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9 Tips for Cool Black Light Photography (Glow in the Dark!)

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If you’re bored of the same old lighting effects, black light photography is definitely worth trying. Using black light will give your photos a completely different aesthetic.

With black lights, you can take a standard scene or portrait and turn it into a vibrant image full of neon colours. Just a few black light accessories will transform your studio into a rave or a spaceship.

black light photography tips: a woman in ultraviolet paint is a vibrant example of portrait black light photography
© Starylyss

What is Black Light Photography?

With black light photography, you use black light instead of white light. White light is the light produced by ordinary lamps and flashes. It’s the type of light that illuminates everything we see.

Black light, also known as ultraviolet light, isn’t picked up by the human eye. Light from the sun or a light bulb sits within the visible light spectrum. But UV light is outside this spectrum.

The naked eye might not be able to see black light, but our digital camera sensors can. You can use black lights for photography to give your images a bright glow. Using black light creates dark photos with bright neon colours.

You often see black lights and ultraviolet lights in nightclubs. It gives certain materials a bright neon glow. You can recreate this in your studio or even a darkened room. You just need your camera and a few UV lighting accessories.

black light photography tips: a man with UV paint on his face and torso shot in black light
© Ufabiz Photo

9 Tips for Cool Black Light Photography

If you want to get started with black light photography, we have some excellent tips and creative ideas. Get your digital camera ready and let’s get started.

1. Choose a Slow Shutter Speed

The problem with UV lighting is that it produces very little light. If you try and shoot UV photography outside, the black light will be overpowered by the natural light. It means you have to shoot black light photography in a studio.

There are different cameras you can use for black light photography. But you’ll need manual shutter speed options. A mirrorless or DSLR camera is perfect. You can even use your manual control on your smartphone. Or you can get a manual camera app.

Due to the low light levels from UV lighting, you’ll need a slow shutter speed. The exposure time could be from half a second to more than a second. You might need to use the manual shutter mode on your camera.

You will also need a tripod. There’s a high risk of camera shake and motion blur when you’re using a slow shutter speed. If you’re shooting models, they’ll have to be good at holding a pose.

a photographer adjusting his camera settings for black light photography settings
© James Bold

2. Create a Dark Photography Space

If there’s any other light source, your black lights won’t be able to complete. They’ll be overpowered by the white light. To get the most out of your ultraviolet lights, you need a dark space to work in.

If you’re working in a photography studio, there might be screens and blinds available for blocking out light. But you can also try UV photography at home. Pull the blinds down, draw the curtains, and turn off the lights. Create your own darkroom studio!

black light photography ideas: two people with ultraviolet paint on their faces shot in a darkroom
© Verkoka

3. Black Lights in Standard Light Fittings

UV photography is an excellent way to experiment with portraits. A few black light bulbs can give your portraits a bold new look. And you can do a lot with only a few pieces of equipment.

You can get black light bulbs that fit into a standard light fitting. You can remove the white light bulb from your bedside lamp and insert a UV bulb.

As long as it’s the correct size, it’s a simple solution. You can use black light bulbs in the same way you would a standard bulb.

black light photography tips: portrait of a woman with UV lipstick and wig shot in UV light
© Nina Malyna

4. Use Strip Lights for More Power

A single bulb is relatively limited in terms of light output, so go for something a bit stronger if possible. There are some excellent strip lights and bar lights with a higher wattage than a black light bulb.

Using a more powerful black light will give you more flexibility with the exposure settings on your camera. You’ll still need a slow shutter speed, but you can use a lower ISO and a smaller aperture.

More freedom with the exposure triangle means you can play with depth of field. You can even get a great bokeh effect when using black light.

black light photography tips: two strip lights create a triangle above a woman's head
© Connor Botts

5. Have Fun With Glow Sticks

You can enhance the rave atmosphere in your photography studio by using glow sticks. They don’t produce much light on their own. But when they’re in a black light environment, they give a bright neon glow.

You can use them to add colour to your photos. Or you can use them for light painting. You’ll be using a long shutter speed anyway, so light painting is easy.

four neon green glow sticks in a completely dark setting
© Bluesnote

6. Illuminate Your Face with UV Makeup

When you apply UV or glow in the dark makeup in normal light, it doesn’t look terribly exciting. There’s a bit of colour, but that’s it. But under black light, it comes alive.

You can paint your face, or the face of your model, with an array of fluorescent colours. Blues, pinks, and yellows all vibrate out of the darkness.

UV face paint can intensify your portraits. You can turn a standard studio portrait into something mysterious and surreal. You can use it sparingly to highlight parts of the face. Or you can go for a full-on colour assault!

portrait black light photography using UV makeup and clothing
© Dubassy

7. Make Your Body Glow With UV Paint

If you enjoy the colour and excitement of UV makeup, you can take it to the next level with glow in the dark body paint.

Much like makeup, you can get UV body paints in all different colours. They’re electric and luminescent. You can really be creative with your subjects. Their body becomes a canvas that tells a story. A story told in bright neon colours.

black light photography tips: four people covered in UV body paint interacting with each other
© Arkusha

8. Experiment With Different Materials

If you want to take your fashion photography in a new direction, black light and UV photography is an excellent way to go.

Certain materials respond well to ultraviolet light. Turn on your black light, and the clothes start to glow. Not all materials glow in the dark, certainly not wool or cotton. But some artificial fabrics do light up in black light.

You can also buy clothes that are designed to glow under black and UV light. You can combine fluorescent clothes with body paint and makeup for intense UV fashion photos.

black light photography tips: a woman in an ultraviolet bikini shot in black light
© Dubassy

9. Make Yourself a Drink

You may be a bit surprised to know that a gin and tonic glows in the dark. Or at least it’ll glow under a black light.

It’s the tonic water, not the gin, that glows in the black light. In a UV setting, a glass of tonic water looks like a serving of plutonium juice.

Using tonic under black lights is an excellent trick if you’re working in food and drink photography. You can also use it for product photography. Then, once the shoot is over, you can re-hydrate yourself.

black light photography ideas: an example of food and drink photography shot of an illuminated gin and tonic
© Tcostachioiu

Conclusion

Black light photography is fun and experimental. With some standard digital camera equipment and a few accessories, you can create unique photos packed with colour. The luminescent colours are electric and vibrate out of the darkness.

You can be as experimental as you want in your darkened studio. With a black light bulb and some neon paint, you can create images and tell stories. You can renew old photography styles or you can create something brand new.

Check out The Magical Photography Spellbook for more inspiration for your black light photography!

The images in this post are provided by depositphoto.com.

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