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Full Spectrum Cameras, Part III, UV Photography

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg)

Keywords: nikon, nikkor, camera, cmos, d200, dslr, filter, helicoid, infrared, ir, theory, how, to, ultraviolet, uv, vl, visible, lensbaby, schott, baader, light, spectrum, jnadelberg

In this third and final installment of a series, we’ll delve into the world of ultraviolet (UV) photography. 

In part one  we discussed the light spectrum, why “full spectrum” is a misnomer (I call it wide spectrum in these articles) setting your wide spectrum camera so that it can again be used as a visible light (VL) camera, and band pass filters. 

In the second part, we discussed using long pass filters and infrared (IR) only filters.

UV photography is as different from IR photography as IR is different from visible light (VL) photography. It’s much more complicated and a bit more expensive. And UV photography is simply not as easy as IR photography.  The main difficulty with UV photography is that for the last few decades, photographic equipment manufacturers have done their best to reduce, or entirely eliminate UV light from photographs. UV light causes haze and reduces sharpness in a photograph and that’s generally not appreciated. 

When you photograph with IR or VL with a wide spectrum camera, you usually only need to put on an appropriate lens filter for your lens of choice and you can begin snapping away.  That does not work with UV.  For example, B+W sells their 403 filter that is advertised as one that passes UV light.  This is true, it does.  However, it also passes IR light while blocking VL, where as a typical lens with multi-coating blocks UV light only.  If you simply mount the 403 filter on your lens, you end up with what amounts to a black and white IR image.  This was my original idea when I first tried UV light photography.  But, it did not work and it turned out to be the very first step in a long learning process.  There are various issues involved in getting UV light photography to work, and hopefully some of the things I ran up against, which I will discuss here, will alleviate some frustrations that might cause some to walk away from what can be rewarding photography.

As you may recall from part I, UV wavelengths run from ca 10nm (nm=nanometers) to ca 400nm, whereas VL wavelengths run between 400nm and 700nm.  We humans can see light at wavelengths down to about 380nm, more or less (some individuals with an eye condition called aphakia can see even further into the ultraviolet band, and it’s been described as a “blue-violet glow”).  Some birds and insects can see light at about 300nm.  UV goes opaque to the atmosphere at 200nm.

There are two basic types of photography that can be done with UV lighting. The first type people often think of is fluorescent UV.  This is usually done in a dark room, with a “black light” type device, and the glow off the lit subject is visible and can be photographed as such. This is recording visible light.  The second type is reflective UV.  With reflectography, you light things the same way, but you put filters on your lens that block VL and IR. Reflective UV is the usually invisible light that the wide spectrum camera can record. 

The best light source for UV is bright sunlight.  Failing that you can use specialized lighting. has a wide variety of UV lighting supplies.  They are very specialized, but you can also buy simpler ones from other vendors such as Amazon. 


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Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on September 5, 2019

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

Considering that professional camera converters put a glass replacement filter in cameras they convert, I believe that you need to put a replacement piece of glass in for the filter. You can buy these filters direct yourself, and do the conversion. I do not recommend doing it yourself, though, because you can screw up your camera, don't have a clean room to do the work in, and can get a severe electric shock for yourself with high voltages coming from your camera. But if you think you can do it, give it a try. I think it's a lot easier and safer to just have it done.

Kenny John Grady (kgrady) on August 5, 2019

Howdy Jon, I really like your wide spectrum How To's. Very good reading. I have a question for you please. I have a D300 that I going to play with. I believe I can remove the existing filter from the sensor by virtue of a few very good Youtube presentations on the subject. What I'm hoping to get around is the installation of a clear glass filter to take its place. I do have a few 2mm plates of fused silica but cutting them may be a problem. What issues would I have by simply removing the existing filter without a clear glass replacement?