How to capture light rays indoors with these 4 tricks

  • backlit photos in a bedroom by Amy Shire

How to capture light rays indoors with these 4 tricks

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.

Related: How to keep a month-by-month light journal for your home

How can we create the perfect conditions in our own homes for capturing life’s moments in some magical shafts of light?
photo of boy sitting on bed with light shining in windows by Amy Shire

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.

backlit picture of boy sitting on a bed by Amy Shire

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.

black and white photo of mom and boys by Amy Shire

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.

black and white picture with light rays by Amy Shire

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!

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About the Author:

Amy is a family photographer who lives by the bay in Melbourne, Australia. She captures the world from the curious perspective of her two children, and is passionate about chasing light and telling stories of heartfelt moments. Amy is a contributing photographer to Offset, and her work has been featured by National Geographic, Huffington Post and LooksLikeFilm. Visit Amy Shire online.
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49 Comments

  1. Jessica Nelson Nov 09 2016 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    This is a fantastic article. I totally need a god machine now!

  2. Jessica Nelson Nov 09 2016 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I mean fog machine. 🙂

  3. Kendra Nov 09 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    I would have never thought to use a fog machine…that’s awesome! Great article!

  4. Angela Nov 09 2016 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    The light is amazing through the windows! Great article — I need blinds like that in my house.

  5. Bree Hulme Nov 09 2016 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Wonderful Article Amy! Thank you – gotta go get me a fog machine now! 🙂

  6. Susan Nov 09 2016 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    Amazing article and beautiful images Amy! Always inspiring. The fog machines went on after Halloween sale here and I couldn’t resist buying one. Can’t wait to try it out :).

  7. Ellen Kauffman Nov 09 2016 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    I have never used one, but would love to!

  8. suparmen Nov 10 2016 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Great tricks and lovely pictures!

  9. Amanda Stone Nov 10 2016 at 7:42 am - Reply

    This looks like so much fun!

  10. Noemi Nov 10 2016 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    This is the BEST tutorial AND video I have ever seen!!! Thanks for sharing! I love your self portrait jumping on the bed. 🙂

  11. Mindy Nov 10 2016 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    no, I haven’t!

  12. Kelley Nov 11 2016 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Beautiful images and great tips!

  13. D Nov 11 2016 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I have never used a fog machine, but it sounds like fun!

  14. Kium L Nov 12 2016 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    No I have never used a fog machine.

  15. Nicky Nov 13 2016 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    I haven’t used a fog machine, but I think I should give it a try!

  16. Adrian tejera Nov 13 2016 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    I have never considered using a fog machine! I need to get my photography skills up to park

  17. Magan Sheffield Nov 13 2016 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    I have never used a fof machine but tjat would be pretty cool!

  18. Megan Nov 13 2016 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    I’m convinced! I need a fog machine now! I have taken tons of pictures in bacon light, but I’ve never thought to use a fog machine!

  19. Ebony Logins Nov 13 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    This must be my favourite blog post so far. The images are stunning and the content it very informative and inspirational! Thank you!

  20. Amy Smith Nov 14 2016 at 1:32 am - Reply

    These are sooo good! I wish my kids were little again – for a lot of reasons – but this would be so fun!

  21. Rebecca Nov 14 2016 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I’ve never used a fog machine but its a genius idea!!

  22. Emily Nov 14 2016 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Great tips! I love the idea about the fog machine!

  23. Mandy Evans Nov 14 2016 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    This makes me want to invest in a fog machine now! I loved this and I need some blinds now lol. My windows have none, and well the waythe light was streaming in…heaven!

  24. Corey Nov 14 2016 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    I’ve never even thought of using a fog machine but love the idea! Great article!

  25. Kristey Fritz-Martin Nov 14 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    So incredibly beautiful and inspiring.

  26. Heather Whitehouse Nov 14 2016 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    I have not used a fog machine – but it is definetly on my list of things to do!!!

  27. Katrina Nov 14 2016 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    So often I stay away from harsh light because of the shadows – but now I might have to look for it on purpose! Great article.

  28. Sara Nov 14 2016 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Great article! Such an affordable idea.

  29. Maureen P Nov 14 2016 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    I have used one … but only for Halloween! I read your article actually a few days ago. I love light coming in so softly and beautifully through windows. But after reading, I was left with one question – do you have go-to settings that capture rays of light better than others? Like for example, the first image under “1. Light”. I mean many of the images have some degree of rays visible, but that particular image really does!

  30. Christine Blaylock Nov 14 2016 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    great idea! Never used one but will probably try now : )

  31. Beth Nov 14 2016 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    I’ve never used a fog machine, but now I totally need one 😉

  32. Carrie Nov 14 2016 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Beautiful images, Amy!!!!

  33. Michelle Craig Nov 14 2016 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    So beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing.

  34. Joyce Rivera Nov 14 2016 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    What a great tutorial and I loved the little movie. Your son is so adorable and willing 🙂 Thanks for all the inspiration.

  35. Michele Quattrin Nov 14 2016 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    Love this blog post and would love to hear what your settings were for these beautiful images.

  36. Lisa Nov 14 2016 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    I have never used a fog machine, but this is a very cool idea :0)

  37. Kalee Renee Nov 15 2016 at 1:00 am - Reply

    I am amazed at how simple it is to get those glorious hazy light rays! I had no idea! I appreciate you sharing your awesome tips with us, I can’t wait to try them soon!

  38. Christina Nov 15 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Can’t wait to try this!

  39. Bill Davis Nov 15 2016 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Ms. Shire,
    Thanks for this. It’s beautiful and inspiring. I imagine you’ll look back at these images in decades hence and their emotional power will only grow. It’s so generous of you to let us get a glimpse of not only the results, but the actual thought processes and techniques you used to create them. Those are lucky youngsters to have such a talented and generous mother. Again, thanks.

  40. Karen Kahn Nov 15 2016 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    I need to get a fog machine!!! <3 🙂

  41. Wanda Dec 12 2016 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    I have just discovered your blog and will for sure stay and take a look around. This tutorial is excellent and your photos are beautiful. Would you mind sharing a few hints about how you post processed the photos to give them those lovely warm tones? Thanks!

  42. Abraham Hoyos Dec 19 2016 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you Amy! I saw this article on Pinterest and it took me to this page! I am so glad I clicked to it! Your work is beautiful and heart warming! I felt drawn in to your home, like I was actually there! Thanks for the mini vacation lol. I love dramatic light and shadow in photography. never thought of using a fog machine. Thanks again for sharing! Best Wishes from San Diego, Ca USA

  43. Gosia Grant Feb 08 2017 at 4:26 am - Reply

    Love the article! Can I borrow your house?:) You are so lucky with the space and light!

  44. Bethany P. Feb 13 2017 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Wow! These are great looking pictures. The shading with the shutters is awesome. I look forward to looking through your blog and finding more wonderful pics!

  45. Allen Hopkins Jul 19 2017 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Wow! These are some great pics. What a great usage of light. My daughter is just into photography and she will love these ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  46. Christopher Hall Feb 09 2018 at 6:52 am - Reply

    That’s it I wan’t a fog machine…

  47. Lexie Cataldo Mar 16 2018 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    What a great idea! Never would have imagined it was from a fog machine. Can’t wait to try it…thank you for sharing!!

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