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Exploring a new realm: Ultraviolet photography

I’ve always wanted to try out UV or ultraviolet photography. I thought that it was quite complicated to achieve, but I was wrong. So let’s see how it can be done and how it looks.

But first, let’s learn some facts: What exactly is ultraviolet or UV light?

Like infrared it is electromagnetic radiation invisible to humans, although insects, birds, and some mammals can see near-UV.

Ultraviolet light has wavelengths shorter than visible light. Infrared has wavelengths longer than visible light. The term ultraviolet (“beyond violet”) is based on the fact that the UV spectrum is followed by wavelengths of violet.

UV light can cause chemical reactions and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Suntan and sunburn are familiar effects of over-exposure of the skin to UV, along with higher risk of skin cancer.

Ultraviolet is also responsible for the formation of bone-strengthening vitamin D, so the UV spectrum has effects both beneficial and harmful to human health.

To capture UV light you’ll need a special camera and a special filter.

I use a full-spectrum camera (Nikon D3200) and the Ultraviolet Bandpass Transmission Lens Filter from Kolari Vision. Additionally you’ll need a lens that is compatible to UV. Luckily, for Nikon shooters, there’s a widely available and quite cheap lens out there that does the job very well: The Nikon AF 50mm F/1.8D.

So that’s my recommendation: Get a full-spectrum Nikon, get a Kolari UV filter, which is much cheaper than other UV filters but performs very well, and a 50mm F/1.8D lens. Everything together will cost you approximately between 600 and 800 dollars.

So what’s the deal with ultraviolet photography?

The most notable characteristic is the “old skin” effect: When you photograph a human face in UV, you’ll see skin damages, wrinkles and such much better than with visible light.

Flowers and plants will look differently too, sometimes kind of metallic. Green plants will appear much darker because they absorb a lot of UV. UV looks a lot like the opposite of infrared: black instead of white plants, coarse instead of soft skin, light instead of dark skies et cetera. And UV landscapes are very foggy. You’ll get a very special feel and atmosphere, like a very old image from around 1920 or something.

I can’t wait to do some more testing and shooting and show you videos.

Oh, and here’s a good introductory video about UV:


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