Secrets to Black Light (UV) Photography


Secrets to Black Light  (UV) Photography

 We just did an amazing UV / Black Light painted body shoot. I thought you might enjoy the insights from the shoot.

 It started with the purchase of a single 20-watt black light tube and two black light threaded fluorescent bulbs. Don’t go with those by the way, the small screw in ones. I was ready to rule the world. As soon as we offered a UV session a client booked hers. Two days after that I arranged for 5 body painters and 6 models to come in for a Black Light paint off.

 How hard could it be to photograph black light?

 Even with some research I still had some interesting, unexpected twists.

 That first light I bought was very weak. Without blowing the ISO into full grain (or noise, my film background is showing.) we had to place our light very close. This restricted the cropping and full body options. While today’s digital cameras can handle high ISOs, they still have a limit.

 The effect was exciting though. We did simple designs as much to test the strength and effect as to test what the colors do.

 Some colors are very close to each other under black light, while they appear noticeably different in daylight. There is not a great range of colors to work with under Black Light or subtle ones.

UV & Daylight compare

 The weak power of the single tube bothered me. My research led me to LED UV lights options. An experienced UV light tech explained that the LED UVs were not the same. Some were just purple LED lights. The one I settled on were Slimbank UV-18. Which means they had 18 large LED lights in each unit.  They came with barn doors and a dimmer control.

 We noticed a startling difference between the two lighting approaches. The tubes gave a more pure UV light. What was not phosphorous remained pretty much black. The colors came up a little different too.

 The high-end LED lights gave a purple tint, especially to exposed skin, to the areas not painted.

 We found that having two units was a huge advantage. Position them on each side of the camera so you get a fairly flat wall of light. It increased my overall exposure, removed the shadow side plus gave me more posing ranges.

 Using a daylight backlight creates a cool effect that adds depth to the image. This gives a wonderful life to some of the images, imbuing the image with an interesting dimension. You can use flash although it needs to be powered way down to be useful. I used my Profoto’s modeling lights with a colored gel on several.

 A few things to be careful of, starting with teeth. Wow, are they unpredictable! Some of our models mouth’s just glowed! Yet for others they had a dull green, nearly a zombie’s mouth, look. Usually I found it is less distracting if they don’t smile.

 Similar issue with eyes, most go to black so when open, if not enough light is hitting them, they have a very alien look. The whites can vanish; no iris or pupil separation makes it very eerie look.

4886D-0218MV samples

 Don’t forget the hair or props. There is an invisible spray that will give a whitish glow. Use the same spray on your props, the nice thing about the spray is when the UV lights are off, they look unchanged. If you don’t spray them, or choose Phosphorus props, it becomes a dark element in the image.

 We sprayed them outside so my studio would not being glowing.

 For exposures I found the in camera meter did a pretty good job. Come in close so the black background does not come into play. Then fix those in manual mode.  For process, use your camera’s native file processing software. I used the new canon interface, which removed any grain issues. The big thing is I have access to their scenes or picture profiles, like the ones the jpg uses. Each setting radically changed the look of the image. Since I was shooting a wide range of different colors, this was a quick fine tune.

 For some inspirations, check out our Pinterest pageThere are 75 samples there and growing.

 This is a cool place for products that may inspire you too. It is They have some of the coolest accessories, paints and lights.

 The tricky part of working with UV in the digital age is the processing. Normal adjustments don’t work as expected. Different colors and intensity will vary your results.

 One last thing, in addition to the black light shots, turn on your daylight lighting to get some full color spectrum images.

 We have our next session with body painters booked already. It is an exciting twist to our everyday photography. I am sure there are lots more to learn and play with.

X1134A-0043UV Adrienne-Tracy sml copy

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