Creating Shafts of Light for Photo and Video

Hi, this is Jay P. Morgan. Today on Slanted Lens, we’re going to show you how to create shafts of light both for still images and for film. ♪ [music] ♪ If you’re interested in doing a type of photography that is contained in a small space you can shoot in your bedroom, then check out Stop Motion Basics for Beginners, because that’s how Trisha Zemp started out, but now she shoots for major companies all over the world. So go to to see how you can learn her process and you can do the same. ♪ [music] ♪ I love the look of light streaming into a room for film as well as in stills. There are four principles that come into play when you’re creating shafts of light in camera. So let’s get started and see what we can do. Number one, you have to have atmosphere. Light cannot show itself, a shaft cannot reveal itself, unless it’s reflecting off from something. Whether it’s smoke or dust or fog or something in the atmosphere, light has to have something to bounce off from before you’re ever going to see it. So if you’re trying to get a shaft of light out there and you don’t have something in the atmosphere, you’re never going to see it.

The easiest way to create and maintain atmosphere on set is with either a hazer or a smoke machine. I use a Rosco hazer and smoke machines. I love them because I’ve got control on set when I want atmosphere. Number two is the angle of the source. You’ve got to move your lights in and aim them back towards the camera if you want a nice shaft of light. They can’t be out and crossing as much as back and in towards the camera. That 45 degree angle gives you a nice angle. Listen to the camera and it’s going to reveal your shaft of light. If you’re struggling to see your shaft of light, move your lights closer to your subject matter, aim it back towards the camera, and your shaft’s going to reveal itself. Number three is very important and it’s the quality of light. Right now I’ve got a Fresnel lens on my left and it’s on full focus so I get a nice shaft of light out of it.

On my right, I got a Fresnel lens, but it’s on full flood and the light blooms and it’s softer and kind of opens up. It doesn’t give you a nice shaft of light that you really want. So continuous lights give you great, great shafts of light. Source Fours, Fresnel lenses that are focused down, those are great lights for creating great sources of shafts. In strobes, it’s much more difficult to get a shaft of light. You’ve got a reflector and that reflector bounces light all over the place. You can put a grid on the reflector or you can paint the reflector which gives you the best shaft of light, but kills a lot of the power.

So here’s where these two worlds collide for me. I absolutely love the light with strobes, get a nice look on my person, my talent, but then put a shaft of light through the window with like a 2K or a Fresnel lens that has a nice focused beam of light going through my atmosphere. I can combine those two and they look fabulous. I can lengthen my shutter speed to make my shaft of light coming through the window look stronger and it will match perfectly with my strobes.

So I combine these two together very often. Number four is shaping the light. Everyone uses a window, and why do they do that? Because it’s a perfect light shaper. Your light source is outside, it’s coming through a window, the window cuts that light source down into just a shaft of light coming into the room. You can do that same thing with flags, you can do it with trees. Anything that will cut that light source down and make it into a shape will help you create your shafts of light. So sometimes you got a soft box or soft source that’s just not really giving you what you want, start to shape it, start to cut it, and you’ll start to get more of those shafts of light as you cut that light tighter and tighter. It’ll give you more of the shaft of light you want in the room.

So shaping the light sometimes will save you when you got a soft source. So there’s the four principles for creating light shafts in camera. But now let’s take a look at a photograph we did on a blacksmith’s shop and see how we applied those principles to create this image. When I first walked into the shop, he’s got his fire going, he’s patting on the metal, and there was atmosphere in the room already. The sun was coming through the window and so I had shafts of light immediately. What is the best hard source of light? The sun, it’s a billion miles away. Is it two billion miles away? Maybe it’s 40 billion miles away. I don’t know how far away it is, but it’s a long ways over there, so that gives you a really focused light and great shafts coming right through the window. The image looked fabulous. But unfortunately, the sun didn’t last very long and it was gone.

And so for us to keep shooting and get the images we really wanted, we now had to create that shaft of light. I didn’t have a 2K with me, which is what I really wanted to have in that window, coming through the window, so I had to come up with another thought. So first off, I went all the way back to the beginning and I started lighting my person. I put up an Octodome, Octodome with a grid, tilted it up, and I got a nice light on his face.

Looked fabulous. So I now have my Octodome on his face. I see my exposure, I know what my aperture is. My second light I’m going to add now is a shaft of light coming through the window. We’re going to put a Baja B4 out there with a reflector on it to give me that shaft of light. As I did that, I looked at it and said, “Oh, we don’t have enough atmosphere in this room.” So we added some Rosco smoke into the room.

It’ll give us that shaft of light that we wanted. It bloomed a little more than I wanted, so I backed it away from the window. That made it a little further away, the source a little smaller, and narrowed the beam of light just a little bit. So there’s our second light. We next added another Baja B4 coming through the second window. We struggled with this light through the second window because we couldn’t get the angle to really give us the kind of shaft that we wanted. If I got it too close to the window, the shaft’s straight toward the camera, didn’t really look like a shaft, just looked like an explosion in the corner. Turned it more to the side as we moved it in towards the center, it was aiming more towards the side, we lost our shaft completely. Never really got that shaft look to as nice as we wanted to. But we let it light up the window on that side and moved on to our next light.

The last light we added was a fill light behind the camera. We can make that brighter or darker depending on how dramatic we wanted the shot to be, and we started shooting away. So there’s an application of those four principles when we were doing this photograph out on location. One, our light source was a little too soft so we moved it away. That made it a little harder. We shaped our light with the window, we got an angle on the light by moving it around to where it gave us a nice shaft into the room. When we didn’t have enough atmosphere, we just add a little bit of smoke. Those four principles came together and gave us a nice light shaft on the camera, left side of our image. I hope those four principles will help you as you’re trying to create light shafts in camera.

Whether you’re on set or on location, those principles all apply. So keep those cameras rolling. Keep on clicking. Three lucky winners here in July for our giveaway. Get over to and win a Spyder5 studio package from Datacolor, win a slot in our business coaching class, or win an SKB case. Get over there today, ♪ [music] ♪ Subscribe to the Slanted Lens. Don’t be another faceless person in the crowd, be a Slanted Lenser! Join the Slanted Lens! Subscribe today!

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