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How to Photograph Light Streaks

This post is in response to some e-mails we received lately, although the question was framed differently like:

  1. How to photograph light through trees?
  2. Light bursts coming through the trees?
  3. How to Photograph Rays of Light?
  4. How to shoot "ray of light" effectively?
  5. How can I get photos showing the "shaft of light" effect?
  6. How to take a picture with light streaks?
  7. How do people get those light streaks on their pictures?

We are sure what they all wanted to know was how to take a picture like the one given below.

Photo by: Raghu Ram
Exif data of this shot:

Camera : NIKON D7000
Lens : Nikon 18-105 f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
Focal Length : 18mm
Shutter Speed : 1/320 secs
Aperture : :f/8
ISO: 800Time
Time : 08.18 AM
Location : Neyyar WIldlife Sanctuary, Kerala, India.

To capture a picture like this you need to get several things right, some that you can control (eg. Camera settings) and some that you cannot. To capture light streaks the primary requirement is a light source. It could be natural (sunlight) or artificial. Secondly you need something in between the light source and the camera to model the light (trees and branches work really well). And finally you need mist, smoke or dust in the atmosphere to reflect the light (only then will you be able to see the streaks).

photographing rays of light
Photo by: Romain Guy

The most important factor when photographing rays of light is the amount of pollution present in the air. It could be mist or fog (moisture will reflect light) smoke or dust; the type of pollution does not matter, what matters most is the amount. Too much and you will not be able to see the light rays and too little will not reflect enough light to show the rays clearly. Getting just the right amount is the key to great light streaks.

Tips for Photographing Light Streaks

1. Choose the right time of the day to shoot light streaks

Early mornings is the best time to photograph rays of light shining through the trees, second best option is late evening.

2. Hide the light source

Try to hide the light source (if it’s the sun hide it behind a tree) to avoid highlight clipping. If you include the light source in your composition, chances are more that the contrast range becomes too much for your camera sensor to handle.

3. Choose the Right Location

Light sreaks work well when shot in a high contrast location where the light is falling on to a high contrast (dark) background.

4. Metering

Metering is the trickiest part, to make matters easy use automatic exposure bracketing feature and remember not to take meter reading either directly from the light rays or from the darkest shadows, choose something in between.

5. Dealing With Lens Flare

When trying to capture rays of light, on many occasions you will be shooting directly into the light source and this could cause lens flare. While on certain occasions lens flare actually add to the aesthetic quality of the photograph on certain others it actually takes away from the picture. So be aware of possibility of lens flare. You can control lens flare to an extent by using a lens hood,  keeping  your filters and the front element of your lens clean etc.

Here are a few more for your inspiration.

How to Photograph Light Streaks
Photo by: Morbcn

tips for photographing light streaks
Photo by: ManImMac

How to Photograph Rays of Light
Photo by: Chris Smith

How to take a picture with light streaks
Photo by: mcmamauri

Light Streaks
Photo by: Daniela Hartmann

light streak photography
Photo by: Remi Lanvin

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