Creating a Lens Flare Effect and Dust Particles in Photoshop

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This article isn’t about how to magically transform your images using Photoshop. The real magic of Photoshop is trying to convince the viewer that no effects were added at all, and that the image was captured in camera. Photoshop can add that little extra to your imagery. Conversely, it can also ruin an image if it’s overdone.

I shoot to capture the best possible image as I can get at the time, but more often than not, time is not on my side. If I am shooting for a client, time is money. Deadlines and strict schedules are uppermost when dealing with a client. When shooting outdoors, I am dealing with natural light which is constantly changing and weather conditions, which may force me to shoot faster or abandon the shoot completely.

So, when I get to look at my image(s) on the computer, I take the time to critically review them. As I shoot RAW, I need to apply basic post-processing to all my images. In some cases, I may need to add an extra enhancement, but that will depend on the image and what I need it to say.

Gorilla-with-lens-flare-and-dust-particles

Lens Flare and dust particles added using Photoshop

This is the power of post editing. To be able to add an enhancement to the image, to give it that extra drama or a desired effect that you wanted to convey in your image in the first place. It can be as subtle as adding dust particles, or a bit more dramatic such as a lens flare effect. Both of these effects, whether you use one or both together, can add that little bit of oomph!

When applying any Photoshop effects, It’s not just about technique, although the know-how is important, but it is the application which is key:

  • How to execute the technique – different methods to achieve the same end result
  • When to use it – some images suit this technique over others
  • By how much?
Before

Before

After

After

The above may sound quite obvious and fundamental, but I can’t stress it enough, especially if you are new to creating effects in Photoshop.

  • HOW = the technique. I will demonstrate how to create a lens flare effect non-destructively in Photoshop using the Lens Flare filter. I will also describe how to create your own simple custom dust particle brush. Plus, I’ll show you my own unique in-camera method to capture dust particles.
  • WHEN = you deciding if this technique will work on the particular image in question. Just because you know how to use a technique doesn’t mean you have to apply it to every image. Yes, by all means practice on your images until you have refined the process.
  • HOW MUCH = knowing how little of the technique to apply – less is more. Don’t be afraid to reduce the opacity on the layer that you have applied the technique on.

This is where beginners can get carried away when learning post-processing techniques in Photoshop, for the first time. As tempting as it is, you want to show off your new skill and see the effect on your image in a dramatic way, try and keep it subtle.

What is Lens Flare?

Flare is particularly caused by a very bright light sources either in the image – which produces visible artifacts – or shining into the lens but not in the image – which produces a haze. Most commonly, this occurs when shooting into the sun (when the sun is in frame or the lens is pointed in the direction of the sun), and is reduced by using a lens hood or other shade. – as seen in Wikipedia

If applied well, the lens flare effect really does convey that good-feeling summer shot.

The Lens Flare Filter in Photoshop

Filter-render-lens-flare

The Lens Flare filter is found under Filter > Render > Lens Flare.

The Lens Flare is found under Filter>Render>Lens Flare. However, this doesn’t work in the same way as an Adjustment Layer, as in non-destructively. The effect works directly on the image itself. It also won’t work on an empty layer. So, create a new layer above the image and fill it with black. Change the blend mode to Screen. Go up to the Menu Bar and go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare.

As you can see in the image below, a small pop up dialog box appears with a preview window, and shows the four different types of lens flare available. Click inside the preview window to move the Lens Flare to whatever position you want.

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The Lens Flare dialog box.

50-300mm-zoom-lens-flare

This is the 50-300mm zoom Lens Flare effect on a layer filled with Black.

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This is the 105mm Lens Flare effect on a layer filled with Black.

Becky-and-Amy-with-lens-flare-applied

Lens flare applied

Tip: To get a more precise position for the lens flare, bring up the Info Panel, and move your cursor over the spot on your image where you want the flare to be positioned. The x and y coordinates tell you the exact position in pixels. When you have the Lens Flare dialog box open, click on the preview window while holding down the Alt/Option button, and the precise Flare Center dialog box appears. Type in the x and y coordinates and click OK.

Gorilla-precise-flare-center

The precise Flare Center dialog box appears when you click on the preview window of the Lens Flare while holding down the Alt key on a Mac (Option on PC).

How to create your own custom dust particle brush in Photoshop

To create your own custom dust particle brush in Photoshop is relatively simple. Open a new document in Photoshop, I made mine 800×800 pixels on a white background, set the dpi to 240 or 300. Use a small brush, hardness set to 25%, and use the color black. Create random small dots on the canvas. Not too many. Go up to the Menu Bar > Edit > Define Brush Preset. Type the name of your new brush and click OK.

creating-new-document-custom-dust-particle-brush

Create a new document with a white background 800px x 800px.

naming-dust-particle-custom-brush

Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and name your new custom brush.

Before you start using your brush, you need to change a few properties of the brush so that it behaves like dust particles. Go up to Window > Brush. This brings up the brush dialog box. Use the following brush settings (see below screenshots also) Change the spacing to 100%, click on the Shape Dynamics box and move the Size Jitter and the Angle Jitter sliders to 100%. Next click on the Scattering tick box. I moved the Scatter slider over to 500%. Tick on Both Axes. Keep the Count Jitter at 2.

custom-brush-settings

Create a new blank layer over your image and fill it with black. Using the custom brush, set to white, start creating dust particles across the canvas. Change the blend mode to Screen and now you can see the dust particles as white specks. Add some Gaussian Blur and reduce the opacity down to around 75%. You can always add a new layer to build up the effect too.

Dust-particles-with-custom-brush

How to create dust particles in-camera

I have to admit, this technique made me smile. I had been wracking my brains for a while for a possible solution to capture dust in-camera. The other morning, I got up early, as usual, to get my girls off to school. I looked out the kitchen window, the skyline was a lovely orange from the sun.

I then noticed all the specks (dirt) on the window and I had an eureka moment, I grabbed my camera and I focused on the specks using an aperture f/4. I also underexposed it by two stops. I wanted the specks to show through a dark background. I brought this image into Photoshop and applied a Levels Curve Adjustment to darken the image even more. I placed this image on the photo of the Gorilla. I then changed the blend mode to screen. I added some Gaussian Blur and reduced the opacity. Not bad for what is essentially dirt on a window.

Dust-particles-on-a-window

Dust and dirt particles on a window.

small-toy-plastic-gorilla

The image of the Gorilla without the Lens Flare effect and dust particles.

zoomed-in-dust-particles

Zoomed in area to show the dust particles I took of my own window!

Disclaimer: I had to persist with dirty windows for weeks in the name of photography. That’s my story and I am sticking with it!

Have you got a technique for creating your own flare or dust particles in Photoshop? If so, please share in the comments below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Sarah Hipwell is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at SarahHipwell.com or at 500px.

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