Introduction: Digital Kirlian Photography

Kirlian photography is a high voltage contact print style of photography.

It uses high-voltage, low-current electricity to create a corona discharge around an object being photographed. The feeble light generated from the corona discharge is used to expose film or the CCD element in a digital camera.

Using a digital camera requires the use of a flat transparent discharge plate (TDP). The TDP itself is constructed using a glass plate with a transparent, but electrically conductive coating on one side of the glass. The transmission of light through the TDP is usually better than 90%.

Step 1: Shooting Kirlian Photographs Overview

This Kirlian photography set up may be used with the following types of cameras; digital, 35mm film, iPhone or a low lux video camera. I am illustrating the set up with a digital camera but the other cameras will work as well. Aside from a digital camera you need a suitable high voltage power supply and a Transparent Discharge Plate. I have created instructables for both of these items.

Here is the link to my Instructable for building a Transparent Discharge Plate.

Here is the link to my Instrucatable for building a High Voltage Power Supply.

The subject or object being photographed is in direct contact with the TDP. The high-voltage power source is connected to the TDP. If the object being photographed is inanimate, it is connected to an earth ground. The digital camera is manually focused onto the object through the TDP. The room lights are turned off, or the kirlian photography set-up is covered in a light tight enclosure. Next, the high voltage power source is turned on, once on, the feeble light from the corona discharge should be visible around the object. Next the digital camera shutter is tripped to make a timed exposure of 10-15 seconds. When the camera's shutter closes the high voltage power source is turned off. The digital camera should have recorded the corona discharge around the object which is a Kirlian photograph.

Step 2: Digital Camera, IPhone, Video Cameras

There are four features you need in a digital camera.

1) Long exposure times. The most important feature is the ability for the camera to take long exposures of ten seconds in length or more. Expensive digital cameras will have a “Bulb” or “B” setting that keeps the shutter to remain open for as long as the shutter button is kept pressed. The long exposure time is necessary to allow the faint light from the electrical discharge to accumulate.

2) Macro Setting. The macro setting on a digital camera allows you to focus close to the object you are shooting. This is important when shooting small objects like coins and leafs.

3) Manual Focus. The manual focus setting allows you to manually focus on a subject, rather than having the camera auto-focus on the subject. Manual focus is important because you will need to manually focus the camera on the subject under normal lighting. Once the camera has been focused on the subject, the normal room lighting can be turned off. Turning off the lights is essential to capturing the faint light given off by the electrical (corona) discharge around the object we are shooting.

4) Prevent Built-In Flash. If your camera has a built in flash it is essential to be able to turn it off when making long exposures.

iPhone Camera:

I have the iPhone 5, so the information I am providing is valid for that particular iphone. However I am sure that if the application I use on my phone is available on your phone it will work also. To use the iPhone I use an app called “MagicShutter”. This application allows you to lock focus on an object and manually set your shutter speed and therefore the camera’s exposure time.

Video Camera

There are a number of video cameras on the market capable of shooting in the low light generated by the corona discharge. These are sold as low lux video camera’s. You need a true low lux, you do not want a camera that enters a slow or still frame mode to gather light. You do not want an infrared night vision camera.

Digital Camera Copy Stands - Getting Steady to Shoot

Since we need to shoot long exposures to capture the corona discharge you need to consider how to keep your camera steady during the long exposure. If the camera moves during exposure you will produce a blurred picture.

The solution to this is a camera copy stand.

Step 3: No Lights, Action, Camera

Shooting Kirlian Images

What was that? No lights? Yes that’s right, no lights. In order to capture and record the feeble light of the corona discharge, namely Kirlian images, you need close to complete darkness when making your exposure. How do we do that? We have a few options, shooting in a light tight room or using a light tight cover over your camera, subject and transparent discharge plate.

The simplest option is to shoot in a windowless room, where you can turn off the lights and have relative darkness. If the room you are planning on working in has a window, you could black out all light from the window or maybe you could shoot Kirlian photographs at night. Working at night makes it easier to block any (artificial) light coming in from a window. The big disadvantage is you have to work at night.

The second option is to build a light tight cover for your Kirlian equipment so you can shoot in a lighted room. And there are a few ways to do this also. The simplest is simply to set up the shot and to drape a light tight black cloth over the equipment and shoot.

Set up your camera, copy stand, ground plate, object, transparent discharge plate and high voltage power supply, see figure 1.

Attach the high voltage lead from your circuit to the transparent electrode. If you are photographing an inanimate object such as a leaf or coin, attach a ground wire to the object. A black background usually works best for Kirlian photographs, so place black (non-conductive) paper on the table where you will be shooting. Then place the object on top of the black paper, and finally the transparent discharge plate on top of the object.

When placing the transparent discharge plate on the object, place the plastic sheet side toward the object. This way the corona discharge only needs to travel through the .010 (.254 mm) thickness of plastic. If you place the discharge plate glass side toward the object, the corona discharge would need to travel through .125” (3.2 mm) of glass, making the brightness of the corona discharge much fainter.

If you purchased a Transparent Discharge Plate, the thin glass side has a colored dot on it. Place that side toward the object.

Situate your camera above the object and frame the object as you want it to appear in the finished photograph. Set you camera to manual focus. Then manually focus on the object with the room lights on. If you have the option of setting your F-Stop, open your aperture as much as possible. You’re shooting a flat object, you don’t need too much depth of field. Next set the shutter speed, set it to an long exposure time say fifteen seconds to start is ideal.

Turn off the room lights. Turn on the power to your high voltage circuit. If your HV power supply has a frequency adjustment now is the time to adjust the frequency to provide the best corona discharge. When you have the best corona discharge, then hit the camera’s shutter. Keep high voltage power applied for the full time of the exposure (15 seconds in this example). Sometimes you may want to vary the frequency during the exposure to record different corona effects the change in frequency may cause.

After the exposure you can turn on the room lights and evaluate your Kirlian photograph. You can, adjust (exposure time), for instance if the corona is too bright and blurry, you can reduce the exposure. Or if the corona wasn’t bright enough you can increase the exposure time and re-shoot.

Figure 2 is the Kirlian image captured.

Book with additional information on Digital Kirlian Photography from