The truth about UV photography

I’ve been dabbling in ultraviolet photography for years. But I just can’t find the right approach. I want to like this “different” kind of photography in the invisible spectrum, but somehow I don’t. So far at least.

It lacks the wow effect, unlike IR photography. It’s much more involved than infrared. You have to be more patient, the demands on the equipment is much greater. Even if you have a full spectrum camera, even if you have a camera with good ISO capabilities, a suitable lens and a good UV bandpass filter, the results for me so far are meager.

Maybe that’s because I like to shoot landscapes with it. And urban ones at that. Street scenes, modern life. With movement. With people, with architecture. I would have some good ideas and ultraviolet photography would fit, but it’s so challenging.

The most troublesome thing is really that, unlike IR, you have to expose for a very long time. I took the photos below at about 1-2 seconds, aperture 4 or 5, and ISO 400. Of course, this only works with a tripod. Cars and people, moving trees or flags blur that way. Often this gives an interesting effect, but in most cases I would prefer the “freeze photo”.

Then the white balance. I have not yet managed an in-camera white balance with my UV bandpass filter. And setting the white balance in Photoshop is not so easy either.

I’m whining, I know. And it’s not that bad. And maybe I’ll fall in love with ultraviolet photography yet. It’s certainly good for exceptional portraits in the studio, of people, but also of flowers. Everything gets that metallic, almost “sick” look. Plants look as if they were covered by an oil slick, photos of people look as if they were taken in the 19th century. The faces are furrowed, dark and also strangely shiny. Actually, an excellent tool for implementing crazy ideas and concepts.

I may yet find my way into ultraviolet photography. My hopes are currently resting on a filter combo I ordered that lets a little IR through in addition to UV. Maybe it’s the mixture that does it. I do not know.

Anyway, I took some pictures today. They were taken with a Nikon D3100, a Kolari UV bandpass filter and a standard lens (35-80mm). The lens is not bad at all. Tried a few others as well – and all were similar in my eyes.

I like this one a lot. Here in the false color variant. Because UV photography is not necessarily black and white. You can play with color channels just as you can with IR photography. The image shows another special property of UV: Many signal boards or digital displays or shop windows turn completely black. The world becomes a “blank slate”. Lots of potential. Maybe too much to just leave UV photography behind.

UV bandpass filter

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