Blacklight Photography

I have a bigger post planned talking about how I first started Blacklight photography (Also known as UV photography), but for now I want to talk about the most recent shoots I did, back in September.

This was a really fun time, I worked with three models on different days, and ended up with quite visually different results with each, focusing on a different style, and use of the UV paints. I think that Blacklight photography is really under-utilised in a lot of ways, mostly ending up associated with party and rave aesthetics, and very rarely used outside of that. (One of my favourite photographers for using Blacklights is the amazing Lasse Hoile, I encourage you to check out his work).

The First Shoot: Katherine

The first shoot was focused on using UV to embody the Cailleach, and I had a great time working with Kat more extensively producing short films later on with a more developed concept, which I will add a link too when they are available.

This was the first real test of the setup I had used in a while, and figuring out any issues that were going to come up, and how to resolve them. One of the bigger issues naturally was social distancing and safety precautions, which meant using longer lenses, and maybe having a slightly more impersonal look as a result. The other issue, is that model had to apply the UV paint herself, instead of me or a Makeup Artist. For the first shoot we kept the UV use limited, and used other props and costuming to complement it, and here are some of the results:

Although we were a bit tight on time and ran into some issues, I am happy with how these turned out overall, and they helped me troubleshoot and think more about different ways to use the paint to create different looks, and how I can complement those with the lighting setup and the camera placement.

(Edit: Kat and I would later go on to do a lot of filming together, for our most recent work check out Moon Blood)

The Second Shoot: Katarina

With the next model we had a lot more time to experiment with different looks and styles, as well as secondary lighting to bring out more than just the UV, and tried a few different application approaches for the paint to see where we could go with it, and I am really happy with how these images came out.

One thing I started thinking about during this shoot, was using UV for video, as well as blacklight photography. While I know it has been used here and there, I would be interested to do some tests and see how to make it work in that visual medium in a way that would be compelling.

The Third Shoot: Olivia

While the first two shoots mostly used the paint to highlight small areas of the face, or allude to it without showing it totally, the final shoot was more of an experiment in painting the whole face, and seeing how that could be utilised with different lighting and angles.

I think all of the different models, painting styles, and approaches bring with them different looks and ideas, and it was great to dig further into exploring those territories, and seeing what can be done.

Conclusion & Advice

I think one of the biggest limitations, is that none of the models or me have a background in makeup, and it would be really interesting to see what could be done if the application was done by someone with a bit more experience. Also use of UV powder, or more UV props, liquids etc to add more depth to the otherwise black background, and more flexiblity with the set in general would add a lot to the images, but I am really happy how they came out all the same.

UV blacklight portrait of young woman with painted face and hands outstretched with messy hair

If you are looking at doing some Blacklight photography, here is some thoughts I have on getting started:

  • Powerful UV cannons are expensive, you can do fine with the cheaper bulbs, just make sure to remove any other unwanted light sources. (Just make sure its a real UV bulb, not a regular bulb with a purple tint!)
  • Decide beforehand what kind of style you are going for, once the paint goes on, it is really hard to completely wash off, so work from more minimal looks to bigger ones to make the most of your time.
  • Light meters are not really made for this kind of lighting situation, manually exposing is pretty neccesary. Exposing for the highlights is even more important than normal here, as what will be overxposed will be all the key points of visual interest.
  • UV paint can produce a lot of different textures and looks based on how long you leave it, if you mix it with different liquids, if you scrape some of it off, think about aspects like texture and colour, and how to use those with other factors to produce unique images.
  • Make sure to get non-toxic UV paint that is created for the purpose of being used on skin!
  • Have fun! Experiment, communicate with your model, make sure they are having a good time as well, play with textures and moods and lighting and props, and see what you can produce.
UV blacklight portrait of young woman with painted face and red background light and empty eyes

Big thanks to Katherine, Olivia, and Katarina for being such amazing models!

All the best,