Photography

DIY—Ultraviolet Flash for Blacklight Photography

Author Gvido Murnieks, a photographer based in Valmiera, Latvia, shares his experience of building his own UV flash.

Back in May I got an offer from a body painter to collaborate on a photo session with airbrushed models.

This offer gave me the incentive to finally try out blacklight photography, which I had been wanting to try out for years.

After searching on the web, I found that blacklight photography is actually a pretty technical and complicated process.

The main obstacle for blacklight photography is the light source. Generally, there are two main options for UV lighting—ultraviolet constant lighting and ultraviolet strobe lighting.

The problem with ultraviolet constant lighting is low light output.

For example, even when using a pair of 400W UV lights, it would require relatively high ISO and low shutter speeds—that wouldn’t work with my old Nikon D5100.

The other option, black light strobes, solves the problem with low shutter speeds and high ISO, but the problem is cost. For example, a single Broncolor UV Attachment costs more than all of my camera gear combined.

At this point I was rather discouraged but, thanks to a lucky coincidence, I got my hands on an old soviet UV flood light that used ultra violet filters, not UV bulbs.

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After researching these filters, I found that it is possible to purchase similar filters on AliExpress—find industrial vendors by googling: ‘Ultraviolet Transmitting, Visible Absorbing Filter’.

How these filters work: most lights emit light in the visible spectrum (390-700 nm) and some light in the ultraviolet spectrum(300-400 nm). These filters simply block out the visible light spectrum and allows only ultra violet light to pass through. This is what previously the mentioned Broncolor UV Attachment does.

Without further ado—here’s how I made ultraviolet strobes for blacklight photography.

What you’ll need:

— A flash (I used a pair of old FIL-105s)

— Ultraviolet-transmitting, visible-absorbing filter

— Gaffer tape

— UV body paint

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The hardest part about this project is to get the supplies, but after that it doesn’t take a genius to attach UV filters to strobes.

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Now, when it comes to hot-shoe flashes, it can get a bit more complicated. Some flashes, especially high-end ones—like CaNikon—have UV blocking filters. These flashes require removal of this filter in order to work with blacklight photography.

In the case of my YN560-III I didn’t need to do this, because it does not have a UV blocking filter.

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Test shot with UV paint, illuminated with the YN560-III
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A behind-the-scenes look at the setup

My lighting setup was really simple. I used both FIL-105 flashes for UV. As these FIL-105 flashes synchronise optically, I used YN 560-III on the lowest power to trigger them.

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A lighting diagram in case you want something more ‘formal’

Here are some of the photos I created with this setup:

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Exif: 1/200sec.┃f/2.8┃iso 100
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Exif: 1/200sec.┃f/2.8┃iso 100
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Exif: 1/160sec.┃f/2.8┃iso 200
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Exif: 1/100sec.┃f/4.0┃iso 200

A few extra tips I learnt from this project:

— Be careful with blue UV paint—its fluorescence is the brightest, compared to other colours. This makes it really easy to blow out blue tones.

— Theoretically, it should be possible to salvage filters by cutting UV bulbs in half

— Most text highlighter pens are fluorescent

— Avoid incandescent UV bulbs and UV LED lights

Find out more about Gvido Mūrnieks on his website and view all the UV images he created including the title images and more on his Flikr. Shared with permission.