The photos of the desert illuminated with ultraviolet light look straight out of science fiction

Photographer Cody Cobb has a knack for changing the perception of familiar landscape photography to a whole new experience. His ongoing photo series spectral takes viewers through environments that seem straight out of science fiction.

In spectraldiscovered 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 terrain and microlife forms. From focusing on desert flora, ravines and jagged peaks, Cobb masterfully projects UV light to reveal an invisible spectrum of colors and bacteria that is not only luminescent but otherworldly. The effect is striking and pays brilliant homage to sci-fi culture.

UV light on a smooth and uneven hill

Cave with UV light

“I have a lifetime of sci-fi obsessions that I pull from, I can’t seem to escape! fantastic planet i liquid sky those are two weird movies that immediately come to mind with this work,” Cobb says speaking PetaPixel.

shot in UV light

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

“Going around these wild places with an ultraviolet light and learning what is fluorescent and what is not has given me a new way of looking at my surroundings. I feel like I’m able to reach out and elicit some kind of response from the rocks and vegetation around me,” Cobb explains.

UV light on jagged white hills

UV light on the hill and water way

The ghostly, ghostly effect baffles and intrigues him, while encouraging his nocturnal practice of traveling and discovering terrains that could 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 ability to experience more and experience an even deeper sense of isolation in remote places,” he says.

Rock in UV light

Achieving Cobb’s vision is not without its challenges.

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

UV light in the way of water

Becoming a nocturnal animal 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 has been 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 daytime […] I think this psychological state has an effect on the work I’m doing. The nocturnal 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 desert,” he continues. “My presence in these places often feels like a disturbance, to be honest. Despite years of spending as much time as possible outside, I’ve never felt completely comfortable out there (especially alone at night).

UV light on gentle hills

The moods of each photo in the series seem to tell a story, or simply let the imagination run wild. Some appear to be looking through the eyes of a nocturnal animal, while other shots look akin to the vibrant, retro snapshots of sci-fi novel covers. There’s also a subtle sense of movement in Cobbs’ shots, from glowing fungi that might pulsate, cracked rocks that look like hatching alien eggs, to dry hills that pop with color, waves of heat and luminosity—it’s all rhythmic and hypnotic.

UV light on mushrooms

ultraviolet light on trees and red leaves

UV light cracks bolder

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

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

UV light on grass and rocks

To learn more about Cobb, be sure to visit his website


Image credits: All photos by Cody Cobb

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