Creating Shafts of Light


To create shafts of light you first have to have atmosphere. Light cannot show itself, a shaft cannot reveal itself, unless it’s reflecting off of something. Whether it’s smoke, dust, fog, or something else in the atmosphere, light has to have something to bounce off so you can see it. So if you’re trying to get a shaft of light out there and you don’t have something in the atmosphere, it won’t work. The easiest way to create and maintain atmosphere on set is with either a hazer or a smoke machine. I use Rosco hazer and fog machines. I love the Roscomachines because they make it easy to control the atmosphere on set.


The second thing you’ll need 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 will reveal your shaft of light. If you’re struggling to see your shaft of light, move your light closer to your subject matter, aim it back towards the camera, and your shaft will reveal itself.

Quality of Light

Number three is very important- the quality of light. I have a Fresnel lens on my left light and it’s on full focus so I get a nice shaft of light out of it. On my right, I also have 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 me the nice shaft of light I really want. So continuous lights give you great, great shafts of light. Source Fours, Fresnel lenses that are focused down, are great lights for doing this.  It’s much more difficult to create this effect with strobes. You’ve got a reflector on the strobe, which bounces light all over the place. You can put a grid on or paint the reflector which works the best, but it kills a lot of the power.

So here’s where these two worlds collide for me. I absolutely love to light with strobes, get a nice look on my talent, but then put a shaft of light through the window with 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.

Shaping the Light

Last 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. Sometimes you’ve 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.


Now that you understand the four principles for creating light shafts in camera, 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. We’re using the Canon 5D Mark 3 and Tamron 24-70mm. 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, [92.96 million miles away] 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.

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