Light leaks used to be considered a flaw. They occur when a camera is not properly sealed, and light leaks inside, causing an unplanned exposure to occur on the image. These exposures usually happened with older film cameras and can show up as a streak or patch of semi-transparent light, varying in color. Now, a light leak is a sought after effect commonly used in photos and videos to help provide a vintage and sometimes surreal look.
While there are a plethora of free light leaks available for download online, I’m going to show you how you can create your own organic light leaks here.
What You’ll Need
There are a few items you’ll want to use to create a light leak. These include a camera, a light source, and an object to put between the light entering your lens. Note: For this tutorial, I’ll be using three common items; a phone, a computer, and a scarf. To create my light leak, I’m essentially going to use my object (scarf) to control and manipulate the light source (computer screen) from entering my lens (iPhone camera).
You’ll want to use a camera with manual exposure and focus control. With manual exposure, you have the ability to open up your aperture and achieve a shallower depth of field. With a shallow depth of field and manual focus control, you can get some really great blurred light effects. Simply rolling your focus with an open aperture can give you interesting results. Utilizing a professional camera with manual exposure and focus will give you tight control over your image. However, being that this is a DIY project, note that almost any camera will do. As you’ll see in this tutorial, I use an iPhone camera to capture some interesting looks. The point is to experiment and play around with your settings.
The light source can be as simple or as complex as you prefer. I often use a 1k softbox, which provides plenty of soft light, allowing me to move my camera relatively close to the light. You can also find a cheap alternative with a Chinese lantern. I’ve even had desirable results using a computer screen set to a solid color background with the brightness set to full. You can even go the JJ Abrams route and use flashlights and spotlights. Again, the key is to experiment.
Object to Cover Your Lens:
The objects you use can vary as well. Again, you want total control over the amount of light entering your camera. To create a subtle light leak, use an object that can completely cover your lens, allowing you to totally block out light whenever you want. For a stronger and more pronounced light leak effect, you can use semi-transparent objects, such as a prism or other clear objects.
Create Your Light Leaks
Step 1: Position the light source and camera
There are two different ways you can approach creating a light leak. Either point your camera at your light source and cover the lens with your object, or point the camera at a black screen and shoot light at the screen from just off camera, JJ Abrams style. For this example, I’ll be focusing on the former. So for the first step, point your camera at the light source and completely fill your frame with the light. Again, feel free to experiment with both methods.
Step 2: Adjust your camera settings
Open up the aperture of your camera until your image is overexposed. Having a large aperture will also help create a more soft focus look due to the shallow depth of field. You can also play with your shutter speed to create different looks. Slowing down the shutter speed will also help you overexpose the image and create an even more blurred look.
Step 3: Let light “leak” In
Now it’s time to capture some light leaks. Whether it’s a prism, a scarf, a piece of black paper, or cardboard, hold your object over the camera lens and press record. Once you are rolling, move your object around, allowing light to enter the camera through the lens. Use a monitor or an LCD screen to see the results.
Step 4: Apply your light leak
To apply the light leak to footage in your editing software, simply overlay the light leak on top of your clips. Change the blend mode of the light leak clip to Screen. Once in Screen mode, all of the black in your light leak clip will become transparent. This is why it’s important to properly control the light entering your lens when recording your light leaks. Pure black will be completely transparent. Cut up your light leak clips and test them out over different video clips. You can even use them as transitions when the light covers your entire screen.
Check out the video below to see the iPhone light leaks in action.