Creating a Light Leak Effect in Adobe Photoshop CS

by Guest Contributor Anna Gay Leavitt

Adding a light leak to your digital photos is an easy way of giving your photos a quirky, retro film vibe. This tutorial looks at two different techniques of applying a light leak in Photoshop through painting a light leak into your photo using a Quick Mask, and applying a light leak texture overlay.




Anna Gay is a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA and the author of the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture. She also designs actions and textures for Photoshop. When she is not shooting or writing, she enjoys spending time with her fiancee, and their two cats, Elphie and Fat Cat.

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GawgusThings - November 7, 2011 - 12:44 pm

I so want to try this – thank you :)

Emma xxx

Zena - November 7, 2011 - 1:31 pm

Hi Anna,

This is a fabulous tutorial, I have been looking for a way to do this effect for a long time as I love it! Can I do this effect in Elements 9- I hope I can?!

Anna Gay - November 7, 2011 - 3:13 pm

Hi Zena – Thank you! And yes, you can do this in Elements 9 but the process is a little different. I am not TOO familiar with PSE, but off the top of my head, I don’t know if there is a Quick Mask option. If NOT, here’s what you could possible do:

1) Duplicate Background Layer
2) Use your Polygonal Lasso tool to select the areas you would like to have the light leak occur on your duplicated layer
3) Right click and select Feather, and do it strong – maybe 200px?
4) Adjust the Curves the same way I did in the tutorial.

Hope this helps, and let me know how it works for you!

Calgary Wedding Photographer David Sherjan - November 7, 2011 - 5:26 pm

We really like this one guys, delicious colours. We have just tweeted it also. Thank you for sharing.


DSP Team

Dana Niemeier - November 7, 2011 - 8:11 pm

Great tutorial! I haven’t tried this before, but love the look! Thanks!

Maggie - November 7, 2011 - 9:56 pm

Love this! Thank you Anna, I’m going to try this on one of my self-portraits you’ve inspired me to try. Thank you!

Dalinda - November 8, 2011 - 9:13 pm

Love this and have been admiring the works of others who use it. What changes would have to be made to use it with PSE7?

Zena - November 10, 2011 - 2:15 am

Thank you Anna! I will try this and let you know. By the way I have your DPS The Art Of Self Portraiture e-book…great work Anna, learnt alot in so many ways!

Elizabeth - November 16, 2011 - 6:17 pm

I tried this and love how it lightens up my photos. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

Laura - November 15, 2012 - 3:26 pm

Interesting. I have didn’t know using the eraser tool in the mask reversing the effect. I was taught to reverse the brush color to white (or vice versa depending on what you are doing) to reverse what one has already masked. Nice. New technique. Thanks.

Also, I would encourage others to create a copy of their background before post-processing begins. Just as you mentioned in one of your comments.

Thanks for sharing.

VIDEO LIGHT LEAKS - October 9, 2013 - 6:04 am

Thanks for sharing! Keep up the great work!

[…] Also, with not having very many shoots as of late, I have been focusing on learning more on Photoshop. As most of you know, I haven’t had it very long, but I am happy to report that I am learning so much! Remember this post? Well, I decided to go back, and re-edit the images. I had a ton of fun putting into practice my new favorite thing. Light leaks. […]

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