What is a Lens Flare (+ How to Use It Creatively)?

Lens flare at sunset

Do you wonder why bright spots appear on your photo when you shoot it directly to the sun? This effect is called lens flare. And it’s caused by the reflection of light off the surfaces of the lens and other elements in your camera.

You will recognize it in the photo as a bright spot or line. It appears when taking photos toward a light source (i.e. the sun). However, this effect is not always bad. You can use it creatively. It can add a dramatic atmosphere to the photo.

However, if you clearly understand why flare happens, and how to use it creatively, you can apply it in your favor.

In this article you will learn in which lighting conditions flare occurs, but also how to avoid on your photos, but also we want to explain how you can use it intentionally to get some creative effects.

Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

What is a Lens Flare & What Causes it?

What is lens flare

Whenever you notice a bright spot or line in your photo, it’s almost surely a lens flare. So, this happens when light reflects off your camera’s lens elements and other surfaces. 

A lot of lenses have anti-glare coats, but this won’t prevent it if you have a bright source of light behind your camera.

Lens flare will show on photos in many shapes and sizes, depending on the source and the angle of the light.

The most common is the starburst effect. This effect occurs when light reflects off the edges of your lens elements. And this condition creates a star shape in your photo.

Other types of lens flare are streaks, circles, and halos. You will notice streaks when light is reflecting off dust (particles in the air). Circles and halos are also affected by reflecting the light off the edges of lens elements.

How to Create Flare Intentionally?

How to create lens flare

As we already said, you can creatively use lens flare. In that case, you should intentionally create it to add a dramatic atmosphere.

You can create flare easily. Just find a bright light source and frame a photo that it’s within. You should also experiment with different aperture settings. The catch is to allow more light into the lens, to make it easier that the light reflects off the lens elements. 

Some of the situations, when you can emphasize the atmosphere in the photo using flare, is shooting landscapes at sunset or sunrise. In these situations, lens flare will create a dreamy and romantic feel. And the photo will get an ethereal look. 

Also, you can use it creatively in a nighttime shooting. Especially in street photography when you have a lot of artificial bright light sources.

How to Avoid Flare?

Camera, lens hood, UV and CPL filters

There are 2 ways to avoid lens flare:

First: Do not shoot toward bright light sources.

Second: Use a lens hood.

A lens hood is an additional ring you will put on the end of your camera’s lens. And this should block out any stray light from entering the frame.

This can help reduce the amount of light reflecting off your camera’s lens elements and other surfaces. Therefore this will reduce or eliminate the flare you could see in photos.

So, if you avoid shooting directly toward light sources and use a lens hood you’ll be able to avoid or significantly reduce unwanted flare.

Best Practice to Use Flare Creatively

How to use lens flare

Lens flare effect can be used creatively to emphasize the atmosphere in your photos. Or to create a dreamy, romantic feel. For example, you can add flare at sunsets or sunrises to create a beautiful, ethereal look in your photos.

Additionally, you can leverage it on cityscapes at night to create effective contrast between the lights and the night sky. Also, it can be useful in shooting beach or outdoor scenes to add warmth and romance feels.

With a little experimentation, you’ll be able to use lens flare in creative ways that will make your photos stand out from the crowd!

4 Ways to Remove Lens Flare in Post-Processing

However, if you want to reduce or eliminate unwanted lens flare you need to edit photos. We will outline 4 options to remove it in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Option 1: Clone Stamp Tool (in Photoshop)

With the Clone Stamp Tool, you will remove bright spots or streaks of light caused by flare. You may need to apply it a few times to get acceptable results if you have a bit “complicated” background with a lot of patterns and textures.

Option 2: Spot Healing Brush Tool (in Photoshop)

You can also use the Spot Healing Brush Tool to remove any small, bright spots that may be caused by flare. 

Option 3: Patch Tool and Content Aware Tool (in Photoshop)

These are also 2 powerful tools in Photoshop. You will just need to select a bright spot and you will remove it in a few clicks. As we mentioned for Clone Stamp Tool, if there are a lot of textures on the surface you may need further adjustments if the result doesn’t appear naturally.

Option 4: Adjustment Brush (in Lightroom)

If you prefer more editing in Lightroom you can use the Adjustment Brush Tool to selectively reduce or eliminate any unwanted flare.

Also, we want to have you 2 additional tips to consider:

  • Tip #1: Always work in a new layer when you do editing in Photoshop. You will easily duplicate the background layer before you start the editing process. And if things go wrong, just can easily move back to the original version when you dismiss changes on a new layer;

  • Tip #2: Additionally, you can also use the Graduated Filter Tool (in both Photoshop and Lightroom) to reduce the brightness of areas affected by lens flare. This could make the final edit more natural if the surface from which you remove the flare seems unnatural. 

Besides of methods we outlined above, there are also more advanced methods such as frequency separation or lens flare removal using curves and brush tools. However, we think that these methods are more devoted to advanced users of Photoshop.

Final Tips

Lens flare is the effect you should understand when you have a bright light source in front of you.

In some cases, flare is something you want to have in your photos to enhance the romantic & dreamy atmosphere of photos. But sometimes you don’t want to have a lens flare on photos and in these cases, you will reduce or remove it in post-processing.

You should keep a few tips in mind when you use lens flare effectively in travel photography.

First, think about the direction of the light source and how it affects your photos. If you’re shooting into the sun, you’ll likely get more lens flare than if you’re shooting away from it. Additionally, try to use a lens hood or other form of protection to reduce any unwanted lens flare. Finally, experiment with different angles and compositions to see how the lens flare affects your photos and creates interesting effects. 

With these tips in mind, you can use lens flare creatively to create exciting effects in your travel photos!

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