Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Light Leaks Evolution Explained

Actually now that I think about it, the entire journey of my photography can really be described or embodied in the retouching process that I employ. Anyone has taken a workshop with me knows that I employ a rough "3-step process" for retouching. They are: Fixing, Balancing, and Enhancing.

So it's no surprise that at this phase in my journey I have moved away (mostly) from balancing and deviated far from fixing. You can find lots of posts on this blog about my "fixing" fixation through skin-processing techniques I employed in the past. The balancing I don't talk very much about because it's a "ghost-process"; a process where I balance an image for exposure, reorganize the histogram, and create a "well-balanced" image. It's hard to put into words, I just do what I deem necessary for the image at the time I process it. Maybe I'll make this a post later on...

Le Park Table. Anneliese. January 2011. Hasselblad H3DII-31 and HC-80. 1/800, f/3.4, ISO100.

My light leaks were born from flares. So I suppose you can say that they share DNA with lens flare. The above image of Anneliese were shot with the H3DII-31 and those flares are real. In fact, most of the flaring that you see in my images are in the original capture.

Triangle. Lindsay. January 2011. H3DII-31 and HC-80. 1/500th, f/9.5, ISO100.

My light leaks also share DNA with is geometry. The above example of Lindsay was one of the first images where I made my foray into superimposing geometric shapes over my images.

Lightdance. Denise. January 2011. Nikon D3 and 24-70mm f/2.8G. 1/200th, f/4.0, ISO800.

The above image of Denise is where I first superimposed my light leaks in an obvious and systematic manner. Each one of these images have the middle light leak strip, so the effect was not created just for the collage alone (as it so often is for me these days). Historically light can leak onto the image in many ways. It can leak into the camera from the camera body. It can also leak onto the film during development. Admittedly I didn't have any rhyme or reason for what I was specifically trying to emulate. Whether camera body light leak or developmental light leak I was just trying something new.

Gold. Bekka. March 2011. Nikon D3 and 24-70mm f/2.8G, 1/200th, f/13, ISO400.

Here's where the light leaks were superimposed in the creation of the collage. Looking at the original edits, there are no light leaks. So this was a layer where I went willy nilly and drew a bunch of different light leaks onto the set.

It's important for me to remember that the growth and evolution of my light leaks was not a stand-alone development of my photography journey. Rather it was part of a bigger picture; specifically where I was explored the renaissance of film effects. Part of it was simply trying to fill in a gap in my own experiences (not having been a part of the Holga/Diana heyday) and the other part was simply an exploration into something different. In other words, I can't otherwise explain why I have this fascination with film.

And I think that the realization of this realization is important for me too... that anything I do is one part logic and one part random. I might start with logic and finish with artistry. And being that I have an overbearing left-side of the brain I often find myself having to justify the right-side of the brain after the fact. The thing is, the right-side of the brain doesn't need to be justified. It just is. It doesn't care when it takes over so long as it gets to explore its own fair share of the equation. And all things being considered I try and balance these two opposing forces. I think it's important to be able to rationally and logically think through problems but at the same time allow the creative juices to just do its thing. Maybe that's why I hole myself up in a cave? Perhaps I'm purely preserving my own organic creativity so that it remains unadulterated (though hardly possible in this day of media) so I can explore my own artistry?

Miami Heat. Ashley. June 2011. Nikon D3 and 24-70mm f/2.8G. 1/200th, f/6.3, ISO400.

Fast forward to June of 2011 and the light leaks transform into something more obvious and traditional. Admittedly (again), when I did this I didn't put much thought into the how/why. Rather it was something organic that I thought was a nice enhancement. But as I was explaining this effect during a workshop (months after the fact), I realized that this image precisely emulated a print reflecting overhead light. Therefore this light leak was functional. It had a purpose. Its purpose was to demonstrate that a digital image (on a display) could fool the brain into thinking the eyes were looking at a print, that this image was real and tangible.

At the time the thought wasn't very well-formed but the seed had been planted that these effects could be used to simulate something even more tangible and real than just traditional light leaks from a camera body or film development. And in conjunction with other developments with my post-processing, I employed this effect into even more work.

Eternal Sunshine. Bekka. June 2011. D3 and 24-70mm f/2.8G. 1/1000th, f/4.0, ISO200

Still one of my favorite pictures. I chose to show this one to illustrate the "print-esque-ness" of the images I was creating during this time.

And for a while I experimented with these effects. Sometimes I'd justify it logically and sometimes I'd just let the logic float away. In conjunction with my experiments with color-processing, I had a couple of months of "free-styling" and then I arrived at this:

All Angles Covered. Codi. November 2011. D3 and 50mm f/1.8D. 1/200th, f/4.0, ISO200.

With the increase in nudity of my work, I needed something to cover the sensitive parts. Why shoot it in the first place if you're going to cover it up in post? Certainly the poses and the image changes when the model has the freedom to move without fear of full-frontal retribution. Before I would recrop or simply not process those images that showed too much nudity. But with this type of processing, I had new tools to open up new gateways for what I could conceal and what I could reveal.

Duck and Model. Holly. November 2011. D3 and 50mm f/1.8D. 1/200th, f/2.8, ISO3200.

As as the light leaks evolved into something very functional, they also gained boldness in color and opacity. Perhaps it reflected the purpose. Perhaps it was simply that I had enough practice. Or simply it was a simple matter of growth and mutation. The colors have certainly gotten darker, moving away from the yellows and oranges and towards deep purple and pink hues that are now strangely attributed to my "look".

So there you have it. A quick and dirty explanation of the light leaks and the brief history during which it has inhabited my work. I'm sure this isn't the last chapter but I figured it'd be fun to talk about and to attempt to verbalize. It actually proved to be a bigger challenge than I had originally anticipated!



  1. Great post! I have always admired the light leak look in your work... Cheers*

  2. You talk about freedom of movements because the models know you're going to cover the parts. But, do you sometimes find necessary to sign somewhere that you'll never use the "not leaked" version or is it just a matter of trust? Because that's a very sensitive issue, isn't it?

  3. Nope. I've never signed anything. Neither do the models sign anything. It's always a matter of trust. We simply have an understanding that's beyond contractual agreement. They work with me because they know my work. And they know me well enough to know that it's not beneficial for me to release those images anyway. is a testament to that. There are no full frontal images there that aren't censored.

    It's certainly about clout too. I'm lucky that I don't have to deal with that. Signing paperwork is a deal-breaker for me under these circumstances.

  4. Nice, I just asked you about this on Tumblr...

  5. Charles, may I ask how you did irregular yellowish color cast on following photo ?

    It feels like there are more yellow on darker areas but it's not uniform across whole picture. I'm curious :)

    Thank you.