A lens flare occurs when light reflects off the surface of a lens or other bright object and strikes the camera sensor. Lens flares typically happen when the camera is pointed towards a bright light source, such as the sun or a camera flash. When captured unintentionally, a lens flare can cause unwanted distractions and reduce contrast over the affected area of the image. However, when used creatively and with intent, lens flares can create a dreamy, romantic, and aesthetically pleasing effect in an image and add interest to an otherwise bland photo. In this article, we’ll give you 6 tips for lens flare photography to use on your next photoshoot.
- Find a composition with the flare crosses a dark surface
- Understand how flares affect saturation and contrast
- Use lens elements can enhance or change the shape of flares
- Sun Flares + Particles in the Air = Magic
- Understand Diffraction and Aperture
- Consider creating your own flares with flash
Note: The following images were taken by the photographers in Wedding Maps and included in this article with their permission.
Find a Composition with the Flare Crossing Over a Dark Surface
One of the fundamentals of lens flare photography is understanding when they actually appear in the photo. Sun flares over white skies can disappear or be difficult to discern. In contrast, lens flares over dark surfaces are more visible and can create an interesting shape. For example, when photographing sun flares, compose your photo so that the sun is at the intersection of the sky and the horizon. See the examples below:
Understand How Flares Affect Saturation and Contrast
Flares can reduce overall contrast in the affected areas of the image. When used artistically, this can create a dreamy effect. When it’s unintentional or “out-of-control,” it can ruin an otherwise strong photo. Here are a few general rules-of-thumb to follow:
- For artistic effects, consider letting the flare fall onto the subject
- For cleaner portraiture, try to keep the flare off of the subject.
- Try a mix for each shoot for variety
Flare over the Subjects Examples:
For artistic effects, let the flare fall onto the subject. As mentioned, you’ll lose contrast and color but the final effects can feel intentionally artistic and creative.
Flare Off of The Subjects Examples:
For cleaner portraiture, keep the flare off of the subject. Change your angle or composition so that the flare doesn’t cross over the subject’s bodies. See a couple of these examples below.
Use Lens Elements to Enhance or Change the Shape of Flares
The shape of lens flares can be modified or amplified by objects in front of or on the lens. The popular “ring of fire” look, as pictured in the example below, is achieved by placing a copper tube in front of the lens. The tube bends the light, which can be artificial or natural, creating an interesting, orange ring of light.
You can also experiment with clear glass or plastic objects such as jewelry or any clear objects that you might find at a craft store. The example below shows how a cheap clear, sparkly object can bend the light and create interesting effects.
Sun Flares + Particles in the Air = Magic
The next tip is to understand the effect of particles in the air, such as fog, mist, hairspray, or dust on sun flares. Essentially, the light catches on and reflects off of these particles in the air and creates a dreamy effect. This is more visible over darker backgrounds. See the examples below.
In the image below, notice how the water particles on the camera lens helps create interesting shapes in the flares.
Understand Diffraction and Aperture
The shape of flares can change with the aperture used to capture the photo. Smaller apertures, such as f/11 and above, will create a “starburst” effect, as the light enters the lens and bends around the blades of the lens opening. Wider apertures, such as F/4 and below, will have a more (relatively) circular look in comparison.
Here’s an example of the diffraction captured using a smaller aperture.
Consider Creating Your Own Flares with Flash
Lastly, consider adding your own “flares” with artificial light such as flash or even with artificial light sources that are present in the scene. Whether you’re trying to recreate golden hour and mimic the sun, or create action and interest with a burst of light, the creative possibilities are vast. See some of these examples below.
More Examples of Incredible Flare Photography
For more inspiration, see some examples of lens flare photography by the award winning photographers at Wedding Maps.
Lens flares are often associated with sunsets and other backlit scenes, but they can occur in any type of lighting. Many photographers try to avoid lens flares, but some intentionally use them to create an artistic effect. When used carefully, lens flares can add drama and interest to a photo. However, if not controlled, they can easily ruin an otherwise perfect image. Use the tips in this article to perfect your lens flare photography!