How to Prevent Lens Flare - Digital Photography School

How to Prevent Lens Flare

Understanding Lenses: Part I, and is the third in a series of lessons about camera lenses. Links to the others are at the bottom of the article.

prevent-lens-flare-1.jpg

If direct sunlight (or light from another source such as a street lamp) hits the front element of your lens, you will almost certainly get flare.

There are two types of flare. One is specular flare; circular blobs or streaks of light across the frame. You can see specular flare in the photo below.

prevent-lens-flare-2.jpg

The other is veiling flare, where light creeps into the shadow areas of your photo, reducing contrast in the darkest tones and decreasing sharpness and definition. This is more subtle and not always as noticeable as specular flare. An example where you might see veiling flare is in a portrait backlit by the sun. The opening photo to this article contains veiling flare.

Quick tip: Using the auto-levels or auto-contrast functions in Photoshop helps compensate for lack of contrast caused by veiling flare.

Avoiding flare

Flare is caused by direct light hitting the front of the lens (this is called ‘non image forming light’). This can happen with any lens, but wide-angle lenses are more prone to this than longer focal lengths because of their greater angle-of-view. The easiest way to prevent flare is to make sure that there is no direct light shining on the lens. There are several ways to do this:

Buy a lens hood

A lens hood is an essential accessory for any lens. Some lenses, usually the more expensive models in the range, are supplied with lens hoods. For any other lens you will need to buy one separately. The instruction manual of your lens will tell you which lens hood to buy.

It is best to buy that particular lens hood if you can, or a third-party alternative that matches the shape and size of the recommended lens hood. These are often less expensive, although they may not be made quite as well. But for a lens hood build quality doesn’t really matter, as its main task is to keep light off your lens.

prevent-lens-flare-3.jpg

The above photo shows a Canon EF 17-40mm zoom lens with the lens hood it comes supplied with. This shape hood is called a petal lens hood and is common with wide-angle lenses. The cut away corners are designed to prevent vignetting.

prevent-lens-flare-4.jpg

This photo shows a metal third-party lens hood that I bought for my 85mm prime lens. The field-of-view of this lens is much narrower than the 17-40mm zoom, therefore the lens hood can be longer without causing vignetting. Longer lenses are better protected by lens hoods than shorter ones.

Lens hoods work by casting a shadow over the front element of the lens. Once you have bought a lens hood you should keep it on the lens whenever you take photos. Even if you think your images are flare free, it may be that there is a small amount of flare that you don’t notice until you view the photo on your monitor.

Lens hoods also have the benefit of helping protect your lens from accidental knocks and scratches – another reason to keep them on your lenses while using your camera.

Other ways to prevent flare

If the lens hood isn’t enough to keep the sun off your lens, there are other techniques you can use:

If the camera is tripod mounted, you can shade the front element with your hand or a piece of card during the exposure. Just make sure your hand doesn’t appear in the photo.

Stand in the shade when you take a photo, if possible. This prevents the light from the sun hitting the front element of your lens. If you’re taking a photo of someone backlit by the sun, and there is too much flare, try placing them in the shade instead. If you also stand in the shade when you take the photo, you won’t get flare.

Use prime lenses. Prime lenses (if you have one) are less prone to flare than zooms. One reason for this is that they contain fewer internal lens elements. One cause of flare is light being dispersed inside the lens as it passes through the lens elements. The fewer elements inside the lens, the less likely you are to get flare.

Keep the lens clean. If your lens is dusty, dirty or greasy it will be more prone to flare. Anyone who has looked into the sun while wearing spectacles or sunglasses will appreciate this. Your vision is clearer if the lenses are clean. It’s the same for camera lenses.

Cleaning is easy. I use a blower brush to remove dust and dirt, then lens tissues with a lens cleaning solution to clean the element. Check your lens (and filters) regularly to make sure that they are clean. Shining a torch onto the front element is a good way to see if there is dust or grease otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

Filters

The debate about filters is ongoing and opinion seems to be divided about whether they adversely affect the quality of the image or not. I don’t think it makes much difference and use ultraviolet (UV) filters to protect all my lenses. I feel more comfortable knowing the filter is there to protect the front element of the lens from knocks or scratches.

I buy coated filters which help reduce flare. They cost a little more but for me it’s worth it. I keep the filter cases in my camera bag so that if I’m in a situation where flare is an issue (if I’m shooting into the sun, for example) I can remove the UV filter temporarily and store it. I can also remove the UV filter if I use a polarising filter, to avoid having more than one filter attached to the lens at a time.

Creative flare

prevent-lens-flare-5.jpg

Finally, don’t forget than you can use flare creatively. Sometimes it adds to the atmosphere of the photo. There’s even a Photoshop filter for those situations where you would like to add it afterwards. Thats how I created the flare in the above image.

Previous articles

These are the previous articles in the series. My next article will be about flare; exploring the causes, how to prevent flare and also how to use it creatively.

Understanding Lenses: Part I

prevent-lens-flare-6.jpg

If you liked this article then take a look at my latest eBook, Understanding Lenses: Part I – A guide to Canon wide-angle and kit lenses.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer and photographer living in New Zealand. He is the author of over twenty photography ebooks and he's giving two of them away. Sign up to his monthly newsletter to receive complementary copies of The Creative Image and Use Lightroom Better.

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    It’s funny. I just posted how to add flare. Controlling why it’s there is always the best way to keep creativity on your side.

  • http://cameradojo.com Kerry Garrison

    Great tips. I’m glad you mentioned to use it all the time because invariably whenever I don’t have a hood on the lens the odds of me putting a fat thumb print right on the front of the lens go up by about 10,000%.

    Kerry
    http://cameradojo.com

  • http://www.orderbyday.com Zib

    Photoshop fake lens flare filter is probably the most awful thing you can do to a picture.

