Here is one of my favorite “secret” tricks when shooting technology in a lab…

There is always a bit of mystery surrounding good photographs of lasers.  Either people are flummoxed as to how to shoot the shot, or they think they are experts and talk about using smoke to illuminate the beam.

We first have to understand that we cant see the light in the laser beam, we can only see the particles it is hitting whilst traveling through the air.  When we try to photograph the laser light, we get nothing.  The dust particles in the air simply don’t reflect enough light to make the beam show up.


4 beams were painted in this shot

If we try to use smoke, than the smoke gets in the photo, and looks like crap.  So how do we get the shot????

Answer:  Light painting!

Here’s the trick.  Set your shutter for a long exposure.  Start at around 4 seconds, but you may go up to as much as 8.  Put the camera on a tripod, and use a remote.

Now take a white card.  (a business card is perfect.)  Fire the shutter, and then quickly run the white card back and forth along the beam.  Basically what you are doing is painting the reflection of the beam along its path.  You will have to experiment with the speed of the card, and the length of the shutter.  When you get it right, the effect is really cool.

In the shot with the red lasers above, I painted several beams using a long exposure.

Hope this helps!