Embracing Sun Flare

When it comes to the light, I chase it, like a moth to a flame. It only makes sense that my love of the sun would permeate my photography, as well. I’m not writing to debate the pros and cons of pointing your camera at the sun; we all know there are many who balk at the mere mention of it. There are products created and bought to prevent sun glare in images. But if you’re like me, and are called by the light, if images of sun flare and sunbursts make you weak in the knees, then this is an article for you.

My first digital sun flare happened quite by accident many years ago. I remember seeing the image pop up on my little point-and-shoot screen, and I was instantly smitten with the colorful shapes and spots. I had zero idea how it happened, but I knew I was hooked. From that shot on, if the sun was shining, I was looking right at it through my lens. No longer did I merely tolerate the sun or work around it; I began to harness that gorgeous light and use it to my advantage to gain warmth and added beauty to my images—sometimes even composing the shot for the flare itself, rather than the other way around.

So what’s flare? Flare happens when the light bends and reflects inside the glass body of your lens. Each lens being constructed differently results in each lens having its very own flare. I liken it to a fingerprint, each one different and unique. My kit lens provides a myriad of colorful shapes and bubbles, whereas my 60mm creates a large rainbow arch. My 50mm has a vibrant hot pink flare that I love. You get the picture—each one creates a different effect, therefore creating a different image. By playing with your gear, you’ll find what type of flare yours creates.

Some individuals find flare distracting in photography. I understand that, but I also feel if you’re conscious of your subject, you can successfully incorporate the flare into the photo, enhancing the image. By embracing the flare, I paint with the light. I compose the shot, already thinking where the flare will fall, how it will effect the rest of the shot. If I’m shooting a portrait, I try not to have the flare obscure the face or eyes of the individual, but rather have the flare peering out from behind or around the individual. In other photos, the flare may be the prominent feature of the shot, everything else being secondary. I may place the focus point on the sun flare itself and blur everything else, thus effecting "beauty in the blur."

Shooting the light can be tricky at first; it requires a willingness to play. Thanks to the gift of digital photography, you’re not limited to a roll or 24 exposures. You’re forever free to click away. For finding and creating sun flare, this is key. Move your camera body. As you tilt the camera, watch the light bend and refract in your viewfinder. The flare will appear there. It can take a little while to find it or "see" it at first, but it’s there. Be patient. Click away, tilt again, and click some more. Practice, practice, practice. Once you develop your eye for your camera’s flare, you’ll begin to see it much easier and learn the sweet spots of your camera and lenses.

Tips For Shooting Sun Flare

A few common questions asked about sun flare are: What angle works best? What time of day? What camera? Flare is a lot of experimentation—there aren’t a lot of right or wrong answers, though there are some simple tips for gaining optimal sun flare in your photos.

1. Sun flare is best shot in early-morning or late-day light. Shooting sun flare at noon is possible, but harder to achieve. Evening light is optimal due to the natural warmth and glow the sun provides as it sets.
2. Perhaps the most important, yet easily forgotten tip: Remove all lens hoods and filters. Often, we forget we have these on our cameras. Those two items are made to reduce the sun’s glare—that’s their job. If you want to achieve flares, they’re conspiring against you. Be sure to take them off.
3. Get low. Position the sun just out of your frame where the rays can bend into your lens.
4. With your free hand, hold something up in front of the sun—a leaf, a flower, your own hand—anything to partially block the sun’s rays. This will aid in creating a sunburst effect in your image.
5. Open up the aperture setting for large rings and shapes. This works best in daylight shooting. Or stop down your aperture to achieve starburst rays. The narrower the aperture, the longer the exposure you can use, and that’s how you get those lovely rays in the form of star-shaped flares. This is beneficial in nighttime shooting. The light source will then look like stars.
6. Play! Have fun with it. Tilt and shoot, and tilt and shoot again. Train your eye to find the various shapes and rainbows in your viewfinder, and it will become easier and easier to achieve sun flares.
7. Enhance your flares in postprocessing. Sure, they can be brilliant as captured, but by simply oversaturating the color in your images a bit, those flares will pop and glow.

SHUTTER SISTERS is a collaborative photo blog (www.shuttersisters.com) and a thriving community of women, passionate about photography. Photographer and writer Kristin Zecchinelli is a contributor to Shutter Sisters and Everyday Storytellers, and co-creator of NOW YOU Workshops, www.nowyouworkshops.wordpress.com.

Leave a Comment