Light leaks are a sought-after visual effect frequently applied to photos, film, and video projects. They create a vintage, retro or illusory look that adds color and tone to your footage. If you want to create the effects with ordinary cameras, it requires a very advanced technique. This technique involves harnessing the power of beautiful light, natural features and stylish overlays to create vibrant images. But you can learn the tricks of the trade that have rapidly become the most sought-after cinematic technique for professionals and hobbyists.
Whether you’re looking for a fast way to make your footage look cooler or you’re simply looking to transition your footage organically, light leaks are a great solution. However, to create the effect yourself, you’ll need a camera, light source and objects.
For most DIY light leak projects, hobbyists use their iPhones to capture the images they want. However, if you’re using your phone, an inexpensive camera or 35mm film, you can enhance any project by using red, orange or yellow hues to create mesmerizing light leaks. However, keep in mind that light leaks can be inconsistent and unpredictable — even for experienced professionals. So, the key to success is experimenting and remaining inspired even through failure.
For hobbyists and beginners learning how to create light leaks for the first time, you can use flashlights, spotlights and softboxes to create the effect. The key is to point the camera at the light source and fill your frame entirely with the light. While you can achieve a light effect with the sun, most professionals do not recommend using natural light as your light source. You would have to remove your lens with a manual camera or film camera and cause damage inside the camera. However, if done correctly, you can get a white screen and record it after removing your lens and positioning your camera on a tripod facing the natural light.
You’ll need an object to cover your lens. The object you use should allow you to have total control over the amount of light entering your camera. Ultimately, the object you use depends on the look you want. A more see-through object will produce a better light leak effect for a clearer result — like a transparent scarf, eyepiece or crystal. You need to cover the lens entirely with black cardboard or construction paper for a weaker, more obscure effect.
What is a light leak?
There was a time when the term light leak referred to a small hole or gap in the body of a camera. This hole exposed the camera’s film to extra light and caused what many professional photographers and filmmakers considered an unwelcome, unintended blemish. Light leaks usually cast a soft light, with portions of the camera casting a hard shadow. However, over the last decade, the effect has become a popular technique for photographers and videographers looking to create a retro, vintage look. Additionally, filmmakers used light leaks to add range and dreamlike effects to their projects. Now, the effect allows professionals and hobbyists to create engaging visuals through creative methods.
Light leak effects in video
In videos, people often use light leaks as transitions. However, many pros and hobbyists use video cameras with manual exposure and focus control. This allows them to open their aperture and get a tighter depth of field. A narrow depth of field and manual focus control create cool blurred light effects. Most digital video cameras let you set the manual exposure mode in the camera. However, remember that you don’t need professional video or photography equipment to create good-looking light leak effects. You can use your phone’s camera to capture satisfying shots. Most hobbyists and professionals experimenting with DIY techniques use their phone’s built-in camera. All you need to do with your phone is tap, hold, lock the exposure, focus and then turn up the exposure.
Creating your light leak effect
The first step to creating a light leak with your camera is to point your camera at your light source. Next, adjust the settings in your camera and then lock the exposure and focus. Once it’s locked, turn the exposure up by opening your camera’s aperture until the image is overexposed. Lastly, use your object to completely cover the lens of your camera and hit record. For best results, record several clips with different variations of the effect. Most light leaks will either show up from the top or the sides. You can even record a few leaks uncovering and covering the lens for creative transitions between clips. Once you have created all of your awesome shots, your next step is to edit them. You can add your recorded clips to your computer for the post-production phase of your project. Make sure your recorded clips are to your satisfaction first.
Light leak effects in post-production
If you want to enrich your recorded footage, you can do this in post-production by adding some light leak overlays to your video editing. You can drag and drop overlays directly onto your footage in post-production. With video editing software, you can manage the hues and length of the effect. Light leak overlays offer a very amenable array of effects. Websites, like Rocketstock, offer free 4K templates that can add vintage, retro and stylization tips to enhance the effect. In addition to websites offering free template downloads, editing software like Premiere Pro and After Effects can spice up your footage in a matter of seconds.
In addition to Premiere and After Effects, you can add light leak effects in Photoshop with overlays that are pretty simple to apply. Photoshop can even create the effect for you. One of the easiest ways to add light leak effects to your photographs or video is to use free online editors.
Camera phones, such as iPhones, have image editing apps used by professional photographers to create a wide range of light leak effects. Whether through your phone or computer, you can dress up your images with different types of effects and have fun doing it.
Practice makes perfect
In the past, photographers and videographers tried to avoid light leaks at all costs. The breach of light into their camera would ruin their film. However, over time, they have become a favorite visual to firmly produce a temperate and textured look and can add a touch of nostalgia to your footage.
If you go online, you will find tons of digital light leak effects available for sale and many others ready to download for free. Whether you decide to create your light leak effects through an iPhone camera, 35mm film or your computer, you can’t go wrong with whatever option you choose. As you experiment, you will discover a fun and inventive technique that has not only gained momentum among professionals and hobbyists but continues to enhance images in five minutes or less.