Ultraviolet-lit desert photos look straight out of science fiction

Photographer Cody Cobb has a knack for shifting the perception of a familiar landscape photograph into a whole new experience. His ongoing photo series Spectral takes viewers through environments that feel like something out of science fiction.

IN Spectralpunctuated by Colossal, Cobb transforms the American West into a sci-fi dreamscape, using a trick of light—UV light to be exact—to create alien-like terrain and micro life forms. By focusing on desert flora, valleys and craggy peaks, Cobb skillfully projects UV light to reveal an invisible spectrum of colors and bacteria that is not only illuminating, but otherworldly. The effect is gorgeous and pays great homage to sci-fi culture.

UV light on smooth and jagged hill

Cave in UV light

“I have a lifetime of sci-fi obsessions that I’m drawn to, I can’t escape! Fantastic planet AND Liquid sky there are two strange films that immediately come to mind with this work,’ says Cobb, talking to him PetaPixel.

strain in UV light

For the past 10 years, Cobb has been capturing the wilderness experiences of the American West, but now with the use of UV light, he is capturing some new perspectives of the region.

“Walking into these wild places with a UV light and learning what fluoresces and what doesn’t has given me a new way to observe my surroundings. I feel like I’m able to reach out and provoke some kind of response from the rocks and vegetation around me,” explains Cobb.

UV light on jagged white hills

UV light on hills and waterways

The ghostly and eerie effect mystifies and intrigues him, while simultaneously encouraging his nocturnal practice of traveling and discovering terrains that can be reimagined with UV light.

“Over the years, I’ve become more and more of a night photographer who uses artificial light as a way to control the scenes I’m trying to create. Working in the dark has given me the opportunity to experiment more and experience an even deeper sense of isolation in remote places,” he says.

Rocks in UV light

Acquiring Cobb’s vision is not without its challenges.

“My biggest challenge was to find a way to capture this strange phenomenon with my voice. Combining long exposures of visible light using LED tube lights with a high powered UV flashlight began to allow me to shape this alternate world I was experiencing late at night in the middle of nowhere.”

UV light in the water path

Being nocturnal can take its toll, and Cobb continues to navigate the physical and even spiritual aspects of his presence in the wilderness.

“The biggest challenge for me […] it was sleep deprivation. I’m out until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, night after night. I sleep in a tent or in my car and wake up automatically when it’s daylight […] I think this psychological state affects the work I’m doing. The night world seems even stranger when you’ve been denied proper sleep,” says Cobb.

UV light in the desert hills

“I’ve always struggled to describe my relationship with the wilderness,” he continues. “My presence in these places often feels like a nuisance, to be honest. Despite years of spending as much time outside as possible, I’ve never felt completely comfortable out there (especially alone at night).

UV light on smooth hills

The mood of each photo in the series seems to tell a story, or simply pushes the imagination. Some look like they’re looking through the eyes of a nocturnal animal, while other images look akin to the vibrant, retro look of science fiction novel covers. There’s also a subtle sense of movement to Cobbs’ photos, from glowing mushrooms that can blink, cracked rocks that resemble hatching alien eggs, to dry hills bursting with color, heatwaves and glow – all are rhythmic and hypnotic.

UV light on mushrooms

UV light on trees and red leaves

UV light in more pronounced cracks

Looking to the future and due to the positive feedback of his collaborative work online, Cobb is changing his life to make more time for photography.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do something I love and have it resonate with people who have similar relationships with the outside world.”

UV light on grass and rocks

For more from Cobb, be sure to visit his website


Image credits: All photos by Cody Cobb

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