Sunflowers are amazingly beautiful in their own right, but they undergo an almost magical transformation under ultraviolet light; they are one of the most beautiful fluorescing flowers I have encountered thus far. Read on!

When shopping for flowers to make our gardens even more impressive for a photography workshop tomorrow, I came across some sunflowers that were just beginning to bloom. Previous experience last year allowed me to previsualize what would happen to these flowers under intense ultraviolet light, and here we are. It’s important to see what the flower looks like to our own eyes, however, so on the left is an identical shot made with “normal” light – it’s quite the transformation!

Compositionally, this flower was chosen because it hadn’t fully opened. Revealing the backside of the petals, some of the stem/base of the flower while also breaking the symmetry of the center were all helpful here to add depth to the image. The photograph isn’t cropped at all either, as you can see in this photo of the setup used to take it (lower left).

Three UV-only flashes were used and fired multiple times over 30 seconds while a large piece of felt was draped over the camera and the subject to block out all ambient light. I also added a high-intensity UV flashlight to the mix to maximize the fluorescence response of the flower, allowing me to shoot with a very high quality ISO 200 setting. Shot on a Lumix GX9 and with the Leica 45mm F/2.8 macro, I’m constantly impressed with how this combination performs. Yes, Panasonic does sponsor me now, but that sponsorship came into place because I loved this camera – not the other way around. 🙂

Minimal editing was done to this image, just some brightness enhancements and some dust cleanup (dust also fluoresces and it can be a big distraction). The bulk of the editing was done in ON1 Photo RAW, particularly for the structure adjustments and its ability to handle highlight adjustments accurately. I was never a fan of how Adobe Camera Raw / Lightroom handled highlights, affecting so much of the image and not just the areas in danger of over-exposing. In ON1, the highlight slider only impacted the brightest areas of pollen, allowing me a simple and effective way to pulling back as much detail as possible.

Pollen fluoresces, and sunflower pollen is some of the brightest I’ve seen. You can easily spot it speckling the petals with yellow (more on the bottom than the top = gravity), but some blue spots are also present; this is pollen from other flowers that insects carried over when visiting these flowers. Another very interesting observation is the pale pink ring in the center of the petals, which is completely invisible to our own eyes. This ring corresponds exactly with a dark “bull’s eye” pattern seen in ultraviolet reflectance, or the direct observation of UV light that insects can see. Whatever mechanism the flower uses to absorb UV light in this region also changes its fluorescence. Just another layer of magic!

If you want to learn more about photographing ultraviolet fluorescence, check out this PetaPixel article I wrote. If you want to learn more from me in general about macro photography, you should take a look at my recently-released macro photography course with ON1: www.on1.com/donkom/

Deeper down the rabbit hole we go. 🙂

click image for larger version
Visible Light Version:
Behind the Scenes: