FPT: Using Sun Flare to Enhance Your Images

by Reads (10)

Sun flare (aka lens flare), the effect you get from allowing sunlight to enter your lens, results in a variety of looks and is currently one of the most popular photographic trends. Which kind of makes me chuckle since, for many years, professional photographers have used almost any means possible to reduce or eliminate those obtrusive streaks and orbs. But, as trends have a tendency to do, these unmistakable bands of light are all the rage and photographers just can’t get enough of them. When done correctly I absolutely love them. They can add depth and interest to an otherwise unmemorable image. So what’s the best way to capture this infectious photographic trend?  

Photography is all about lighting–how to use the light, how to manipulate the light, how to control the light. Of course, that can be easier said than done when you are just starting out.  That’s why sun flare can be so appealing. It would seem that extensive photographic skills are not needed to obtain this effect. But, like any technique, proper execution will render the best results.

Here are a few pro tips that can help to give you awesome results:

  • This one’s a no-brainer…face your camera in the direction of the sun (not directly at the sun). It doesn’t have to be straight on, but the camera must be in the general direction of your light source. Angling your lens will render different results. Play around with the angles to see what you like best. This can change based on the subject, background and feel of the image.
  • Focus on your subject, not the sun or the flare. I almost always use the center focal point when shooting. I grab focus (as a portrait photographer this generally happens to be the eyes) and recompose. The easiest way to grab focus when shooting toward the sun is to temporarily block the light source with your hand, grab focus, recompose if necessary, and then move your hand. Other light modifiers can be used, but I prefer to keep it simple and just use my hand.
  • As a general rule you will need to set you camera on manual mode. With lens flare you are tricking the camera into allowing the image to be overexposed. If you set the camera on any mode besides manual it will try to adjust the settings to give you an image that is not overexposed. I exposed for skin tones, namely the area on a person’s face that is about an inch or so under their eye. This area is usually a tad bit darker than the rest of the face. When you expose for this area, it reduces the dark areas under the eye while keeping the rest of the skin tones within a manageable range.
  • Aperture and shutter speed will affect the outcome of the sun flare. If you like flare that is diffused and widespread, then a wide aperture is required. If you like flare that looks like a little sunburst, then you will need to use an aperture of approximately f/8 or more. Shutter speed also affects flare. The longer your shutter speed, the more widespread your flare will be. But be careful. Extending your shutter speed too much will increase subject movement and camera shake.  
  • I like to obstruct the sun slightly with elements in my picture. This can either be obstruction from the subject or something in the background. Both work wonderfully and render different, yet interesting results.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

Avoid some of the biggest problems with sun flare:

  • Don’t overuse the technique.
  • Make sure to properly expose for your subject while keeping in mind the effects of sun flare. It will be very hard to bring detail back into your image after you have overexposed an image too much. Underexposing your subject can be just as damaging to your image and might not give you the results you are looking for.
  • Don’t distract from your subject. Make sure this technique adds to the image instead of taking away from it.
  • Be safe. Just like your mama always told you…don’t look into the sun or point your camera directly into the sun. It’s bad for your eyes and the camera.

Practice makes perfect…have a great weekend and go grab that shot!

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