  • Ryan

    I love lense flare, it add the depth to picture. Sometime may need to avoid it in landscape photography. Anyway, tks for great tips, it might handy for others

  • don

    I love the article, but I have lost track of the overwhelming number of photographs I see almost every day where lens flair was a desired effect. for reason unknown to me, there seems to be a real movement on to destroy an otherwise excellent photo in the name of “art,” to the extent that in photos that don’t have naturally occurring lens flair, the photographer creates it artificially in the computer. And this concept is not limited to lens flair — people have actually created “light leaks” in digital photos in the computer. All those years, learning all the little tricks to keep those undesirable things out of our photos, and now, they are highly sought after!

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro marius
  • http://www.scottcarlinphotography.com Scott

    I love a good lens flare. It can add an ambiance or mood to a photo that is very powerful. I appreciate your article because it does teach how to be aware of it, control it, and use it, or avoid it, to your advantage. As far as the photoshop flare – oh, the horror. I would strongly advise against ever using this. Never ever, under any circumstance, (unless you are creating backdrops of deep space for the new Star Trek movie).

  • http://www.aaanouel.com aaanouel

    Good article, thanks.
    But I think you forgot to mention Polarized filters… which are the best for reducing flares (although not it’s always possible to be used).

  • http://www.panoramio.com/user/6757938 Paolo Nadeau

    I’m a Nature & Wildlife photographer and videographer, and often have to shoot in bright mid day light.

    Stacking a variable neutral density filter with a polarizer will elimiate lens flare, and also make your photos or video footage pop, when shooting in the harshest light conditions.

    I also bring a small totes umbrella on all of my shoots for glare protection.

    Less hight tech, but also veryy cost effective, and it fits perfectly in the side pouch of my Lowepro backpack :-)

    Paolo
    Smoky Cat Productions
    Jacksonville, FL
    http://www.panoramio.com/user/6757938

  • http://www.panoramio.com/user/6757938 Paolo Nadeau

    Sorry for the typos on my previous post.

    Was sent from my iPad. :-)

  • chris

    I have a problem with flair taking night shots, i use small aperture like 16 to get the star affect, but the lights closer to me flair a lot, how can i stop this….new to photography.

  • Bill

    avoid lens flairs

    Question: I have a Clear Filter on my Tamron 70-300mm lens for my Sony Alpha DSLR A100. This is just to protect the lens. How do you not get these flaries when shooting fireworks at night when you are shoot the sky about 30 miles away?

Some older comments

  • Bill

    September 20, 2012 02:43 am

    avoid lens flairs

    Question: I have a Clear Filter on my Tamron 70-300mm lens for my Sony Alpha DSLR A100. This is just to protect the lens. How do you not get these flaries when shooting fireworks at night when you are shoot the sky about 30 miles away?

  • chris

    September 16, 2012 06:40 pm

    I have a problem with flair taking night shots, i use small aperture like 16 to get the star affect, but the lights closer to me flair a lot, how can i stop this....new to photography.

  • Paolo Nadeau

    September 15, 2012 02:40 am

    Sorry for the typos on my previous post.

    Was sent from my iPad. :-)

  • Paolo Nadeau

    September 15, 2012 02:37 am

    I'm a Nature & Wildlife photographer and videographer, and often have to shoot in bright mid day light.

    Stacking a variable neutral density filter with a polarizer will elimiate lens flare, and also make your photos or video footage pop, when shooting in the harshest light conditions.

    I also bring a small totes umbrella on all of my shoots for glare protection.

    Less hight tech, but also veryy cost effective, and it fits perfectly in the side pouch of my Lowepro backpack :-)

    Paolo
    Smoky Cat Productions
    Jacksonville, FL
    http://www.panoramio.com/user/6757938

  • aaanouel

    September 14, 2012 03:16 am

    Good article, thanks.
    But I think you forgot to mention Polarized filters... which are the best for reducing flares (although not it's always possible to be used).

  • Scott

    September 8, 2012 09:23 am

    I love a good lens flare. It can add an ambiance or mood to a photo that is very powerful. I appreciate your article because it does teach how to be aware of it, control it, and use it, or avoid it, to your advantage. As far as the photoshop flare - oh, the horror. I would strongly advise against ever using this. Never ever, under any circumstance, (unless you are creating backdrops of deep space for the new Star Trek movie).

  • marius

    September 7, 2012 03:53 pm

    I like flare:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2012/05/spre-lumina.html

  • don

    September 7, 2012 12:43 pm

    I love the article, but I have lost track of the overwhelming number of photographs I see almost every day where lens flair was a desired effect. for reason unknown to me, there seems to be a real movement on to destroy an otherwise excellent photo in the name of "art," to the extent that in photos that don't have naturally occurring lens flair, the photographer creates it artificially in the computer. And this concept is not limited to lens flair -- people have actually created "light leaks" in digital photos in the computer. All those years, learning all the little tricks to keep those undesirable things out of our photos, and now, they are highly sought after!

  • Ryan

    September 7, 2012 10:33 am

    I love lense flare, it add the depth to picture. Sometime may need to avoid it in landscape photography. Anyway, tks for great tips, it might handy for others

  • Zib

    September 7, 2012 02:21 am

    Photoshop fake lens flare filter is probably the most awful thing you can do to a picture.

  • Kerry Garrison

    September 7, 2012 01:25 am

    Great tips. I'm glad you mentioned to use it all the time because invariably whenever I don't have a hood on the lens the odds of me putting a fat thumb print right on the front of the lens go up by about 10,000%.

    Kerry
    http://cameradojo.com

  • Jai Catalano

    September 7, 2012 01:15 am

    It's funny. I just posted how to add flare. Controlling why it's there is always the best way to keep creativity on your side.

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