Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Experiment: Putting Wire Behind The Lens

As many know... I'm a huge fan of lens flares.  I recently read about using fishing line behind a lens to simulate anamorphic lens flares (the ones that look like lines across the image).  The concept intrigued me enough to go out and search for fishing line.  Have you ever searched for fishing line in NYC?  For some reason... NOBODY sells it.  So the closest thing I could find was "hanging wire".  It's basically... thick fishing line.  The result:  Pretty cool!  Here's my process.

First, I cut about 1 and 3/8 inches of wire- enough to span the back of my lens without interfering with its mounting mechanics.

I found that it was almost impossible to straighten the plastic wire.  To correct this, I used the heat from my soldering iron to soften the plastic while I pulled it tight with two needle nose pliers.  This did the trick quite easily.

Next, I cut two small pieces of Gaffers tape to fit inside the rear lens.  I chose gaffers tape to avoid any residue being left on the interior of my lens.  I taped the wire so that it would be completely vertical when the lens was mounted.  It may seem weird, but vertical wire makes horizontal streaks.

After taping the wire on, I mounted my lens and here's what I got:

Notice, the streaks only occur on the light source in the middle of the frame.  I quickly realized (by panning the camera) that you can control the position of light streaks by the placement of the wires.  An interesting detail: Move the wire to the opposite side that you would like the flare to be located.

Wire on the right creates flares on the left.
Wire on the left create flares on the right.
I decided to add a second wire to the mix, to see if I could create streaks across the entire image.

At first, the wires were mounted too far apart, and resulted in streaks on the right and left of the image, skipping the middle.  But by squeezing them together a little closer, I managed to achieve the desired effect.

What's cool about this, is you can spin the streaks diagonally, or any direction you want, really, by just re-positioning the wire. I tried taping the two wires in opposing directions, and as I panned, the flares "danced".  Pretty groovy!

I'd love to find a way to create a more solid frame for these.  It would be kind of weird to try and use this technique in the field... it's a bit time consuming to setup... plus taping anything to your lens looks a little cheap.  I will certainly post any solutions I come up with!

Over and out.


  1. That looks pretty cool. Have you shot any video with this technique?

  2. Yes! Here's a music video which includes the effect: http://vimeo.com/23251398

  3. Gave this a try just now! Loved the results all though I can't for the life of me figure out how you got that taped on the back to stay :O I tried everything....I don't have gaffers tape though...It works on the front of a lens too so I might grab a few cheapy lens filters and glue on some lines...its just gotta be ultra precise. Hehe another Nate strikes again!


    1. Nate-- I never responded to this, sorry for my sluggishness! I was never an avid blogger type, ha!

      Anyway, glad you found this useful. I'm very curious to see your results from using filters on the front element. Please post if you have anything online!

      - Nates unite!

  4. Hi Nathan, thanks for the technique, it looks really cool! I got it working for me on a 35mm lens however I've found that on panning the camera, you can see a dark portion of the image where the fishing line is absorbing some of the light. Is this something you noticed or did you find a way to get around that? My current set-up is to put the wire in the nikon to sony adaptor I have, would it be less prominent if I attached it to the back of the lens instead?? Thanks!

    1. That's interesting James. I've never noticed this effect when using it on my canon lens, but of course every lens could offer different results. You should give it a try directly on the back element to see if anything changes. If you think about how light bends through the back element of a lens and focuses onto a point on the image sensor, I would imagine that anything interacting with this light will change depending on its placement.

      Also, you might want to experiment with different materials. I did this test with "hanging wire" which gave acceptable results but I still to this day wonder what the difference would be using genuine fishing line.

    2. hi james, i had a similar issue during a prep. the solution is to open the aperture wide which will help not show the wire on the image.

  5. Go for the best quality product possible and research before purchasing one. Wasting money is not something anyone likes, better spend sometimes on research and get the right fishing accessories.