This Is How An Ultraviolet Camera Will Have You Reaching For The Sunscreen


In this telling video clip, Thomas Leveritt, asks random passers-by to stand in front a UV camera so they can see what their skin looks like in only ultraviolet light, providing some pretty shocking results. The clip was created to serve as a public service announcement on the importance of wearing sunscreen, but the photography behind the project is pretty cool, too.

The UV camera blocks out any visible and infrared light, allowing only ultraviolet light pass through which reveals via the photograph, or video clip in this case, all the underlying damage that our skin is hiding. This type of photography is often used in forensics and the medical field to document bruising and other types of damage to the skin.

You can use special filters to capture UV and IR photographs and video, but having a dedicated IR camera is the most effective way to produce high quality examples of these types of images. There are lots of tutorials floating around the internet which detail how to convert an older camera into a true IR or UV camera, including this one. In the meantime, take a look at Leveritt’s creative use of UV photography techniques:

[ via Reddit  ]

  • muadibe

    What a brilliant exercise! This is the most useful, informative video I’ve seen out here for quite some time. Impressive and useful.

  • nite

    That is a fantastic piece of work. I think I will see if I can do that with my little IR/UV unlocked camera and get the same results.

    It reminds me of that George Carlin bit about seeing yourself under florescent lights in a restroom.

  • Michael Swanson

    That is really cool. Makes me want to do some UV portraiture.

  • Joetwopointoh

    So, if glass naturally blocks UV, are the UV blocking additives we pay for on our glasses just a scam? Plus, if the dark spots on the initial images are actual unseen UV damage, why does slathering your skin in Sunscreen (as in the last images) result in showing ALL covered areas in full black? This is counter-intuitive.

    • thebeline

      UV is a very intense and damaging light. I imagine the camera here (we are all photographers here) has a relatively low dynamic range, and thus the effects are very pronounced. That said will make the rest make sense.

      Freckles are caused by melanin in the skin (what is what freckles are). Melanin increases in response to exposure to UV (I believe, the Sun, at least), and these un-seen freckles are due to very low amounts of melanin building up much the same way that freckles do, but these may never become full freckles, and most often become a simple tan. Melanin blocks UV light, 99.9% of absorbed light (at the molecular level), but when you think of the full skin surface and the average melanin density of the skin, not all of it, or really “a lot” for most people. The clear visibility of otherwise invisible freckles in the video indicates that the Dynamic Range of the UV camera is very low (or “relatively” low), and that is why glass looks so dark. The glass blocks some UV light, more than freckles, but not enough (on it’s own) to fully protect you.

      Sunscreen, on the other hand, blocks MUCH more UV light than glass/freckles/etc. That is why the sunscreen is pitch black. At a higher exposure it would still appear black, as the eyes behind the glasses would start to expose.

      Various kinds of Sunscreens block varying amounts of UV, and you could actually start to paint a gray-scale picture if you had an assortment. What strength the sunscreen he was handing out is impossible to tell, but even a relatively weak sunscreen would have had the same effect.

      If I remember correctly, there is an upper limit to what sunscreen is effective, however. I can not remember why, though.

      Still, a very compelling video.