Photography in the Ultraviolet Spectrum

Introduction: Photography in the Ultraviolet Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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.

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73 Discussions

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).

1 reply

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 .... "

Finding an affordable way to get UV quality pics like the ones recorded in this video would be nice to know https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9BqrSAHbTc

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!

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.

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

1 reply

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

4 replies

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.

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

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.

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?