If you've ever taken photographs with the sun in front of you, you're likely to have experience flare, which probably spoilt your photograph. However, there are several things you can do to remove it or, if you're feeling creative, you can use it in your shots to add a little romanticism, mystery and warmth to your work.
What Is Flare?
Flare is caused by direct light entering the lens, which then bounces around the glass elements causing a reduction in the photograph's contrast. Sometimes this will just make the picture look washed out and lacking vibrant colours, but often you would also see a series of coloured shapes across the photo. The shape is an image of the lens' aperture or diaphragm and will often be hexagonal. This is joined with streaks of coloured light crossing the picture. Modern lenses have multicoated lens elements and are designed to reduce flare but even with the most expensive products it can still occur.
How Can I Stop It?
The easy way to prevent flare is to shoot with your back to the sun - a method that was always suggested in camera manuals before multicoated optics. The trouble with this suggestion is that there are many occasions when you cannot control where the sun is in relationship to your subject. It's easy, for example, to ask a person to turn direction or change the angle that you shoot a flower from, but try shooting a castle on a hill top or boat out at sea and you're usually stuck with no other choice than to face the sun.
Fortunately, there are things that can be done. First make sure the sun is at least out of the frame. If this is not possible adjust position so that a nearby building or tree shields the sun from the camera position. Alternatively shield the lens from the sun using your hand or a piece of card. Take care to avoid this creeping into the frame. Better still, use a lens hood.
Photo by Peter Bargh
What If I Want To Use Flare In My Shot?
It's easier to get flare with less expensive lenses and be prepared to work lower to the ground, laying down if it's needed to get the sun in the right position. Remember, you're trying to get the camera to do something it's designed not to do so work in manual and trust your own judgement as your camera will keep telling you your shot is blown out. Position yourself so you're shooting into the sun, just before it starts setting and remember to adjust your exposure so your subject doesn't come out as a silhouette. Don't be afraid to use overexposed backgrounds as this will add to the effect and switch to manual focus if your lens keeps searching for a focus point, which it might do as the background will be the lightest part of your shot so it probably won't want to focus on your subject. If you want to shoot some indoor portraits this technique works just as well with your subject positioned against a window or patio doors.
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