How to create shafts of light in-camera in your photos and video

Jul 22, 2016

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 shafts of light in-camera in your photos and video

Jul 22, 2016

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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shafts_of_light

Adding shafts of light to your photos in post is pretty common, but doing it in camera is even easier. All it takes is a little know how and maybe a smoke machine.

In this video from The Slanted Lens, Jay P. Morgan walks us through the whole process. He talks about the advantages of continuous lights vs. flash and other issues you may run into.

YouTube video

The main trick is to have something the air for the light to shine on, hence the smoke machine. This is why shafts of light are common during sunrise as mist is rising from the ground.

In the video, Jay uses a Rosco Fog Machine, but there are other alternatives out there. You could go for a much less expensive consumer fog machine, but you’ll want to be careful which one you choose. Some cheaper fog machines can leave a nasty residue over everything they touch.

rosco_fog_machine

If you need something more portable, there are battery operated fog machines. You could also go for smoke in a spray can which is very portable, but can get expensive if you want to use the effect often.

Once the fog is in place, you just need to add the lights. Like lighting rain, using backlight is the key to making it shine. It can also be lit from the side, but you do want the light source behind the smoke to give you that shaft.

sidelight

Different settings or types of light will give your shafts a different look. In the shot above, both lights are using a fresnel lens, one focused tight while the other is flooding. As you can see, this makes a big difference.

Sometimes, you don’t have this much control over the light source. Here you can use a gobo to cut the light and give it some definition. You could even use something like the Light Blaster.

gobo

Shooting fog for real gives a much more organic feel than creating it in post. It may take a little getting used to and some practice with lighting, but the results are worth it.

Do you use real fog and smoke to get light beams in-camera? Or do you prefer to avoid the hassle and make them in post? What other tips do you have? Let us know in the comments.

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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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