Shop Talk

How to Make Light Leaks in Photoshop

Adding light leaks to your photographs is a simple process in Photoshop or similar editing software. Light leaks are the appearance of light on your negative that has “leaked” into the usually light-tight chamber of a camera. The light is diffused across the light opening and causes “glares” on negatives. They vary in shape and color which means you can put your own creative spin on them. You don’t have to use analogue film to create warm hazy light leaks and we’ve created a tutorial below to show you how.

There’s a common belief that using photo editing software to produce the appearance of light leaks is somehow “cheating” or somehow lacking in quality. It’s completely true you might find different degrees of quality in tonal ranges and film grain appearance, so we like to approach projects or tutorials like this without thinking of them as “cheats,” instead I consider this “just another way to create an image.” Obviously, the outcome is going to look slightly different when created in Photoshop compared to the photos you took with a pinhole camera you made out of a coffee tin, but these are all aesthetic and personal choices.

1. Choose a digital image or scanned negative 

Choose a photograph with a relatively healthy histogram and make a duplicate background layer in case you need to backtrack later.

2. Choose the color of your first leak

Click the color palette and choose a color for your first light leak. We ended up creating two leaks, but there’s certainly room for more in any one image, so think about how your light leaks will appear next to each other. We stuck with a red and orange color range, but you can literally choose any colors that tickle your fancy.

3. Click “Create New Fill Or Adjustment Layer”

The little half-moon symbol down in the bottom right corner will open up a drop-down menu, from which you can click Gradient to open up to Gradient menu and editor.

4. Choose a style

You’ll notice how the Gradient Fill box has five different choices when it comes to creating a gradient for your leak. You can choose between Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected or Diamond. You can also “reverse” any of the gradients by checking the box and play with the gradient dial wheel. Using these three tools you can ensure your leak will be positioned wherever you want it. Take the time now to plan out where all of your leaks will go. Or don’t and just mess around with it. At this stage, everything will look pretty ugly and like a nasty mask of color, but it’s all part of the drill.

5. Use the Gradient Editor 

You can use the Gradient Editor to fine tune your diffusion and specific gradient choices. Open up the Gradient Editor and you can choose from a selection of presets, or you can use the sliding tool to operate the smoothness of your colour gradient. You can also change the opacity of your color in here and adjust the opacity of your gradient color in the Gradient Fill menu by changing the “Scale.” We found this the most effective and a fastest way to change the color strength in your light leak.

6. On the right hand side menu, select the Layers menu>Normal>Screen

Click the drop-down menu that begins with Normal and select Screen. Here you’ll see your image transform from looking like someone spilled acrylic paint on it to a subtle, infused light leak. You might have to go back and intensify your light leaks a few times to give them a punchy glow, or you can opt for the super subtle leak, which we have. Light leaks come in all shapes and degrees of severity, so you can make your image look as burnt and fried as you like.


Have you had any success trying adding light leaks in post-production? Have you got a favorite RB image that uses light leaks? Who’s your favorite light leak artist on RB? Please share your work, and the work of others in the comments below. 

Check out some of our faves right here:

[Header image: “Light Leaks – Saunton” by Josh Glover]