Watch: 4 Principles That Will Help You Create Beautiful Shafts of Light

Learn how to create effects with light that even Steven Spielberg would be proud of.

Envision this scene: dawn breaks through the dusty window of a weathered cabin, splitting into stems of undulating, cloud-filled light. Ah—light shafts, they're gorgeous. You see them in movies all the time, but it takes a little bit of know-how in order to get them to look just right. Jay P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens provides you with just that in the video below, in which he explains the four principles that are crucial for creating beautiful light shafts.

Morgan goes into depth about creating shafts of light in his blog post, but here's a quick summary to get you started. First of all, the four principles he describes in the video are:

  1. Atmosphere: You need to fill up your set with haze or smoke in order for light to show up in-camera.
  2. Angle: The angle at which you point your light n relation to your camera (as well as its distance from it) is important. Morgan says a 45-degree angle works well.
  3. Quality of light: Using lights that are powerful and able to focus your light enough is integral to creating those iconic shafts of light. Fresnels work well for this.
  4. Shaping the light: You need to be able to manipulate your light into the particular "shaft" shape you want. There are tons of ways to do this: using windows, flags, trees, grids, even cardboard cutouts. 

Though creating shafts of light isn't an incredibly complex technique to pull off, it is a little bit labor intensive and requires a basic understanding of how light works. You need a light source that is fit for the task of creating a focused beam, a vehicle for the light (haze/smoke), proper positioning, and something that can mold it into its final shape.

The cool thing about this technique is that you can apply it in so many different ways to add atmosphere and beauty to your work. You can use it to create shafts of light through windows, door frames, street lights, flashlights, headlights, and a host of other things to turn a somewhat insipid object into an effective storytelling device.     

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13 Comments

Thanks.
It was really useful.
The Steven Spielberg effect. Lol..
Please provide more details on video too.

July 22, 2016 at 1:53PM, Edited July 22, 1:53PM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
1621

Elementary, Mr. Obvious.
What is our next article?
4 ways to turn on you camera?

July 23, 2016 at 3:56AM

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Martin Brewer
Director, DOP
670

Not every NFS reader is as equally proficient as you, Professor Brewer.

July 23, 2016 at 1:37PM

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I have always enjoyed The Slanted Lens and found the tutorials to be really helpful.

July 24, 2016 at 1:03PM

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Sannah Parker
Producer/Editor
270

I wish Stranger Things had way more of this.

July 23, 2016 at 8:40AM, Edited July 23, 8:40AM

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Zach Daulton
Director
100

Cool. Can't wait to try this!

July 23, 2016 at 10:48PM

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Rico
95

Use a par, not a fresnel...

July 25, 2016 at 2:38AM, Edited July 25, 2:37AM

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Ezi Seel
619

Could you elaborate on why exactly?

July 25, 2016 at 3:48AM

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Jeroen Rommelaars
Animator - Videographer - Motion Tracking
1087

A par is more punchy than a fresnel, but the latter produces a sharper shadow.
It all depends on the look ure after

July 25, 2016 at 7:33AM, Edited July 25, 7:33AM

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Martin Brewer
Director, DOP
670

Pars without a lens will make crisper shafts. Fresnels with the lens removed can also work.

July 26, 2016 at 6:40AM

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Ezi Seel
619

TubeMate is a YouTube downloader in which you can use the app in order to download videos directly from YouTube mate into your mobile phone. Tubemate

December 8, 2017 at 5:19AM

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Johnny
350

Adding smoke to the scenes create lots of issues for actors and participants. Furthermore, the light shaping is a nefty trick that everyone should learn in their free time.

I am doing product photography with shadows and lighting effects for my iPhone collection. You can read more from here.

April 25, 2018 at 2:56PM

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May 28, 2018 at 5:28PM

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