Midnight Dancer

I couldn’t make it out to photograph the Canada Day fireworks this year due to a scheduling conflict, but I found something even better in my own backyard. These fluorescing flowers feel almost magical, and the icing on the cake is the spider. View large!

Can anyone guess what kind of flower this is? It’s beautiful and mostly white/yellow in regular light with a half-globe starburst flower. One of the joys of having such beautiful gardens when we bought our house is these little surprises – I don’t know what it’s called, but it comes back every year. Periodically I’ll walk around our yard at night with an ultraviolet light to see what fluoresces in interesting ways, making a list of the most interesting finds and shooting them when the conditions are right.

My wife was helping me by holding a UV light over the subject while I positioned three flashes modified for exclusive UV output around the subject. After a few test shots, I noticed the spider. He (or she?) was originally on the underside of a flower, but with a small amount of convincing I was able to get it to walk around to the front to pose for the shot. With a slightly green glow that rivals the brightness of the fluorescing flower, the two make a great pair.

Subjects like this are tricky to shoot for many technical reasons. Highest on the list is the amount of light that actually bounces back in the visible spectrum. With so little light, I know that I can’t shoot with a small aperture for greater depth, but there are other ways around that. This image was made with my Canon EF 24mm F/1.4L II lens at its closest focusing distance and cropped in for the composition. Wider angle lenses tend to have a greater depth of field at any given aperture, so this worked in my favour here to get the main flower and the spider both sharp in a single frame. Even shooting at F/10 with a wide-angle lens, the flowers furthest from the camera are still soft – it makes for an interesting balance.

Keep in mind that this is NOT what some insects would see. Many insects (bees, etc.) can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, but they would see this light directly reflected alongside all of the visible light. Patterns in flowers appear in UV reflectance that we can’t see with our own eyes, but this image is different. Nothing can see this way. There is no natural light source that emits only UV light and no visible light, which is required to see this dim fluorescence so brightly. No creature in nature has a view quite like this, and that makes it even more interesting to explore.

You never know what will look interesting with this technique until you give it a shot. Waiting for my editing time is a snail, edelweiss flower, hosta flower and some interesting patterns in my mulberry leaves. It has turned into a fun series of work this summer!

click image for larger version