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What is UV Photography? (Easy Tips to Get Started)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 7 min read
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If you’ve ever seen an image where green trees looked purple, chances are it was UV photography. Or perhaps you’ve seen black-and-white images that seem mystical and otherworldly. That’s because we can’t see UV light, but we can use it to create some amazing photos!
We have all the information on what UV photography is and how you can use it to capture your own amazing images. Read on for everything you need to know about UV photography. 

What Is UV Photography?

To understand what ultraviolet photography is, we need to look at UV light at a basic level. You may hear the term ultraviolet spectrum, which is connected to the physics of photography.
All light we see through our viewfinders comes in a spectrum. This is the visible light that our eyes can see. This range is measured in nanometers, and the visible range is between 400 and 700 nm.
Ultraviolet light falls short of this visible light spectrum, meaning we can’t see it. It ranges from a wavelength of 320 to 400 nm. Although we can’t see it with our eyes, we can capture it with film and sensors.
Just like infrared photography, the cameras we use must be modified for UV photography. But unlike IR photography, ultraviolet photography is more frequent in forensic photography and medical analysis.
However, both can have their creative and artistic purposes.

What Do I Need for UV Photography?

There are a few things you need to capture UV photography. First, you need to decide whether you want to capture on film using an analog camera or a digital camera.
If you choose film, then you have a further question of black and white or color. Film photography presents one option for capturing ultraviolet photography, and that is using a filter.
Digital photography gives you the option of modifying your camera by way of a full-spectrum conversion. This conversion lets you capture IR and UV photography.
Filters aren’t an option with digital cameras. That’s because their lenses are coated with a special anti-ultraviolet coating. You can’t bypass this unless your camera is full-spectrum converted.
There are ways around it. One of them is buying specific lenses without the coating or using analog lenses via an adapter. These old lenses or entry-level lenses are usually cheaper.
And that’s it! Apart from a camera, filter, and/or lenses, you’re ready to go.
You can manipulate your pictures digitally to resemble UV photography. But, there’s nothing like doing UV photography for real.
UV architecture photography

How Do You Take UV Photos?

Taking ultraviolet images is a simple process. You can capture landscapes, portrait sessions, and even street photography.
There are a few things we need to look at to ensure we take the best pictures possible.
Creating digital UV photography can have its benefits. You get to use Live View to compose and frame your shot. It will also help with focusing and stops you from damaging your eyes.
WARNING: DO NOT use the viewfinder when using the ultraviolet transmitting bandpass filter. THIS WILL DAMAGE YOUR EYES. The same goes for the ultraviolet bandpass filter when separated from the lens.
If you’re using analog UV photography, you have to capture the images a little differently. You’ll need to compose and focus the shot without the filter, then put it back on after you’ve set your scene set.
Using manual focus will prevent refocusing when the lens is attached. This method may present some focus shifting due to the lens you are using.
Next is the white balance. This is one of the most important areas of UV photography. First, shoot in RAW so that you can recover detail and color casts.
It is helpful to use a grey card to ensure a correct white balance. This will stop or reduce any color casts that appear in your UV photography scene.
As far as light sources go, the sun—and therefore every type of natural light—provides UV radiation. Sunglasses block it, and even to some extent, so does glass. For a stronger UV light source, you need to use a flash, UV torch, or blacklight.

FAQ—UV Photography

How Does a UV Camera Work?

UV cameras work by allowing you to see some of the light spectrum that you wouldn’t normally see. This is the UV wavelength, ranging from 320 to 400 nm.
There are two ways we can adapt a camera to take ultraviolet pictures. When shooting with an analog or film camera, we can use a filter. This is a low-pass filter that allows the UV light rays to pass through.
This works with film photography, as the lenses are older and are not coated with ultraviolet protection. With a digital camera, you need to convert it to see the UV rays.
A full-spectrum conversion is when the camera’s internal IR filter is replaced with clear glass. This is useful for many areas of photography, including astrophotography. It also improves the tonal range in B&W photography.
By removing the filter inside the camera, you are free to experiment with all kinds of filters. This is possible because the filter inside also equips the camera for IR photography.
UV photo of roses in purple

Can Cameras See UV Light?

To understand if cameras can see UV light, we need to make a distinction between analog and digital cameras.
They’re both sensitive to UV light. But modern analog camera lenses use filters that block out light from parts of the spectrum. They need to limit the amount of radiation that enters your camera, ensuring a better shot.
Older lenses, such as those from before WW II, lack the coating that newer lenses have. Therefore, they allow more UV light to pass through.
Modern photographic film isn’t sensitive to UV wavelengths. Black-and-white film is more sensitive and can be seen to reach below 300 nm. Color slide film, except for Kodak Aerochrome, suppresses UV wavelengths.
Cameras can see light wavelengths that fall below the visible spectrum. But they have been treated in ways that stop the UV radiation from unnecessarily affecting your film or sensor.

Are Black Lights and UV Lights the Same Thing?

UV light can be and is referred to as black light. But we also call any light wavelengths outside our visible spectrum black light.
Put it this way—UV light is black light, but not all black lights are UV.
A black light emits UV light and radiation. Some might see these lights used in TV shows and movies. Detectives walk into a crime scene and use these black lights to reveal hidden clues.
What makes them black is a phosphorescent coating that allows the UV radiation to spread.
UV photo of a forest

Do I Need a UV Filter for My Camera?

A UV filter blocks light from sources that present UV wavelengths, which are shorter than the wavelengths we are able to see. There are photographic films and old camera lenses that are still sensitive to this light.
The UV filter stops the blue haze that comes with this type of radiation. For modern cameras, UV protection comes in the form of IR filters that sit in your camera.
As we photograph nowadays, we don’t have the same sensitivity problems. This means we no longer need UV filters unless using a camera or lens from before WW II.
They do provide you with one benefit, and that is increased protection. If you have a UV filter, it will add an extra layer of protection to your lens. Better to scratch or bump this filter than your expensive lens.
This, however, will slightly reduce your image quality, and you might not be able to see through it to frame and focus.

Conclusion—UV Photography

With the visible spectrum and wavelengths, UV photography might sound complicated. But it really isn’t. All it takes is the right filter or camera conversion and you’re ready to go. 
And once you’re ready to begin shooting, you’ll see the possibilities UV photography opens up!