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Spectral Selectivity

by Ed Scott dotted.dog@worldnet.att.net

and Hollis Bewley hbewley@wco.com

Spectral Selectivity

Spectral selectivity is a technique for creating images which uses intentionally limited ranges of radiation in the ultraviolet, visible or infrared portions of the spectrum. It has uses in artistic and scientific photography.

Early day photographers often needed to work around the inherent spectral sensitivity limitations of the photographic materials available to them. Their photographic materials were sensitive primarily to blue light. Rich blue skies photographed much too light while vegetation and skin photographed too dark. Look closely at the actors and actresses in early motion pictures. Often the white powder makeup they used did not get applied too close to their eyes and the result can be quite comical in close-ups. Fortunately, current photographic materials extend well past the approximately 500 nanometer upper limit of early day imaging.

Modern photographic materials are available with sensitive to a wide portion of the spectrum, ranging from 250 nanometers (ultraviolet) to 925 nanometers (infrared). There are many applications for the selective use of this spectrum. Specific characteristics of a subject can be emphasized or selected out by limiting the range of spectrum used to create an image. Colored filters are the primary tool for selective use of spectrum with conventional photography. Digital image editors open up some new possibilities for the creative use of spectral selectivity.

The topics linked below provide an introduction to spectral selectivity, some technical information for making use of it and a few typical applications.


Color Vision

  • Color Vision - Human perception of different wavelengths of light
  • Color Space - The color space defined by three color sensors

Reproduction of Color

Photographic Spectral Sensitivity

Filtering Spectrum

Masking Spectrum

Infrared Photography

Ultraviolet Photography



C1997 by Ed Scott - <dotted.dog@worldnet.att.net>
and Hollis Bewley - <hbewley@wco.com>

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Readers' Comments

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Juha Kivekas , August 24, 2006; 05:15 A.M.

I wonder which relative RGB values (into BW) in the Photoshop channel mixer results most panchromatic-like results?

Greg Highberger , January 26, 2007; 08:53 A.M.

The info in this area could use some updating I found a lot of links that don't work, also nothing about Digital IR.

patrick mead , November 03, 2008; 07:21 P.M.

Technique for creating images and photo tips with digital images photography has gotten easier

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