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Adding the setting sun into your photograph adds an extra touch of magic and interest. That warm golden glow can really take the romance to a whole new level, including adding a controlled sun flare.
But, for the sun to be in the photo, your lens will be pointed towards the sun. This means the rays of sunshine have direct access to the inside of your lens, creating sun flare! Sun flare is a beast that will devour your photograph if you don’t know how to tame it.
If you have too much flare, your entire photo will become washed out and lose contrast. You should be able to see this washing out in the camera as you are taking the photo. Ideally, you want your subject’s faces to be crisp and flare free while having gorgeous orange sun flares elsewhere in the composition.
The examples below shows a photograph that has become washed out from flare, compared to a photograph where the flare was controlled.
You can use four different techniques to help you control the sun flare in your photo.
Position the sun right on the edge of another object so that only some of its strength comes through. I love shooting the sun through trees, forests, and when it sets right on the horizon line for this reason. When the sun in partially blocked, the sun rays are less likely to flare, as usually the object or tree is also shading your lens.
You can see in these examples, the sun is filtered through trees, or is partially blocked by the tree line.
Instead of filtering the sun through something, you can put yourself in the shade instead! Your subjects can be out in the open, but as long as the front of your lens is shaded by something, no sun rays will flare over your photo.
For example, often you can stand behind the thin shade of a street pole or tree, in order to shade the front of your lens. You can then shoot around that object and keep your subject out in the full sunlight.
If you have no shade to work with, often changing the angle of your lens will cut through the rays. Remember, the rays are coming in a direct line from the sun into your lens. So if you change the angle of your lens by standing on a ladder or having your subjects sit, so your lens is pointed downwards and the flare will no longer come up into your lens.
In these examples (all straight out of the camera, no editing), you’ll see that by shooting from a slightly higher angle, we were able to cut through the rays easily, for a crisp, sharp photograph.
If the three techniques above do not work in your situation, you can try using your hand to manually block the flare. Outstretch your arm, keeping it above the lens and try to find what angle the flare is entering. Usually, your hand will need to be only just out of the frame.
You’ll need to practice shooting with only one hand. This method is much more effective than using lens hoods, which are often not long enough to effectively block the flare.
Here you can see an outtake where my hand was a little too low, but it’s blocking the sun flare beautifully!
If you successfully stop the flare from flaring over completely, then you can really get creative with placing intentional, circular sun flares into your composition.
Just with anything, mastery of sun flare takes plenty of practice. Go try out some of these techniques at sunset and have some fun playing with flare! Do remember to share your sun flare images in the comments below.