Light Leak Tutorial

If you know my photo work and the particular style of it, you’ll notice that I like to play around with a lot of color. My favorite way to do this is to add light leaks to negative space or to make portraits pop. I also enjoy adding them to my self-published photojournalism work as well. I don’t always do this to every photo, but when I’m photographing something fun and colorful light leaks add some “oomph”.

I started playing around with this “trend” when I was only shooting 35mm. The light leaks were naturally occurring with the camera and film. I started to get better at planning them in my composition and it just evolved until it was a part of my style. Now that I’ve switched back to predominately digital gear, the light leaks are results of me shooting through something with a shallow focus foreground or adding in post after the fact.

“How do you add the colors?” – My most asked question of all time. 

The easiest way to do this is to do it in camera. Digital gear, especially high-end, doesn’t make light leaks easy. Light leaks are technically the result of a fault in the camera. It’s a result of light seeping past the seals in the camera that prevent the film from being prematurely exposed. To do this with digital you can gain the appearance of a light leak by shooting through something whether it be a feather, piece of cloth, something reflective, a piece of glass, etc.

The two photos of Todd and Saalika below were shoot through the handle of a telescope and through wire wrapped lights on a tree. While this isn’t the stereotypical light leak, it gives off the appearance of blurred light as apart of the photo. The photo of the cat was shot using a feather toy positioned to the left side of the lens.



If the photo is going to be used on social media like Instagram, Twitter, FB, etc I just edit it on my iPhone through a variety of apps. My preference is Afterlight but and iLeaker are pretty cool too.

You want to keep it subtle. The last thing you want is the light taking away focus from your subject instead of emphasizing it. The light leak shouldn’t cover your subject but compose around it. It also looks more natural to make the light leak colors that are the same as the surrounding frame edges of your photographs, though sometimes it can look cool doing the opposite.

I like Afterlight on the iPhone because the color and shape combinations are limitless. They offer film light leaks and regular leaks (I prefer the regular). The above photos were all shot on digital gear but edited in Afterlight.


Lastly, how to do this on a computer in Photoshop.

  1. Open the photo and go over to your color palette on the right.Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 4.37.37 PM
  2. Once you have a color picked for your first leak, go to the very bottom and click the little half-filled circle at the bottom, forth icon over. This is the Gradient Tool.
  3. A little box will open that lets you play with the diameter, angle, opacity and size of the leak.
    Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 4.38.09 PM
  4. Once you have those details figured out go over to your layers to the dropdown menu that says “normal” and change it to “screen” (my favorite). It will fog the color and allow it to bleed onto the photo. You can leave your photo like this or you can repeat these steps with different angles and colors until you have something you like.
    2084849-orig_orig copy
    I made this one by mixing angles, radius, and staying in a color palette. Basically just repeating these steps over until I like the result.

Other examples using this method of Photoshop:

light_leak_practice_2light_leak_practice_4light_leak_practice_5light_leak_practice_8light_leak_practice_9Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 10.43.26 AM

The best advice to mastering this trick is to keep experimenting! I’d love to see what you come up with.




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