How to create a light leak effect in Lightroom

One classic characteristic of the toy camera is light leaks. Many of these cameras that are now back in style (like the holga) were plastic and didn’t have a great seal. They were known for their light leaks that would randomly expose part of your film. Sometimes it worked and gave you this great “accident” in the photo that looked awesome. Creating the look of a light leak in your digital images can be done right in Adobe Lightroom. Here i’ll walk you through the steps of creating a simple light leak effect in Lightroom. If you love this look watch out for some really cool Lightroom presets we are launching next week.

Creating a light leak effect in Lightroom

The tool we will use to create a light leak effect in Lightroom is going to be the graduated filter. For an overview of what this filter does see our previous article “Using the graduated filter in Lightroom“. Since the graduated filter goes from one edge of the screen to where you tell it to stop you have to combine 2 different graduated filters (or more) to get a real light leak effect.

Here is the image we will start out with and i’ll create a very basic light leak that streaks down on the right side of the image.
lightroom tutorial

First start out with a thin graduated filter that is set to overexpose or brighten the image. Focus on where you want the light leak to end at and drag the graduated filter across the screen until it comes to the point you want to end it. Don’t worry that the edge of the frame is still light we will fix that in this next step. Here are the settings I used for this image and a photo of the graduated filter effect.

how to get a lightleak in lightroom
lightroom light leak creation

Next we will create another graduated filter but have it darken the image. Here I basically reverse the settings I had with the first graduated filter. Remember that light leaks are not perfectly straight or even the same width the entire way down so experiment and move around the graduated filters until it has a nice organic look to it. Here is the 2nd graduated filter and the final image for a basic light leak.

lightleak effect in lightroom

You can also add color to your graduated filter. I like using warm colors like reds or yellows that will help to give you that aged film look. Here I added some red to the first filter and also darkened up the 2nd one just a little bit more so the sides of the light leak didn’t look so uniform.

creating light leaks in lightroom

Thats it, just a few steps to add that vintage toy camera feel to a photo. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below. Also to make sure you don’t miss any of our posts and to be notified of any specials to come, remember to sign up to receive our posts via email. Just enter your email in the box near the top right that says “Sign up for our free photography tips & inspiration!”. We look forward to connecting with you.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. Great post mark! Ill have to try this out 🙂

  2. I have seen this effect on my super retro app- but adding it in Lightroom you have more control and it looks more realistic.

  3. Nice effect! This tut is very helpful for all DSLR owners.
    I shoot video as well, so here’s the link to 20 free light leaks for video:


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