Black light photography has been around for a long time, thanks to people like Craig Carver of the Photographic Association of America and the late Barry Jeffries, who inspired so many of us. My friend and I had great fun experimenting in her home studio setup, where we took turns modeling fluorescent clothing. We then set up a variety of still-life settings and let our imaginations take hold. You can see a small sample of some of these photographs included with this article. To set up your own table-top studio, all you need are two 15watt black light tubes, which you can purchase at funky stores that specialize in glow-in-the-dark items, or at most electrical stores. The lights usually come in their own fixtures to hold the tubes but you will need to construct a support to prevent the fixture and tube from falling over. They need to stand upright.
Next construct a basic tabletop set-up. Cut three 20 x 28 inch corrugated cardboard panels. Tape the cut edges together vertically with wide masking tape to achieve a back panel and two side wings. Apply the tape to the front of the panels so that the side panels bend forward. Buy three 20 x 28 inch black poster board panels and attach them with clothespins to each of the cardboard panels. Set up this mini studio on top of black cloth or another piece of black poster board. Set your black lights (upright) about 18 inches apart slightly inside this three-sided set-up.
There are countless objects that you can photograph as long as they are fluorescent. Even some ordinary rocks fluoresce under black light. White objects will usually pick up the bluish cast of the black light. White clothing will often photograph whiter if the item has been washed in Tide (one of the strange qualities of Tide detergent!)
You can purchase items or you can paint them yourself with fluorescent paint, available at any hobby or craft store. Some objects such as fruit, woven baskets, wine glasses and bottles, dried and silk flowers, branches, leaves and stalks of grain can be painted, but these are just a few ideas to get you started. You are only limited by your imagination.
When you arrange your items in your set-up and turn on the black lights you will see the exciting colours come to life. Itís great fun to experiment and see what jumps out under that magic light.
Basic camera equipment should include a single lens reflex camera and a variety of lenses with close-up capabilities. I use a 24 to 120mm zoom or a 200mm macro lens for most of my work. If you do not have a macro lens you can use close-up lenses or diopters. A cable release and a sturdy tripod are essential to successful black light photography. The tripod ensures sharp images from the long black light exposures. You may also use a UV2A filter, which will remove some of the bluish cast that comes from the ultraviolet light.
The film I generally use is 100 ISO Elitechrome others use Provio100 ISO. Itís up to you. Your basic exposure is taken from the objects you are photographing and using the TTL meter in your camera. I set the lens aperture at F16, then I bracket the exposure at F11 and F22; or you may want to compensate by 1/3, or 2/3 stops under. Test at least one roll of film with different exposures and write them down so you can determine what you prefer in your slides. Then go for itÖ have fun and let your imagination soar. Black light becomes very cool again when you show up at your camera club and score high points for impact with something different and original.
Natalie Chapman is the Secretary of CAPA. She has been a serious photographer since 1989, and has been published in several books, magazines, calendars, and other media. Her black light photo appeared on the spring cover of Canadian Camera magazine (2003).
Click here to visit Natalie's online Porfolio