I’ve always been struck by the beauty of light rays seeping into buildings, even in my pre-photography days.
Etched in my mind are scenes like Afternoon Chat by Fan Ho or Grand Central Terminal by Hal Morey. The scenes is interesting in itself. However, it is the dramatic shafts of light that contribute to the striking beauty of the portrait.
I love to dream about how this light must have been a regular occurrence in olden days, when cities were filled with smog and buildings were thick with smoke from cigarettes. I imagine these are the environments in which Fan Ho and Hal Morey created their beautiful pieces of work.
How can we create the perfect conditions in our homes for capturing life’s moments in some magical shafts of light?
1. The light rays
In photography, light is everything. For images with dramatic rays, it helps to seek light with special qualities.
Through windows, look for hard light creating harsh shadows on floors and walls. Note how the light changes around your house, depending on the time of day and season. Capturing this type of dramatic light will be easier towards the start or end of the day, when the sun is lower and will be shining directly through your windows.
As the seasons evolve, light changes so much in my house. Autumn and winter are the best times for me to capture images like the ones shown here. As we enter spring and summer here in Australia, the sun rises so quickly in the morning that it’s hard for me to capture the morning rays in this room. However, the rooms at the back of my house receive gorgeous golden sunset light this time of year. Therefore, I turn my focus there.
2. The haze
There are many ways to create the haze that helps to capture these beautiful light rays. For these images, I used a little fog machine which I bought from a local homeware store for $40. These machines give off quite a bit of smoke fairly quickly. Because of this, I let it puff away with the door shut for a while and then wait for the wispy smoke to settle into a soft haze. Once I am happy with the haze, I ask the kids to come in and play!
Here’s a fun behind-the-scenes video I recorded to show you…
Burned food, accidentally or intentionally, will also create a similar look! Make some pancakes, burn toast or sizzle some bacon in the morning and watch as the stunning early light of the day is captured in shafts of hazy light.
So that particles sparkle in the path of the rays, I’ve seen images where photographers shake dusty old rugs or throw flour into the air. There’s also water spray. If your bathroom window catches beautiful light rays, get your kids (or yourself!) in the shower/bath at the right time and capture it in water droplets and steam.
3. The shadows
You will also need to consider the shadows. Capturing light rays is more effective when the light is contrasted against a darker background. Shooting straight into a window won’t result in an abundance of dramatic light rays as they will blend with the general light from the window. You need to position your camera at an angle that will capture light on dark.
4. Getting Playful with Patterns
Playing with different shapes in front of the light source can be fun. I used shutters for most of my images shown in this article as I loved the long rays created through the slats.
However, I used a patterned blind for the below image of my son playing with a rocket as it added more texture and interest to the image.
Play around with different patterned net curtains/fabric in front of the window. Venetian blinds with thin strips will give a different effect to the wide slats on my plantation shutters. One large window with no inner grid will produce one large shaft of light, spotlighting your subject.
Above all, have fun!
My kids love playing in the fog (although it can get a bit thick so I don’t let them play in it for too long). Since I’m in love with the dramatic light rays that it captures, we all make some sweet memories doing this together!