Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) in visible and UV light. Shot in daylight using a one second exposure
“I was a lecturer in photography at Nescot college in Surrey for 27 years and taught everything from shooting film through to degree level photography. I managed to get out six years ago and had an early retirement, so I’m now a freelance wildlife and scientific photographer.
“I studied scientific photography at college and one of the areas we looked at was UV photography, so I’ve always been interested. I’m also a passionate naturalist, I love animals and plants, and I saw there was a chance here to show the world how other animals see it.
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) in visible light and reflected UV.
“There are two types of ultraviolet, but the kind I work with is reflected – in other words, the ultraviolet reflected from a subject like a flower. Various minerals glow, some insects glow, and of course if you go clubbing then you have UV lights there too. There’s a huge potential for creative work along with the more scientific work I do.
“I’m trying to photograph things the human eye cannot see. They’re either invisible to the naked eye because they’re at the UV and infrared end of the spectrum, or they’re too fast or too slow for the human eye to see. I do a lot of time-lapsed photography and high-speed photography as well as the infrared and UV kind.
Carnivorous plant (Nepenthes reinwardtiana) in visible light and UV. The function of the two ‘eye spots’ is unknown.
“One of my reasons for writing my two books – Digital Ultraviolet and Infrared Photography and Photographing the Unseen World – is that few people over the last 20 or 30 years have been doing ultraviolet photography. It’s perceived to be very difficult, and while it’s not easy it’s not particularly difficult. One of my aims is to stimulate an interest in it and say to people ‘have a go’.
Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) in visible light, UV and ‘bee vision’. A combination of filters was used to transmit UV, blue and green light to simulate the colour vision of a honey bee.
“When you take a UV photograph of a flower you have to block out all the visible light and use a filter that’s visibly opaque so you can’t see through it. The filter is only transmitting UV light, so when you put it in front of the filter you immediately can’t see through the viewfinder. You can’t work quickly, and you can’t really use it for moving subjects because you can’t keep the subject in the viewfinder.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) in visible light, reflected UV and ‘bee vision’.
“It can be a reasonable investment – the camera conversion itself costs £200-£300 and the filter costs a couple of hundred pounds. You can improvise and do things relatively cheaply to start doing this.
“There are new things being discovered all the time. A new rock form was found a couple of years ago by a guy who was just going along a beach with a UV torch when some of the pebbles fluoresced. A woodlouse from the island of St Helena that was thought to be extinct was found by someone with a UV lamp because these woodlouses glow a lot. There’s a lot of scope for citizen science, where we photographers can contribute to the scientific world.”
Beggarticks (Bidens) is a good plant to practice with when setting up the equipment. Visible light, UV and ‘Bee vision’.