How To Create Brilliant Lens Flare: The 3 Questions You Need To Ask
You’ve seen those incredible shots.
You know, the ones where it looks like the light is shining down from heaven and gracing the subject of the photo with its brilliant presence?
Perhaps it’s highlighting the softly crashing waves at sunset, or the love between a newly engaged couple.
That magical light effect is actually photography trick called lens flare.
It’s a lot easier than most people think…
And can be accomplished with just your DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Sure, you can create the illusion of lens flare with fancy Photoshop skills, but wouldn’t it be cool to master this trick in-camera?
I thought so.
I’m going to break down lens flare for you, how it works and how to achieve it in your photos. I’ll also share some cool ideas to inspire you to try capturing lens flare on your next photo adventure or shoot!
Check out this video for the sundown – I mean rundown – on lens flare:
Lens Flare: What’s the Catch?
We're definitely here to talk about your flare…
In all seriousness, lens flare is the result of a bright light source entering your lens and refracting the light in a unique way. There are a variety of light sources you can play with to achieve this effect, depending on your situation and your budget.
Here are a few:
- Studio strobes
- Good ol’ sunshine
This scattering of light can cause a variety of lighting effects, including:
- Bright blobs
Distracting or desirable?
Lens flare can create a realistic and artistic effect on your image, especially when intentional. It can even compliment your subject or highlight a focal point in your photo!
To understand how to control lens flare, we need to take a light swim in aperture‘s waters. Don't worry – no sharks in these waters!
Aperture: The Key To Success
I can hear your first question a mile away!
What is aperture again?!
It is simply the size of the hole inside your lens.
Further, aperture is a term used by photographers to describe the opening and closing of the blades on the back of a lens. The number of diaphragm blades generally varies, but a good average is 6 to 9 blades, with some lenses having more and some having less.
A larger hole in your lens will allow more light in, while a smaller hole in your lens will allow less light in.
Additionally, aperture is measured in increments called f-stops.
I’ll explain how f-stops affect lens flare later on. If you want a comprehensive look at the aperture numbers called f-stops, head over to Chapter 3 of my post on everything you could possibly need to know about aperture.
When you have a great amount of light entering a smaller hole in your lens, the light will shine through those aperture blades to produce a starburst effect. Cool, right?!
While aperture is the primary factor to achieving lens flare, it doesn’t go it alone. We need to make sure we have a foundational understanding of the other elements that make up the exposure triangle as well.
The Exposure Triangle Is Your Friend
You heard me right – the exposure triangle is your dearest friend when it comes to photography.
Consider yourself BFFs. I’ll introduce you if this is your first meeting.
Exposure is the brightness of an image:
- If the photo is too dark, the photo is considered “under” exposed.
- If the photo is too bright, it is considered “over” exposed.
- If the brightness of a photo is just right, we call it a “correct” exposure.
- A “correct” exposure is subjective to the photographer.
The exposure triangle contains 3 elements:
- Shutter Speed
As you can see in this graphic, aperture works with ISO and shutter speed to create a balanced exposure.
If you need a greater explanation of the exposure triangle, scroll down to chapter 2 of this incredibly thorough post on aperture. There’s even a video in there with yours truly!
It’s important to realize that if you change your aperture by increasing or decreasing your f-stops, you’ll also need to adjust your shutter speed accordingly. You’ll see how this affects lens flare in the next section.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the exposure triangle, let’s get back to lens flare!
Gorgeous Lens Flare Is 3 Questions Away
I can feel it.
You’re ready to master this super cool trick!
First things first. If you have a lens hood on, you gotta take it off.
A lens hood is designed to shield your lens from harsh light. When seeking to capture lens flare, you don’t need or want this protection. It’s a big world out there, and you’ve got some light to catch!
Now grab your camera and answer these 3 questions:
1. Where is your subject located in relation to the light source?
If it isn’t already, place your subject directly in front of the sun or other large light source.
This means your subject (whether a human or a mountain) should be between you and said light source.
2. Do you want your flare to look like a starburst or a glowy blob?
The higher the f-stop/the smaller the hole, the more intense the starburst look of your lens flare.
The lower the f-stop/the larger the hole, the less defined your lens flare will be, resulting in glowy blob(s) of light.
Nothing wrong with this – it just depends on what look you are going for!
Here is an real life example from each end of the spectrum:
3. Do you know how to adjust your shutter speed?
To get a balanced exposure, you will need to adjust your shutter speed accordingly (unless you're shooting in Aperture Priority Mode).
– If shooting with a higher f-stop/smaller hole for a sharper starburst look, you’ll need to compensate for the lack of light coming through the lens. You can do this by decreasing your shutter speed to allow more time for light to enter the lens.
Smaller aperture = longer shutter speed
– If shooting with a lower f-stop/larger hole for a bigger, glowy circle of light, you’ll need to compensate for the extra light coming through the lens. You can do this by increasing your shutter speed to allow less time for light to enter the lens.
Larger aperture = shorter shutter speed
Bonus: Flashlight Hack
If you want to capture lens flare using a flashlight as your light source, simply shine your flashlight at your camera lens as you shoot.
You can do this one of two ways:
- Set your camera up on a tripod or stable surface. Shine the flashlight at your lens as you capture your subject.
- Hold your camera and have someone shine the flashlight at the lens while you shoot.
Play around with this – experimenting is the best part!
10 Lens Flare Inspirations
Excited to try this out, but feeling a little dry on photo inspiration?
I’ve got a fun top 10 list to get you started…
5. Sunset (or Sunrise)
8. Street Photography
The time has come to catch some light!
All you need to remember are these 3 easy steps:
1. Place your subject between you and your light source.
2. Adjust your aperture according to the look you want.
– For starbursts, go for a higher f-stop.
– For glowy circles of light, go for a lower f-stop.
3. Adjust your shutter speed as necessary to keep a balanced exposure.
Bottom line: be creative and have fun!
I want YOU to follow these 3 easy steps to capture some sweet lens flare. Share your photos and what you learned in the comments below!
New to this whole photography scene or wanting to brush up on your skills? I have a FREE online training called Show Your Camera Who’s Boss and would love to see you there!