The plants in Craig Burrows’ photos look like something plucked from an alien planet, sprouting wild shades of violet, pink and green. But the plants, and the colors are real.
It’s the result of a cool trick of nature. All plants reflect light. Leaves reflect green, and flowers reflect red, or yellow, or whatever. But plants also fluoresce, which means when they reflect ultraviolet light, they emit longer wavelengths visible to the human eye. It’s the same thing that happens with a black-light poster. “The flower literally glows,” Burrows says.
Capturing that glow requires using ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence photography, something Burrows discovered online three years ago. He was immediately fascinated, so he read a tutorial and set to work. He’s shot more than five dozen plants since then, including Mexican sunflowers, calla lilies, and silk floss tree flowers.
Burrows gathers his specimens during evening strolls through his neighborhood in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. He returns home with his bouquet, turns on pensive music to spur his creativity, and covers his desk with a black cloth. He arranges each flower in a copper stand wrapped in black tape, mounts his Sony A77 on a tripod, and sets it up a few feet away. Then it’s lights out. Burrows favors long exposures, illuminating the flower with an LED shielded by a UG11 filter that blocks all but ultraviolet light, making sure to slowly pan the light over the flower to illuminate it evenly. He finds the process to engrossing that he often loses track of time. “I usually tell myself it will only be an hour, but by the time I finally quit it’s usually been three or four,” he says.
Then comes long hours with Photoshop, adjusting white balance, contrast, noise and sharpness, and removing dust that often appears in the blues and blacks. It’s tedious, but it yields big dividends. The plants truly glow, each leaf, petal and stem blooming in otherworldly colors.