Fighting Insidious Lens Flare
Some flare’s good. This flare’s not. Two simple fixes to keep it at bay
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Some lens flare is obvious and dramatic. It produces specular highlights and disembodied orbs and streaks of light—caused by light bouncing around through the optics in your lens—that show up obviously in your pictures. This dramatic lens flare can sometimes be a useful creative tool. But there's another kind of lens flare, the kind that I refer to as "insidious." And it's a real image killer.
Here's the difference between subtle, insidious lens flare, and the kind that produces those specular halations that you can't help but notice in your scenes: nobody likes the insidious kind. Why? Because insidious lens flare adds nothing good to the scene you're shooting. It simply saps color vibrancy and saturation, muddies the tonal range to produce bland, flat images without rich blacks and bright whites, and subtly softens edges enough to make shots appear as if you simply didn't focus correctly. Sounds great, doesn't it?
So while the bold kind of lens flare may be a useful compositional tool, insidious lens flare never is. That means you've got to be extra-vigilant in fighting it. How? The two best ways I know are to always use a lens shade and put flags between the lights and your lens. The lens shade might be the best bang for your buck you can get in a photography tool. Even when you think, 'Oh, I'm not shooting into the sun,' the sun still manages to find a way to reflect itself directly into your lens and cause that insidious flare. So to minimize it at all times, keep a shade on your lens. And keep it pointed out in the useful position so that it's doing it job, as opposed to stowed away impotently in the entirely unhelpful rear-facing storage position.