Photographing Laser Beams

Ever tried to photograph a scene that has a laser in it? Tried to use smoke or some other hazing agent to interfere with the beam just to get poor results? Here’s the photographic tip that’s made for perfect laser beams.


First what we need is some kind of frosted Mylar. You will not need a lot; it only needs to be as wide as a laser beam. I like to keep two sizes, one & half inch wide and another three inches wide. Both pieces are about four to five inches long.

Before I begin my project I setup my strobe lights with spot grids to light only my subjects or people within the scene. I meter out the flash units so they are no brighter then f8 to f11 using ISO 100-200 speed film or digital. Second I will take an incident light meter reading of the actual laser beam. (Incident light reading is with the translucent dome over the light meter sensor) This can give you readings anywhere from one half second to three or four seconds.

By now you might have guest that we are going to trace the laser beam with the frosted Mylar. The trick is to build up the exposure of the laser to match our f-stop reading while illuminating the laser beam using the Mylar. Before exposing your film or shooting this scene I always test tracing the beam with the Mylar to get good results.

OK, now for the shoot. Camera is on a tripod and we will use a bulb exposure. Room lights will be off for this in a near dark room. Open the lens and manually trip the flash units. If people are in the scene they need to remain in relative position. With the camera lens still open trace the laser with the Mylar then close your lens.


1) People remain in relative position after the flash fires to act as a mask. The reflected light from the laser will illuminate objects. If your people move out of the scene they may look like ghosts.
2) Keep a pencil flash light to help you move around the darken room. Just turn on and off as needed.
3) Add color gels to a light that either rim lights your people or the room your in for effect.
4) Always ask the owners of the lasers what potential risks are involved with the lasers you are shooting!

Written & Submitted by David Sussman

About the Author:
David Sussman has been a media artist for over 30 years, first as a photographer for Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. When Digital Desktop Editing became less expensive in the early 90s I began the migration to digital and the desktop editing arena. Since that time I have explored photo editing, video editing, 2D-3D animation, web design, CDROM authoring, DVD authoring and so on, earning recognition as a leader in the digital media field. He has received numerous awards such as Kodak’s Industrial Challenge Award, Epcot’s Professional Photographers Showcase and Professional Photographers of America Showcase. During the late 80s and early 90s he held seminars at Winona International School of Professional Photographers in the field of Special Effects. During that same period my photographs had graced the covers to magazines like Photomethods, Technical Photography, The Professional Photographer and others.

One Response to “Photographing Laser Beams”

  1. Steven says:

    Very useful tips. Been looking for this for sometime.
    Great job David!

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