Black Lights and the Fuji X-T1

This is quite an old project but thought it deserved to be resurrected… One of the first concepts I did when I got the X-T1 is to try out some black light photography. I’ll tell you the story first… Then I’ll get technical.

This was a collaboration between myself, Omar Hassib on video, Red Broad on make and up and our model and vocalist Pimms Brooke.

Omar and I are from White Cube. I had heard of Pimms for a while and she’d been making a lot of noise in Dubai so I got in touch and asked to collaborate. We met on set for the first time and created this magic.

I also met Red on set for the first time and we ended up working to together on a few other things that I may talk about in other posts.

Knowing Pimms was a singer, I brought my guitar down to the shoot with me. I didn’t tell her about this… But I had planned to do a little behind the scenes music video. We rehearsed a few times here and there during breaks between the shoot and then did our performance for the camera.

Now let’s get technical.

Gear
– Fujifilm X-T1
– Fuji 56mm f1.2
– Fuji 23mm f1.4
– 4 tubes of ultraviolet light. I think it was 16 watts each (very low power)
– 1 set of 3 smaller UV lightbulbs
– Lightroom

Settings
– Aperture wide open… f/1.2
– Shutter speed as low as my hand could handle… 1/125s or 1/180s
– ISO as high as I could go without introducing noise… ISO 1250
– All editing done in Lightroom. Mainly messed with White Balance and colour hues in HSL to get the colours you’re seeing… Otherwise everything would be purple

Tips
The challenge here is the very low light. The autofocus won’t do very well since the eyes are not lit up properly, and your aperture is wide open so if you miss focus it will really show. You need to bring the shutter speed down so low that you risk motion blur… And you need to push ISO so high that you risk noise… So…

– With the 56mm use manual focus with highlight peaking in red as focus assist. Select the option to have a magnified focus point on the side of your view finder. Compose your shot and move the focus point to where the eye is such that it’s magnified in the manual focus assist in your view finder. Then… Hold your breath and gently seat forward and back… You’ll see the red of the focus assist get brighter and darker. Release the shutter when its brightest. With the 23mm… You’ve got a lot more leeway. So you can autofocus somewhere around the eyes and you’ll be fine.

– Shutter speed is also tricky. With a steady hand you can get away with 1/125s on the 56mm… I pushed it to 1/180s sometimes just to be safe. With the 23mm you can take that down to 1/100s with no issues… Even lower if you like. Just make sure to take so test shots first and zoom in to make sure there isn’t any motion blur.

– ISO is the trickiest. There’s a certain amount of noise that everyone is comfortable with. That amount varies from one photographer to the next. For me, and for this project, I wanted almost no noise. The problem is if you choose to under expose and bring it up later in Lightroom you end up getting more noise that if you had shot at a higher ISO. So the choice of ISO becomes critical. The best advice someone gave me is to take test shots at a range of different ISO’s and take them to Lightroom on a larger screen… And make a decision right then and stick to it… And DO NOT be fooled by how good the image looks in the view finder. That view finder is one of the most beautiful view finders I’ve ever seen… So don’t make it your reference.

Hope that was helpful.

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