Simulate Expired Film and Light Leaks In Camera Without Photoshop

As I’m prone to do, I was messing around while trying to find a new technique I could add to my photography repertoire. The thought occurred to me while I was shooting through some colored lights that I could alter this slightly and fake the look of something like expired film. So I set out to figure out how to do that and make it look believable. I don’t know if it’s believable or not, I’ll let you be the judge of that, but I did find a way to accomplish simulating the look without using any filters, photoshop or any kind of post processing whatsoever.

Colored pencils. Colored pencils? Yes, colored pencils. You can see in the photos just what I mean, but let me explain as it’s a little more involved than just holding pencils in front of your lens. This technique works so well because of the mechanics of depth of field. I shot all of these photos at f1.4. To get this effect, you really do need to shoot at a wide open aperture. The wider the aperture you use, the more the colored pencils blur out of focus until they no longer resemble colored pencils at all. At f1.4, these pencils look more like a gradient color filter applied to the photo. Stopping down to f2.0, the effect is still pretty similar, but once you start to stop down even further to f2.8 or f4, the edges of the pencils become more defined and less ‘filtery’ looking. While that can be fine if you know that going into the shoot, stopping down further to f5.6 or beyond pretty much loses the effect entirely.

(Left) Shot At F1.4 - (Right) Shot At F4.0

The other thing to note is that I was using a 50mm lens. The longer the lens you use, the better the effect becomes because of physics, math and all that jazz. For example, this photo below was taken at f2.8, but you can clearly see that you’re just holding colored pencils in front of the lens, despite the wide aperture value. The reason for this is because this was taken on an ultra wide angle lens at 16mm. Just know that you’ll have to experiment on your own to figure out what lens and aperture combination works best for you and the kind of effect you’re going for.

How far you place the pencils in front of the lens is also important. I held mine a few inches, maybe two or three, from the lens to get the look I was going for. You want to make sure you are leaving space in between each pencil for light to pass through. In the two photos below, you can see the exposure difference between spreading them apart and holding them so close together that there’s almost no space for light to pass through.

I also wanted to simulate the look of light leaks while I was at it. In the photo below, that white bit at the bottom of the frame is actually just the top of my finger. This worked because of how damn pale I am. If you’re less pale than I, you can use a white colored pencil or something else white to simulate a similar look. You don’t even need to use any colored pencils if you don’t have any. You can place just about anything colorful in front of your lens and get a similar effect. Just be sure to leave space for light to actually hit your sensor. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with a black frame and wonder to yourself why it isn’t working for you ;).

That’s the basic overview of how this works. Sure you could just apply some preset or filter on your photos, but where’s the fun in that? I guarantee if you do this for a client they’ll think you’re a genius once they see the photos. Try it out for yourself and send me a link to the photos in the comments or on social media. I love seeing how other people use the same techniques and apply them to their style of shooting.

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This article was originally posted on Write Lighting.

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