV filters and create your false color scheme, and doing all that makes the UV lenses look cheap.

If you're using a CCD they generally have poor UV response (but typically OK to 350nm) but there are 'coated' detectors which fluoresce to enhance UV sensitivity. CCDs have a good near IR response, so you may need an IR blocking filter which does not block the UV - there are some "dichroic" UV filters which would do that job nicely. UV + IR filter would get you a real UV photography filter for about ... oooh, no less than $600.

If you want genuine UV photography without paying too much, then stick to the UG11 glass (or similar) and a suitable B/W film. Ordinary lenses still transmit a bit around 350nm, but in any case you probably won't be metering correctly so you have to experiment to get your exposure times right and they could be as much as a few seconds. Since with a film camera you will see absolutely nothing through the filter, you also need to experiment and mark your lens to get the UV focus right. No matter how you look at it, proper UV photography takes a lot of time (and money). To help get the job done quicker (and guarantee good results) people do shuck out $$$.
I'm working with a friend at the moment and we're putting together a UV digital camera - total cost over $16,000 in parts.

pinniped (author)pinniped2007-05-03

OK... a little homework shows that the Woods filter, Wratten 18A, and "blackligh/blue glass" are really all the same thing. Sorry about an earlier post about Wratten filters being less durable than a glass filter - I've always associated Wratten with 'gelatin'. So, this is indeed cheap UV photography. Try to peer through that glass though to see how much visible light leaks through; they're pretty thin so I'd imagine the visible part may not be blocked all that well. I'd still recommend B/W film, for example Ilford 3200, for the work.

pinniped (author)pinniped2007-05-03

By the way, for those critics out there - this is not a 'UV FX filter' - as described it may be a genuine UV setup. I'll have to buy an incandescent UV bulb and smash it and take a bit of glass to a lab to verify that though. One other caveat with lenses: modern lenses may have rare-earth glasses and most of these fluoresce and really ruin the contrast of your UV photos.

shell_123 (author)2007-03-03

whats the effect if any on a film camera?

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Bio: Working my dream job in the Telecom industry, so chances are, i'll never have time to respond to comments or messages, nothing personal.
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