How to create glowing text titles in-camera without Photoshop

Apr 1, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to create glowing text titles in-camera without Photoshop

Apr 1, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Ever since Stranger Things, glowing title text has once again become a popular theme. Much of it now, though, is created in post. It’s fairly simple to do in either Photoshop or After Effects, too. But it always has that look of artificiality. It’s too perfect, too clean. It doesn’t have that organic feel of creating it in-camera.

This video from Design By Numbers shows us a great example of how backlit text can be created for real. And all you need is some black paper, a sharp craft knife, and a light source. Any light source will do, you can even use your phone.

YouTube video

The process is very simple. Take some black paper, cut out your letters, word or shape you wish to light, and then hold it up in front of a light.

For certain letters like, A, B, D, etc, you will have “floating” pieces to the letters to prevent light from coming through. For this, you can simply use short strips of acetate and glue to hold each of them in place. As it’s being backlit, the acetate won’t even show up in the final result.

In the video, they create sheets containing the entire alphabet. This way, they have a set of images covering every letter. Then you’ve got some templates you can use to create any word you want in Photoshop. But you can just cut out the whole word, or perhaps your logo.

For a light source, a piece of paper is taped loosely over the end of a flashlight. This helps to prevent the bright spot beam of light from just going straight into your lens and diffuses it slightly. It’s then, essentially, light painted through the silhouette of the letter over a long exposure, providing a very cool looking glow.

You don’t have to use a flashlight as your light source, though. You can use whatever you like. An LED strip of various colours gives a great effect.

You could also use your smartphone with a picture on it, or a gradient of colour as your source for light painting. Or, you can just use it as a straight static background, seen through the shapes cut in the paper.

A great technique, and you could take things a step further by adding some smoke to get some volumetric light effects. This technique was shown off briefly in an old Video Copilot Blog Show.

YouTube video

Although spring is finally here for many of us, the weather still isn’t perfect for everybody. So a fun project to try out on a rainy day.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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4 responses to “How to create glowing text titles in-camera without Photoshop”

  1. Vincent Moutot Avatar
    Vincent Moutot

    Old technique…

  2. Ignasi Jacob Avatar
    Ignasi Jacob

    #BackToTheFuture

  3. Michael Turcotte Avatar
    Michael Turcotte

    Everything old is new again. Check out this video for what can be accomplished with the neon effect and how to control it. https://youtu.be/A-h3l1SktzU

  4. Chris Johnson Avatar
    Chris Johnson

    Very cool and i actually have an idea for this?