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I am asked to photograph people participating in a Glow Run.

For those unfamiliar, a glow run takes place outdoors, at night and people wear UV facepaint, fluo clothing and carry glowsticks.

I have a Canon 60D, a 50mm f/1.4 and an 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and an off camera flash (speedlight) with radio triggers.

Ideally, I'd want a portable, battery operated, UV emitting flash system.

What my research already learned me:

The best but most expensive option: black light strobe

This UV Attachment from Broncolor transmits only ultraviolet (UV) light, filtering out other wavelengths. It can be used on flash heads. But it is too expensive ($1215) for a one-time event.

The best but no longer available option: Nikon SB-140 Flash

In the 1980s, Nikon briefly produced a special flash unit for UV and IR photography, the SB-14 Speedlight with the SW-5UV filter attachment. It is now obsolete, difficult to find and outrageously expensive.

The best DIY solution: Ultraviolet Transmitting, Visible Absorbing Filters

Can be scavenged from an old soviet UV flood light or ordered online. Also requires an old flash from which you have to remove the UV filter. Due to time constraints (the run is already tomorrow), I won't be able to source all these materials in time.

The solution that might work indoors: constant UV lighting

After the Glow Run there will be an afterparty with some blacklights. The problem with ultra violet constant lighting is low light output. So for the shots indoor, this might work but it will probably require relatively high ISO and low shutter speeds.

So, what I'm looking for is tips, settings and advice for photographing the participants in a Glow Run both inside and outside, without having access to an UV emitting flash system (but with having access to a regular speedlight).

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With the constant UV lights providing the illumination it's just a question of getting the exposure right and limiting camera movement. You're probably going to have to accept some motion blur from your subjects but that can potentially add to the mood of the photos.

Unless there are some significant light sources outside (i.e. overhead street lights) you're going to have to use flash or some other form of artificial light to get anything. If possible set your speedlight to E-TTL and dial in a stop or two of negative flash exposure compensation. Use second curtain sync if possible. Turn on AF assist if it is available with your camera mounted trigger or off camera flash unit. An alternative to the wireless triggers if they don't offer E-TTL, second curtain sync, or IR assist functionality is to use an off shoe flash cord. Before getting a set of YN622-C triggers I sometimes would use an off-shoe cord and would hold the flash out to the left with my left hand while controlling the camera with my right hand. I even developed the ability to turn the zoom ring on a few of my lenses with the middle finger of my right hand. It takes a little practice learning how to angle the flash without looking at it for every shot, but it works fairly well and allows you to get the flash further off the optical axis than most brackets will allow.

Inside with the constant UV lighting, if you choose not to use your flash, you'll probably need to set exposure manually and will definitely need to focus manually as well. And be sure to save your photos as raw .cr2 files! It will give you much more latitude to make them look the way you want in post.

The following was taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens set to ISO 6400, f/4, and 1/4 second (IS on). If I had know the black lights were going to be on when I walked into the gym for the pep rally I would have had the EF 50mm f/1.4 mounted on the camera instead and had my monopod with me. I took a handful of shots and then changed the lens but by that time the normal lights had been brought back on. I could have used f/2 and 1/15 second which would have reduced most of the blur from the camera movement (Sometimes I'm pretty good hand holding. Here I was leaning back against a wall for extra stability), but very little of the subject motion blur. Black out at the pep rally!

In post I bumped up brightness 1/3 stop, reduced contrast and then pulled down the blacks to help with noise and posterization, and bumped the color saturation up a little to add to the surrealistic effect. I used a color temperature of 7000ºK, but there was no real difference anywhere above about 5400ºK. The lower you pull the color temperature, the more saturated the purples and blues will be. Depending on your exposure, the purples and magentas will start to blow out somewhere around 3000ºK.

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After reading this, by a complete and uncanny coincidence, I noticed a You Tube video suggesting placing two blue and one purple filter over a flash to closely replicated a black light. The video even suggests using coloured Sharpies on clear film to make simple DIY colour filters. So, if you are in a real bind and have to shoot a glow run tomorrow, then this might just offer a quick-and-dirty solution. The You Tube video can be found here.

Screenshot of DIY blacklight filters for flash

  • I was skeptical of the results, but I gotta say, wow. Very impressed with the results in the video. – scottbb Mar 2 at 3:25

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