Glowing Blooms

This image of Scilla flowers (Scilla siberica) is shot with UV fluorescence: the subject is covered in ultraviolet light but the camera only detects visible light reflecting off the surface. If the UV light is transformed through fluorescence into light we can see and the camera can capture, we get an image!

While many flowers don’t directly reflect UV light, that doesn’t mean they absorb it entirely. Pollen, for example, is a common element in many flower species that will fluoresce brighter than the rest of the flower. Some flowers don’t fluoresce at all. These scillas glowed moderately under ultraviolet light, but the amount of UV light is staggering to get anything interesting out of these subjects.

I have three flashes modified for pure UV photography, and they are all at point-blank range firing at full power. Even still, I need an ISO of 3200 to get enough light coming back to the camera with enough depth to get most of the subject in focus. I believe the aperture was set to around F/11 or so, but even still – this would be a blinding amount of light from these flashes in the visible spectrum.

While I wait for a few key pieces of gear to full explore “pure” ultraviolet photography, this hand-me-down fluoresced UV light is a fun subject to explore. I’ve already discovered another early bloomer in the garden that will produce a stunning image, I just need to wait a few more days for the pollen to burst out from the blooms. This makes me wonder, why does pollen glow under UV light? A quick bit of research turned up dozen of scientific papers that are way over my head for the time being… there is much to learn!

Regardless of “why”, I’m sure we can agree that the results are a great example of the beauty we can see when we alter our reality slightly. You won’t find a source of pure UV-only light in nature, but this is what it can create when reflecting off a flower. Magic!

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