Question: It seems like I’m getting a lot of lens flares in both my photography and video lately. I don’t know why this is happening. For the most part, it’s because of the sun, but I’m finding that it’s also because of things the sun is reflecting off of, such as cars, windows and other shiny objects. When I look at my photos on my computer after I come back inside from shooting, I see multiple flares in so many of my shots. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can stop these things from showing up?
Answer: You either love them or you hate them. Lens flares, that is. I know people who hunt down flares and have to have them in almost every shot or video they take. I also know people who avoid them at all costs. You have to admit that they add a certain feeling to a photo or video, especially when they’re included on purpose. So many movies include lens flares on purpose and they set the mood. They accomplish the mission. Just imagine how flat a scene would be if the camera was panning across a desert and there was no flare. It would be fairly boring.
By the way, if you don’t know what a lens flare looks like, take a quick look at this video.
That said, obviously lots of people don’t want lens flares in their shots. Especially when they’re accidental. These orbs of light can really diminish and alter the exposure values of an otherwise normal photograph or video. After a day of shooting in the sun, the results can be disappointing.
So, what is a lens flare anyway? It’s basically a reflection of light (usually stemming from the sun) off of the elements inside of a camera lens that eventually makes it’s way onto the camera’s sensor. This burst of light causes reduced contrast in the area it resides and it also creates a shape, usually a circle. And it can take the form of multiple shapes that seem to be stacked upon one another.
Here’s a quick piece of advice for you, now that you are aware of the existence of lens flares. Be cognizant of the angle of your lens to the source of the light in your photo. You’ll find that as you alter this angle, the lens flare will move around in your shot. If you’re careful enough, you can eliminate the flare all together, simply by changing the angle of your camera.
Here’s another piece of advice for you. Try not to include flares in your original photos and video. You can always add them later in post-processing, but you can’t get rid of them if they look horrible in the original. There are tons of filters you can use to add lens flares after the fact and so many accidental flares look like dirt on the lens or the filter, so avoid them at all costs. Of course, unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
The simplest piece of equipment you can use to avoid lens flares is the lens hood, or tulip, as some people call it. These pieces of plastic fit on the end of the lens and face outward to block much of the angled light that may reach the elements inside the lens. The ones that cause the flares. Just be sure to fit the tulip on the lens correctly. They usually ship with lenses attached backward, so you’ll need to remove it and then flip it around so it’s protruding the end of the lens.
Lens hoods are generally made of hard plastic or rubber. They can be even all the way around or they can be sort of bulbous, which gives it the tulip appearance. It’s the tulip ones you want to rotate around the lens to effectively block the offending light.
Also, be careful which lens hood you use with which lens. Hoods are usually specific to certain lenses and if improperly fitted, you may see the edge of the hood in your photos.
Another effective method for blocking light and reducing or eliminating lens flares is to use what’s called a matte box. Matte boxes are larger, more square contraptions that fit on the end of a lens. They serve two purposes; to hold lens filters as well as to hold flags. Flags are simply large light blockers and attach to the sides of the box. You can move them and position them so they best block the light. They’re generally more expensive than lens hoods, but they block a heck of a lot more light.
Finally, to block light from causing lens flares, you can use a flag. All a flag is is something that gets in the way of the light source so it doesn’t reach your camera’s sensor. Professional flags are available and you can usually attach these to a stand, which is very handy, but you can also use a piece of cardboard or simply have someone stand there holding up something that blocks the light. Light blocking isn’t rocket science. Where photographers usually focus is on what’s going to work best for them in the field.