James Paterson explains how to make atmospheric shafts of light in your portraits with the help of a smoke machine and a Speedlite
Create shafts of light by using flash, a smoke machine and Venetian blind!
There’s something quite magical about rays of light. Whether seen on a misty morning walk as the sun breaks through gaps in the trees, or inside a dusty room pierced by shafts of light from the window, light rays can create a wonderful atmosphere. We can make use of this beautifully serene atmosphere to enliven our portraits with the technique explained over the page.
Although we think of them as ‘light rays’, it’s not really possible to photograph a ray of light. What we’re actually seeing is the light illuminating particles in the air.
So the key to creating the rays is to fill the air with particles, whether it be steam, mist, dust or smoke. Here, we’ve made use of an inexpensive smoke machine. The other main consideration is the light; sunlight is ideal but of course, there’s no guarantee that the sun will shine through the right window when you want it to, if at all. On our shoot, there was no chance of late afternoon sunbeams, so we made our own. Using a flashgun fitted with an orange gel and positioned outside the window, we can make it look as if sunshine is streaming in.
Light rays can look very cinematic, so they’re the perfect addition to an atmospheric portrait, and great fun to try out with the kids. We set up a child’s bedroom for our shoot, but you can try this out in any room with a window and a blind.