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What Is Blacklight Photography?

Posted In: Events and Programs, Your Library, State Library Resource Center, Guest Contributors
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By Sylvie Merlier-Rowen, Children's Department

Light and Reflection: Blacklight and Other Photography by Sylvie Merlier-Rowen is an exhibit on display through March 21, 2015 in the Fine Arts and Music Department at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland State Library Resource Center.

Pratt Library staff member Sylvie Merlier-Rowen displays examples of her abstract natural images and blacklight photography. In this blog post, she defines what photography represents to her and explains the process of blacklight photography.

Photography is like magic to me. When I look through the camera’s viewfinder, I see so much more in my subject than if I look at it without my camera. Photography has taught me to look beyond the surface, to experiment with my sense of proportions, colors, visual designs, and to express my inner self. A strong photograph is the product of the subject combined with the personality and sensitivities of the photographer. Tony Sweet, who I had the privilege to have as a teacher, said in his book Fine Art Nature Photography that “nature photography is a process of self-discovery and introspection.” I think that is also true for other types of art photography.

sylvie01I certainly felt I was going through that kind of process when I started to experiment with blacklight photography. This is totally the opposite of nature photography, since it is done in a studio environment with artificial lighting, but there is so much to discover, and so much that needs to come from within.

I learned the technique of blacklight photography in the late 1990s in a workshop given by photographer Joseph Miller, founder of the Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs (NVACC).

Before starting to shoot my pictures, I had to create the appropriate setting. I needed a windowless room, a table, a black velvet cloth for a neutral background, two blacklight (or ultraviolet light) tubes, several poster boards of various phosphorescent colors, some phosphorescent paint, and a tripod to hold the camera still.

Then, I chose the objects that I wanted to use in the creation of my images. I needed objects that reflected light. So, I chose glass objects such as a crystal vase, a cut-glass pitcher, and a candle holder. I also experimented with metal objects, and some props that I painted with phosphorescent paint such as ping-pong balls and dried flowers.sylvie02

The next step was to set the stage for the type of images I wanted to capture. So, on each side of the selected object(s) I placed a blacklight tube, and between the blacklights and the object(s), colorful, rolled up poster boards.

Then, the magic happened. The blacklights projected the vibrant colors of the poster boards onto the glass object(s), and it was time for me to play with my camera. I tried different compositions, distances, and various shutter speeds. This is a process that is only limited by one’s own imagination. Incredible, compelling images can be created, and the possibilities are endless!

For more information on this subject, check out this YouTube tutorial on the process and technique of blacklight photography (also known as ultraviolet or UV photography):

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