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Photography

How to Make a Light Leak Lightroom Preset

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

Everything old is new again! In the film photography era, photographers made every effort to avoid light leaks in their final photo. You've probably seen the effect, which often show as bright, out of place streaks on top of images.

Light leak example
This image by Jason Tessler exhibits the classic signs of light leaks. If it was digitally added, it's a believable look! (CC BY 2.0)

Light leaks are most commonly caused by unwanted holes or gaps in the camera body. Light "leaking" through these openings exposes the film prematurely, and creates this really unique look.

In the early aughts, photographers flocked in droves from film to digital, preferring the sterilized and technically excellent look of digital sensors to film. That trend seems to have reversed in the last few years, with photographers seeking filmic, grainy styles or simulated light leaks added in post production.

In this tutorial, I'll teach you how to create an Adobe Lightroom preset for applying your own digital light leak. Let's get started.

Download Light Leak Presets

If you'd rather take the shortcut to great looking light leaks in Lightroom, look no further. Talented preset authors have already built realistic and great looking Lightroom light leak presets, and they're available on Envato Elements.

Many sites offer Lightroom presets for sale. The big advantage to Elements is that it's a flat rate, all-you-can-download creative buffet. Your monthly subscription unlocks tons of graphic and creative assets, including Lightroom presets.

Here are three great packs of Light Leak presets for Lightroom available as a part of an Elements subscription:

Essential Light Leak Lightroom Presets

Essential Light Leak Pack 1

Light Leaks Vol. 1

Light Leaks Vol 1 - 20 Lightroom Presets

Pack of 20.

Light Leaks Vol. 2

Light Leaks Vol 2 - 20 Lightroom Presets

Pack of 20.

Build Your Own Preset

Let's try our hand at creating our very own light leak effect in Adobe Lightroom. We're going to create a two-part Graduated Filter for simulating a realistic light leak.

First, let's look at an image with a classic light leak to dissect the look:

Light Leak Example
Photo by Richard PJ Lambert.

Here are the three key features of a light leak:

  1. They generally have a reddish-yellow color
  2. They typically lighten the area of the image they affect
  3. They aren't homogenous in their effect; in the image above, the impact of the leak is brighter in some spots than others

Let's use Lightroom's Graduated Filter to build a convincing, two-step light leak look. Other adjustment tools can accomplish this, but I prefer the graduated filter for its ease. A graduated filter is an adjustment that's great for this purpose, as it tapers off across the frame.

Make sure that you're working in Lightroom's Develop moduleFind the Graduated Filter tool, the vertical rectangle icon, underneath the histogram and click on it to get started.

Graduated Filter
Click the Graduated Filter tool to get started.

When you click on the Graduated Filter icon, you'll see a list of settings open up just under the tool.

These sliders will be familiar, but keep in mind that these are the settings to be included with the graduated filter adjustment. These won't affect the entire image—simply the part that we apply the graduated filter to.

Graduated Filter Settings
Settings for a graduated filter sit on top of the other adjustments you make.

These are my recommended settings to dial in for the first graduated filter:

  • Exposure: +0.10
  • Highlights: -25
  • Shadows: +35
  • Dehaze: -60
  • Saturation: +30
  • Color: light yellow / light orange

After you've set your adjustments, click and drag over one side of the image, adjusting the size until it is to your liking.

Step One of Graduated Filter
After you've dialed in the settings, click and drag over one side of the image to apply your graduated filter.

Now, let's add a second graduated filter. Make sure and click New above the graduated filter settings to create a second, separate graduated filter.

Since a light leak is brighter at the edge than in the center of the photo, let's create a second graduated filter to increase the exposure at the edge.

This time, use these settings for the graduated filter:

  • Exposure: +0.50
  • Contrast: +54
  • Highlights: +65
  • Shadows: +25

Then, click and drag the graduated filter from the same edge. For the second graduated filter, drag the filter a shorter distance than the first graduated filter, so that it's brighter on the far edge of the frame than the interior.

Graduated Filter 2
Drag your second graduated filter a shorter distance than the first, so that the image appears brightest at the far edge of the frame.

This is just one example of a light leak look. Try out these other approaches for variations on the look.

  • The graduated filter is great for edges of a frame. Use similar slider settings with the adjustment brush to apply this style to any area of the image.
  • Try other colors in the first graduated filter for unique looks.
  • Use more or less contrast to increase the effect.
Final Frame
Our final frame features a bright, bleeding light leak on the left edge of the frame.

Recap & Keep Learning

This tutorial helped you create an easy and great looking light leak preset, and also offered some premium alternatives as a shortcut to light leaks.

If you like presets, or unique visual styles for your images, check out these other links:

How are you using light leaks in Lightroom? Let me know in the comments.

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