Project 1

James Pater­son ex­plains how to make at­mo­spheric shafts of light in your por­traits with the help of a smoke ma­chine and a Speedlite

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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.

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