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Photo Contest Insider Blog

How to take stunning black light photographs

March 9, 2017

Black light photography can create some stunning results, with the use of neon paints and ultra violet rays. You can discover whole new concepts by using this technique, which looks like nothing else. If you want to set up your own black light photoshoot, here’s what you will need to do.

Set up lights

The first thing that you will need is a couple of black lights. These will be one of your only light sources, so the more you have, the better. You can purchase bulbs which fit into most lighting set-ups, and you can also purchase bulbs which screw in to normal household lamps and light fittings. The best option is to light the subject just as you would in a normal portrait. If you are using neon make-up, make sure to position the lights equidistant on both sides of the model so that their face is lit evenly. You can also add a backlight to separate the model from the background. If you want to make your photographs look even more spectacular, try adding a coloured gel to this backlight, which will add coloured halos around your model.

Check your settings

You will most likely need to crank the ISO up fairly high when you are shooting with black light, mostly because it is a lot darker than shooting with normal studio lights. A good guide might be around 1000, though you can push it higher if needed. You can also try to push it lower in order to get clearer images with less grain – of course, having a better camera helps here too. You are also likely to need a tripod, as you need to keep the shutter speed slow. You might even go down to 1/60th, but shooting at 1/125th is also possible so long as you push that ISO up. You can bring your f-stop down as far as you want for the effect of the image, but you might wish to keep it around f5.6 in order to retain detail in the larger focus area.

Set up the make-up

This is an important stage because it will be what makes the image stunning. Make-up needs to be done with neon paints or crayons, or even neon beauty brands if you can find them. Having a vision is essential here – you should have a theme that you want to recreate. For example, a lot of black light shoots use tribal designs to create an interesting look. Remember that the neon marks will stand out and appear almost to glow under the black light. If you leave some areas of the face blank, this will create a contrast. If you fill the whole face in, it creates a different effect entirely. Try doing the make-up under the black light as you will have it when you shoot, as this will allow you to see exactly how it will look on camera.


Finally, you will want to edit your images. Try to find a good level of contrast, where the neon marks stand out and the rest is mostly dark. In fact, the deeper the blacks around your paint, the better they will stand out! This can make a really striking effect. If you allow too much detail back into the image by raising the brightness levels, you will end up with less of a fascinating image, and you may also find blue or purple tones creeping into the image too much.


Shooting under black lights is a lot of fun, and can really look great in your portfolio too. One word of caution: be careful not to spill the paint or drop the crayons on the flooring or on any equipment, as it may be difficult to wash off!

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