Light leaks and flares

In classic film photography sometimes it may happen that light will reach the photosensitive material (negative or diapositive) not only through the lens, as it should, but also through random openings. These could be cracks on the case of the film or could be the result of carelessly opening the film where it is not dark enough. Or the seals on the back of the camera might have worn off. The result from such exposure to additional light (light leaks) will be that a part of the frame will be exposed and will have different colour tones.

Light leaks on an empty frame on the sensitive layer of the film.

In classic photography this is considered a defect. I recently printed such shots on paper in a photo studio and the owner, who is one of the masters of old-school photography, told me ‘Back then we would be ashamed to copy such shots, but now you deliberately smudge your digital photos all over and call it an ‘effect.’ The man had a point, up to a point. Years ago it was a matter of professional honour to avoid any such defects and they were considered a sign of a negligent attitude towards the photographic process or of old or poorly maintained equipment.

Today, however, in the age of digital photography, images have become so uniform, so sterile and defect-free, that most of them look boring. In order to have once again inspired photos filled with emotions and different moods which have that hand-made feel, we are resorting back to the defects from the times of classical photography. Recently I searched the internet for a video about light leaks and I came across packages of several light leaks at prices of $500 each. The business with defects must be flourishing if renowned photography producers are in a rush to bring out on the market lenses with optical schemes which are over a century and a half old, such as Petzval.

Flares are similar to light leaks. Flares are internal reflections caused by the elements of the lens which colour or burn a part of the frame.

The additional colouring in the left part of the frame enhances the feeling created by the back light.

The colour spots are added in Photoshop or another editing programme as a new layer on top of the main photograph in SCREEN mode.

In this way the mask disappears and in the final photograph you can see only the effect.

In some shots the effect can blend with the surrounding elements, while in others the burned or coloured areas can hide unwanted elements or create new accents in the photograph.

When you have a boring monocoloured background, such effects will look good and will bring more life to the shot.

Flares are internal reflections from the lens which are later visible in the photograph. Older lenses without a good MC coating often produce this defect when there is strong back light. You can also notice such colour spots in your photos if you are using low-quality filters and there is strong back light. However, sometimes you can use this defect to produce an effect.

Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.
Percy W. Harris

Canon 5D III, Helios 44 – 58/2

In this photo the flares are natural because it was taken using an old Soviet lens Helios 44 which does not have an anti-reflective coating on the lenses. However, such light spots can be added later on, because many editing programmes also have flares as inbuilt effects. They look like this and can be placed in different places within the frame.