Lens flare, in photography, is a phenomenon where a haze, lines, or circles appear in your images surrounding a light source. Lens flare is caused by light rays falling on, and interacting with the glass elements of your camera lens. Lens flare can sometimes add an ethereal or dreamy look to your photograph, but at other times, it can be entirely unwanted. Most photographers spend a lot of time and effort in avoiding lens flare.
Understanding what causes lens flare and how the angle of your main light source affects it, is essential for every photographer. This article breaks down what lens flare is, why it occurs, and how you can control the different types of lens flare in your photographs. Most importantly as an artist, is lens flare good, or bad? Can you use it creatively for good effect? Let’s explore!
What Causes Lens Flare in Photography?
When taking photographs, lens flare occurs when light falls on the lens directly from the light source, reflecting internally and scattering within the lens instead of following the ideal trajectory towards the camera’s focal plane.
This light creates a washed-out, hazy appearance in your photographs. The light strays from the intended path, reflecting off internal lens surfaces and interfering with other light rays that comprise your resulting image file. Lens flare can reduce contrast and detail in your images making it highly undesirable. It cal also create strong shapes overlaying your scene… You’ll see lens flare in your photos as circles, lines, or a hazy area around a source of light.
Lens flare is more visible if the source of the strong light is within your frame and pointed towards your lens. Strong sources of light like the Sun produce more flare than soft lights, but even diffused lights do cause hazy flare that reduces the contrast and sharpness of your image.
What Kind of Lens Flare Does Your Lens Create?
Each lens handles flare differently. Some lenses are masterful at suppressing lens flare, while other lenses make it look very ugly. There are a rare few lenses that somehow manage to make lens flare pleasing to look at.
The only way to understand how your particular lens will handle flare is to experiment with it as often as possible, and in as diverse lighting situations as possible. If you can, I suggest that you test out your lens as soon as you get it.
Understanding flare in this context means that you will be able to take creative decisions about whether to include flare in your photograph, or whether to take steps to avoid it. To avoid lens flare you would use light blocking accessories such as a lens hood, a black flag, or a grid on your light. We’ll talk about ways to minimize flare next.
How to Avoid Lens Flare in Your Photos
You can avoid lens flare by preventing direct light from falling on your lens. Not every photo with lens flare looks good, even with intentionally used flare, you must know how to minimise lens flare when you have adverse lighting situations.
Here are 5 tips to minimize lens flare from lights that are in your frame.
- Use a Lens Hood: A lens hood attached to your camera can cut out a lot of unwanted light spill, while neither adding or removing anything to your scene. It’s easy to put on, and you’ll rarely have to think about it once it’s on, if you use one that’s made for your lens’s focal length.
- Change the Angle/Reframe: Very often, a subtle tilt or pan of your camera, or a slight movement of one of your lights can make all the difference to the flare in your photograph. Of course, this is not always possible. I’ve encountered scenarios like a restaurant interior that I was photographing with a wide-angle lens. No matter what we did we could not eliminate flare entirely.
- Move Bright Light Sources: Bright light sources, whether a point-source or diffused source of light, will cause flare and reduce the contrast of your photograph. This often happens when photographing a model or product on a pure white background, and the background is over-exposed. The model or product can start to look hazy and soft if there isn’t a sufficient separation between the two.
- Choose the Right Time: If you’re outdoors, be aware of where the sun is likely to be, and make use of it to your best effect. Sometimes, all you need to do is to wait 5 minutes for the sun to move out of your frame, and the flare is gone.
- Clean Your Lenses: Honestly, this is probably better placed in the #1 position. A dirty lens can cause flare and haziness even when there shouldn’t be any. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and clean your lens when needed.
Using Lens Flare Intentionally. Is it Good?
You’ve probably seen quite a few movies that use lens flare very intentionally – often to the viewer’s irritation (see the still from JJ Abrams’ Star Trek film above). In the case of JJ Abrams’ films, people feel it was overdone… Yet, if used well, lens flare can be used to convey a particular feeling.
I’ll leave it to you to explore that usage … to understand when to use it, and when to avoid it by all possible means.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
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