A pretty popular trend among many professional photographers (especially wedding photographers) is the exploitation of of lens flare to achieve an unreal and surreal sense of space in the shot. Until recently, photographer were the ones trying to prevent flare from cropping up in their photos. They employed good lenses, good filters, good shooting habits, hoods and other tricks to ensure that flare does not cause problems such as a drop in the contrast and distracting flare artifacts in their shots.
What do you need to achieve flares in your photographs? Technically, you just need to undo what photographers have been doing – yes, doing the opposite of that…
Types of Flares
First, let’s see what are the different types of flare. Basically, there are two type of flares: Ghosting and Veiling flares. What are the differences?
This flare effect creates strange light spots of different colour (depending on the lens, the coating, the angles etc). They come in different shapes too depending on the shape of the light source. Often times, you may notice halos that take on the shape of the lens aperture being used. This is usually a result of the incident light from the light source. If it’s a fluorescent light strip, you may see longish ghosting. If the sun or spot light, you may notice round or hexagonal shapes mimcing the aperture.
This flare comes usually in the form of hazy effect. You will notice that the details of your shots are softened and a reduction in the contrast. Shadows becomes greyish, and the surrounding colours will be reduced in saturation.
To achieve a beautiful outcome, we would need a combination of these two type of flares, if possible. The ghosting gives the accent (spots) of the flare shot, and veiling flare gives the atmospheric quality of the flare shot.
And Now, to the Shooting Tips…
Tip 1 : A strong light source (sun/spot light) at the right time of the day
You need a sun or a strong light source that is from a point e.g. spotlight or setting/rising sun are good candidates. Then shoot into the light shoot and place your subject according to you own composition rules. I find that morning sun between 9-11am and 3pm to 5pm may give you good angles to shoot. If you shoot from 11am to 3pm, then you will need to shoot from a low angle upwards in order to catch the sun high up in the sky to get the desire d flare effect.
Tip 2: Employ poor filters, Vaseline and Netting
You see, using too good filters reduces the chances of lens flare. So use a poorly coated or non-coated filter to achieve more flare. Remove any lens hood if you have any attached. We want more stray lights to enter the lens from the sides to create more flares. You can also apply some vaseline spot/smears on the filter (not the lens, please!) and see if it achieve your objective. Do not over do it else you have a very soft photo. You can also try overlaying some thin netting over the lens. Also, zoom lenses are more likely to flare.
Tip 3: Place your model strategically
Place your model facing you and preferably with their head/body blocking the light slightly, or completely, depending on your desired effect. If blocking completely, you may need lighted outlines of their back/hair, and that can be an interesting effect.
Tip 4: Overexposure purposefully
You can either use a manual mode to manual set the lighting, or you can use this lazy method which I found out. In general, the lazy method would involve metering normally with your camera, and then do a +2EV on the exposure compensation to achieve the “blow out” effect. Usually, this means that your model would expose quite nicely, while the flare will be amplified and overexposure, which is the intended outcome. Alternately, you can do a spot metering on the face of the model, and see if the flare’s over-exposure works for you.
Tip 5: Focus correctly
Because of the harsh nature of the light, you may wish to use your hand to block the sun during the initial focusing process, in case it hunts desperately for a focus lock in the silhouette (dark areas). In addition, because of the strong light, your eyes may hurt a little staring into the viewfinder, causing discomfort. Using the hands to temporarily block the light source may help.
Tip 6: Trial and Error
Photography is about trying new ways of shooting and creating flares (in this case). Take multiple shots are different angles, from different directions, at different apertures. See the difference in the effect. Personally, I find smaller apertures (i.e. large f numbers) tend to create more starry flares not unlike the star shaped flare from street lamps. If you want more veiling flares i.e. atmospheric flares, use large aperture (i.e. small f numbers). This is technically sound, as the larger aperture would allow more lights to come in from different angles, thereby creating more hazy/veiling flares. See my quick guide below to effects aperture sizes on the nature of flares.
You will notice that at f/5.6 the “hazy” effect is more pronounced, with the “halo” stretching into the shadows of my window’s frame, and there are less “streaks” available. At f11, the hazy effect has dropped off, giving way to the more “spiky/starry” flare. The number of primary “spikes” are less at f/11 than at f/22, or f/32. You will also notice that the ghosting/accent flares are more pronounce as the aperture grows smaller (i.e. f11 to f32). These are noticed as the greenish artifacts that can be found below the light source. The artifacts are more defined at higher f numbers i.e. smaller aperture sizes.
For a more hazy/area effect and less defined accents, use small f numbers e.g. f/1.8, f2.8 etc. It might be useful to place the sun just outside the frame.
For a much less hazy, but more more spiky light spot and well defined accents, use high f numbers e.g. f/11, f22 or more. It might be useful to place the sun in the frame itself in the thirds location using the rule of the thirds.
Try it for yourself! Let me know and share how you fared in getting the effects you desire! =D