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Do you put a hood on your lens to avoid lens flare? Are you always moving and reframing so that the light source is behind you? Then you have missed out on some great creative opportunities. But not to worry, in this tutorial you can learn how to add a lens flare effect in Photoshop.
A lens flare usually occurs when you have an intense light source hitting the camera either directly or by reflection. This light then gets scattered inside the lens and creates visible marks on your photo like colored circles, starbursts or a haze that covers the image.
How it’s manifested and how big the flare is depends on the intensity of the light, the angle at which it hits the camera, and also the elements inside the lens that cause the refraction. You can recreate a lens flare in Photoshop by going to Menu > Filter > Render > Lens Flare.
A window will pop up where you’ll see a thumbnail of the picture, just click on the area where you want to place the source of the flare, typically in the brightest point. You can also adjust the brightness of the flare, just by dragging the slider.
Finally, you can choose the type of lens. As I mentioned at the beginning, lens flare is caused by the scattering of light inside the different parts of the lens and therefore lenses with different components will cause different kinds of flares. When you are done just click OK.
That’s pretty straightforward right? But the result is pretty basic.
Well, there’s a bit more to it in order to really make the most of this effect. You probably noticed that you set up your flare only with a thumbnail preview, therefore you would probably want to go back to it for adjustments after you see it in the full-size screen, but this is not possible.
So the first trick to mastering the lens flare effect is to turn it into a Smart Filter.
Smart Filters is a tool to apply filters in a non-destructive way, so you can adjust, remove, or hide it as many times as you like. To do this go to Menu > Filter > Convert for Smart Filters. A warning window pops up to tell you that in order to make your filters Smart, it needs to convert the layer into a Smart Object, click OK.
To learn more about Smart Objects you can read about them in my previous tutorial How to Create with a Good Workflow Using Smart Objects in Photoshop.
Now you can now go back to apply the filter as you did before: Menu > Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Each time you want to go back to change anything you just have to double-click on the filter.
You can now go back and adjust the brightness, type of lens and re-position the light source. That’s better don’t you think?
However, you still have to do this in the small thumbnail which can be difficult to do if you want to place the flare in a really specific spot. To overcome this problem, there is a simple way to get around it.
Before you open the filters, decide where you want to put the source, zoom into the image and check the coordinates. If your Info tab is not already opened, you can get to it by going to Menu > Window > Info or just pressing F8. There you will see all the color information for each pixel but also the exact coordinate of it in the spaces called X and Y.
Just hover over the place where you want to place your source and take a note of the coordinates.
Now that you know where you want to put your lens flare you can go ahead and do your filter normally. Setup the filters as Smart Filters and then go to Render > Lens Flare filter. Adjust the brightness and type of lens that you want.
To position the source this time though, hold the Alt key when you click on the thumbnail and a new window will open. You can then enter the exact coordinates you selected before.
In the end, just process the image as you would normally for exposure and color and you’re done!
When you want to change the direction of the flare, you won’t find this as an option offered in the adjustments of the filter. What you can do is apply it separately and then move it.
First, create a new layer by going to Menu > Layer > New Layer and fill it with black. You can do this by going to Menu > Edit > Fill and choose to use Black as Content. This new empty black layer is where you’re going to apply your Lens Flare without turning it into a Smart Filter because there’s no information to protect in this layer.
With the Lens Flare being independent of the main image, you can move it around as you want. Just select the layer by going to Menu > Edit > Free Transform and then you can rotate and move it until you’re satisfied.
There you have it, three tips to really master the Lens Flare in Photoshop. Please show us your best results in the comments section below.