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Add Some Flare!

Shooting toward a light source reduces the overall contrast and color saturation of your image. It underexposes your subject if you set the exposure for the background and overexposes the background if you set the exposure for the subject and the effect introduces odd color and shape artifacts in your image known as lens flare. As photographers, we’re usually told that shooting into a light source is bad and that lens flare in your photos is an undesirable effect. In fact, lens flare is considered so undesirable that lensmakers use antireflective coatings, such as Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coating to reduce the effect.

You don’t need direct sunlight to create lens flare in an image. In this action shot of a skateboarder pulling a frontside grind, I handheld an off-camera flash connected by a TTL cord right next to my fish-eye lens, which created a lot of flare. Taken using a Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fish-eye.

Oddly enough, in cinematography these same principles are often applied to achieve a certain effect. In just about any feature film, you’ll often see a wide panoramic shot panning across the scene with lens flare sweeping through the frameā€”the quintessential epic Hollywood setup shot. So, if it’s good enough for Hollywood blockbusters, why not try adding some cinematic flare to your still photographs?

So, what exactly is lens flare? The short answer is that lens flare is the result of errant light being reflected internally among the glass elements that make up the optics of the lens. Lenses that are more optically complex tend to have a higher incidence of lens flare than more simple lenses.

You can use lens flare in even the most traditional photographs to make them more fun. Lens flare added a great cinematic effect to the recessional of the bride and groom. Taken using a NIKKOR AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8D.

Lens flare can be used effectively in all kinds of photography from portraiture to still life, landscapes and more. The great thing about this effect is that it can be done utilizing just about any camera system, from your high-end DSLR all the way down to the most inexpensive compact camera, and since it’s an optical effect, it can be viewed in real time whether looking through a viewfinder, or on an LCD monitor.

Creating lens flare in your image is a relatively easy affair. Simply compose your image facing towards a light source. A small, extremely bright, directional light source such as the sun, a streetlight, spotlight, a simple indoor lamp or even a flash are ideal for creating lens flare.

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