So the other day I noticed a new product on the market called 5DLeaks…it’s a $20 3GB download of “light-leak” footage that you can overlay on your video tracks while editing. The result, when you use a composite mode like “Screen,” is an organic, low-contrast softening of the image, and gentle play of flares and light across your video. It’s a little softer and gentler than the standard Artbeats Film Clutter look, but has the same effect. Used sparingly, it can be an incredibly effective way to add a filmic quality to your edit. And for $20, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

If you don’t have $20, or want to do a little testing first, there are other options. Some time ago, I mentioned a free light leaks download from filmmaker Jesse Rosten. That free download is still available, and are the very same light leaks he used in his beautiful short “Growing is Forever.” Here’s another example of similar style light leaks in use, on a slightly more NSFW clip (it’s pretty tame, but you’ve been warned).

If you are the do-it-yourself type, you can make your own light leaks very simply. The process with an interchangeable lens camera (like a DSLR) goes like this:

1. Set up the camera in a dark room. You want this to be a clean, dust-free environment.
2. Set the ISO or gain down to the lowest possible setting. This minimizes noise in the blacks.
3. Remove the camera body cap, exposing the image sensor.
4. Turn the camera into video mode and hit Record.
5. Aim a flashlight at the camera, playing the light across the image sensor.

That’s it! Very simple to make, and the process is fun.

If the light is too bright, get a smaller light or back it away from the camera. If the light is too dim, use a brighter light source, or increase the gain/ISO. You can play with different colored lights, modify the white balance to either match the light source or oppose it, or play with objects between the light and the sensor. If you do this on your average camera or DSLR, you’ll see some color and gradient banding in the footage, due to the fact it originates in an 8-bit codec. So for best results, use a camera that offers a better codec, or capture the footage to an external recorder. But for most applications, you probably won’t notice the banding issue once you mix in the light leaks with your edit footage. And if you are an FCP editor making your own lightleaks on a DSLR, check out my article on what ProRes quality is good enough to use.

To use the footage in your editing software, simply overlay the light leak clip on a higher level track than your video, and set a Composite Mode. In Final Cut Pro 7, I recommend right-click > Composite Mode > Screen for best results. Presto. Enjoy!


2 Responses to “5 Simple Steps to Make your Own Light Leaks”  

  1. 1 Anthony Haden Salerno

    Thanks for this tip! I couldn’t bring myself to pay for “light leaks” and thought I’d be able to do them myself. Now I can. :)

  2. 2 R P

    There’s something very gratifying about building one’s own (personal) light leaks. Big thanks for opening some doors that I’d not considered!