Lens flare is that pesky flare of light that streaks across your image when you shoot towards bright light sources. It’s caused by the bright rays of light striking your lens and causing sun bursts. I say pesky because for most of us the lens flare is an accident that ruins otherwise great shots. Strange enough though, lens flare when handled properly can enhance images.
If you do a quick search on How to Use Lens Flare you’ll come across an article with terrible advice… Shoot directly into the sun. Don’t do that unless you hate your cameras sensor, it will harm it over time. The examples used by the author have blown out highlights, reduced contrast, and she’s actually managed to create very little lens flare. Here are a couple of tips to help you preserve your sensor, eye sight (you should not look directly into the sun… seems obvious), and obtain better looking lens flare without blowing your highlights.
First, you’ll want to remove your lens hood if you use one. The proper way to achieve lens flare is having the sun strike the edge of your lens which creates that nice streak of dotted light spots across the frame rather than trying to go head on and ruining your sensor as well as your retina.
Second, position the sun so that is in the top right or left of your frame and just barely visible. You may have to try a couple of times but you’ll want to get a ray or two of the sun so that viewers know you actually know what you’re doing and you didn’t just doctor it up in Photoshop.
Finally, under expose slightly and shoot in RAW. Under exposing will ensure you did not blow any of your highlights and it’s typically easier to recover detail from the shadows than from areas that are blown out, especially when trying to retain the blue in the sky as opposed to washed out white. Shooting in RAW will ensure you’ve got enough detail to work with if you’re slightly off on exposure. I’m aware of the argument for under and over exposing and it really does not matter so long as you stay close to the correct exposure, under exposing is my preference.
Along with shooting directly into the sun, which ruins your sensor and creates mediocre photos, not getting the ideal angle can create a singular dot or two that makes it look like the lens flare was a mistake.
Want to see more photographs with lens flare? Check out Flickr or Google Images and get your creative juices flowing. Once you’ve mastered it go ahead and hit the User Submission page to share your success with all of us here at PhotolisticLife.