If you’ve ever worked with the Lens Flare filter in Adobe Photoshop and wish you could make things easier, this post is for you. If you’ve ever wanted to manipulate the outcome of your lens flare, make your result more flexible, move things around or change its color, this post is really for you. What I’m about to demonstrate down below will knock your socks off. Believe me, the little tricks I’m going to reveal will change the way you create lens flares with this filter forever.
Let me describe the issue (and trust me, I’ve run into this a thousand times). You open a photo into Photoshop, decide that it would look great with some lighting effects, apply the Lens Flare filter and realize that once the filter is applied, you’re stuck with it. In “stuck with it,” I mean that once it’s in the photo layer, you can’t do anything to it – resize, move, change the opacity or anything else.
When I first discovered this pitfall, I thought that I would outsmart Photoshop. I created a new layer and attempted to apply a lens flare to it. The only problem with that was lens flares can’t be created in empty layers. Photoshop pops up a small warning message that tells you so. It’s really a sorry state when there isn’t a good way to create a filter such as this and have some flexibility with how it appears. It sort of reminds me of a decade ago. So much of Photoshop was like this.
In today’s post, I’m going to give you a workaround for this little issue. I’ll use a few methods I described in my many Photoshop posts right here on this blog to create a lens flare in its own layer. By doing this, you’ll have the opportunity to manipulate this new filter layer almost any way you wish. You’re going to love it.
For this post, I’ll be using a nice sunset over the water shot. The reason I chose this one is because it’s got perfect lighting and a lens flare will be clear and realistic (and very visible). At the bottom of this post, as usual, I’ll display the finished product.
First Steps For Creating a Lens Flare
Now, if you aren’t sure how to actually create a lens flare, I encourage you to read this post I wrote a while ago. It’ll walk you through all the steps you need to take.
From this point on, I’m going to pretend that I already tried the method described in the previous post and decided that I need something more flexible.
The very first thing I’m going to do, after launching the photo into Photoshop, is to create a new layer right above the image layer.
From here, if I went up to the Filter > Render > Lens Flare menu item…
…and clicked, as I described above, while this new empty layer is selected, I’d get this error message:
If you can’t read it clearly, it says Could Not Complete the Lens Flare Command Because the Selected Area is Empty. Okay, fine. Photoshop wants something in the layer? I can do that. I’ll fill it with black.
Filling the Layer
To fill the layer, I’ll head up to the Edit > Fill menu item and click.
Once I do that, the Fill dialog box will appear. I’ll click the drop-down box and select Black.
Then, I’ll click the OK button, which will create a black layer that completely hides the image layer.
Really Applying the Lens Flare This Time
At this point, it’s safe to go back the Filter menu and create a lens flare in this freshly filled layer. So, I’ll go back up to the Filter > Render > Lens Flare menu item and click.
Inside of the Lens Flare dialog box, I’ll set things the way I want to see them in the final image (described in my previous post). Then, I’ll click OK to apply this new lens flare to the black layer.
Choosing a Blending Mode
By now, you’re probably scratching your head wondering what in the heck I’m doing. Well, I basically created a lens flare on top of the image the way I want. The only thing that’s in the way is the black. If you remember back to a few different posts I wrote about blending modes, you surely know what I’m about to do. If you haven’t read those posts, here are the links to them:
There are a few more, but I don’t think they would be helpful in this case.
Anyway, my goal is to make the black disappear. Which blend mode removes black from a layer? Well, I’ll tell you – the Screen blend mode. With this in mind, I’ll go over to the blending mode drop-down and select Screen.
The moment I select that blending mode, all the black in the layer disappears, leaving only the lens flare behind. It’s a beautiful thing.
You have to admit, that’s a pretty cool trick. What’s really nice is that I could now select the layer that the lens flare is in and change the opacity, add another filter to it, transform it – whatever. I could never do these things to the flare if I had applied it the traditional way.
Removing Part of the Lens Flare
Oftentimes, editors will apply filters like this to their photos, but don’t want all of the filter to be visible. In my case, sure, I want to see the entire lens flare, but if the photo were in a forest or something, I’d perhaps want to erase some of the lighting so it looks like it’s hidden behind the trees. The question is, how can we remove part of a lens flare? The answer is, just as we’d remove anything else in Photoshop. By using a mask.
Let’s say I would like to get rid of the lower flare circle that’s on the left side. To do this, I’d select the layer the flare is on and then click on the Add a Layer Mask button that’s down at the bottom of the Layers panel.
If you look at the screenshot above, you’ll see that the layer mask was added to the lens flare layer. Also, you’ll notice that the mask is white. That means everything behind it is showing, or is revealed. To hide something, I’ll need to use the Brush Tool to paint part of the mask black. I’ll select the Brush Tool, change the Color Picker color to black and paint over the lower circle of the flare. It’s that easy. And what’s good is that I can adjust the opacity, size and flow of the brush tool, which gives me tons of flexibility.
When isolating objects into their own layers in Adobe Photoshop, you open up new worlds of opportunity. When things are crammed into the same layer, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. If you ever want to go back and change something, it’s nearly impossible. With the techniques I showed in this post today, I think you’ll have the ability to move forward with some other types of customizations with similar types of things in the future. Much of this stuff is the same. You just need to know that it’s possible.
Well, I hope I clearly explained how to create a lens flare in its own layer and how you can then modify that layer later on. If you have any questions or concerns, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!