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history of the camera
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A Short History Of The Camera - The Psychedelic World Of Fluorescence Photography
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A Short History Of the Camera  -  The Psychedelic World Of Fluorescence Photography

Of all visually-striking radiation in the spectrum, none other take its unique place in the history of the camera, beginning in 1801 with Johann Wilhelm Ritter, who discovered the ultraviolet spectrum and surreal world behind its door.

What is ultraviolet light anyway? In this article we will discover what this is and how it ties with fluorescence photography.

Why Can't We See Ultraviolet Light?

We simply can’t see this spectrum because it lies just outside of the deepest violet within our visual detection.

However, there be those who will deny that ultraviolet light can’t be seen with the human eye because it simply shows in luminous materials. What is experienced is an eerie glow emitting psychedelically in the presence of black light and the absence of most white light.

What is actually happening is that objects (at rest i.e. no radiation coming in or going out of an object is called a “black body,) absorb light energy, and due to its properties, emits light at a different frequency.

In the case of fluorescence, this is exactly the process. Can we see ultraviolet light? Never!

What we are seeing under black light is ultraviolet light (which we can’t see) penetrating surfaces in the room. The output is white light in varying frequencies being luminously excited, and results in the striking visuals we see evidently coming from objects. What we perceive is correct. The light is emitting from the objects whilst they are being exposed to the UV light source.

Why do we see the deep purples and violets in black light? Is this ultraviolet light? Violet light, especially in its deepest regions, can cause visual effects in themselves which can be almost perceived as “psychedelic,” and with little wonder, the neighboring ultraviolet radiation, as in other specific places in the electromagnetic spectrum, causes fluorescence.

This is different than the very tiny remnant of visually-detectable violet light (deliberately included in the field of spectrum of the lamp) The ultraviolet light is actually massively more intense...yet we can’t see it (massive as it is in black light lamps, it is at safe levels.) Our atmosphere protects us from the UV spectrum. This spectrum, in itself, has several frequencies that are used in different applications. UV is a harmful radiation and is cancer-causing if not respected. Since the cathode ray tube and UV are closely-related, the earliest tubes (including early television sets) did their part in frying brains.

Fluorescence Is Photographically Possible

Certain radiations (including ultraviolet) can be used to excite fluorescence in an object and that fluorescence can be photographed. Any radiation that is emitting from an object is said to be fluorescent and its output is manifested. Our fluorescent lighting operates on this principle, though instead of UV light interacting with a solid, the fluorescence occurs in a gas, creating a healthier, cost-effective light source. It is certainly photographable and shows as white light.

Another, more direct application of UV photography involves the use of straight UV lighting on the subject and no white light at all. This approach does not target fluorescence, but mere reflection, making this process truer but not as spectacular as fluorescence. The output (of a human face for example) shows more glossiness, with pigments in the skin which normally don’t show up, plainly evident. Other than the showing up of pigments and texture, the photographs actually look almost normal.

Things Do Not Appear As They Are

Certainly a known fact since ancient times, humans have always been aware of things in the environment that are invisible, yet unmistakably there. We can’t see infrared, but we can feel the heat. We can’t see ultraviolet radiation but we can certainly feel it when it burns us.

Objects light years across, such as the many nebulae in space, have been invisible to us until very recently with the new camera technologies that we have today. Things we are finding today, with the aid of UV radiation, have entirely redefined the universe as we know it.

To Recap the Above:

  • We cannot see ultraviolet light. What we do see are material’s emissions or fluorescence in visible light, an action caused by the UV light striking and being absorbed by the matter.
  • UV radiation is photographable. Can be done two ways: direct UV on the subject, hence reflective, and/or by using fluorescence photography.
  • Things in the universe are not what they appear in white light. UV radiation allows us to see incredibly large fields of matter once invisible to us.

UV lighting and fluorescence photography are extremely fascinating and much easier to delve into these days with the highly adaptable camera outfits available unlike any other time before.


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