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It’s amazing how the smallest things can have such a massive impact upon a photo (both in a positive and negative way).
One such small thing that can both enhance and detract from an image is the ‘sunspot’ (or lens flare). Shoot into the sun on a sunny day (or into bright lights) and you’re sure to get them in your images at some point or another..
Positioned well and in the right type of photo they can actually add something to the shot – giving it a more informal and paparazzi feel (in fact some photo editing software help you add sunspots to create this feel).
However in many instances sunspots or lens flare can be a distracting element – a problem that all but ruins an otherwise great shot. Of course you can try editing them out later, but it’s probably best to eliminate them before they happen. Here’s a few techniques to try:
The way that professionals generally deal with lens flare is to use a purpose made lens hood on their DSLR lens. Most DSLRs and prosumer digital cameras these days come with the ability to attach lens hood (in fact most professional grade lenses come with them when you purchase them). These hoods are specifically designed to overcome sunspots while allowing as much light into the lens as possible. They come in all shapes and sizes depending upon the design of the lens, its focal length, whether it has a zoom etc. The main downside of them is that they can be a pain to transport (some of the lens hoods for my lenses are as big as the lenses themselves) but they do work pretty effectively and really add something to your shots (and they can look quite cool and make you look like more of a pro too!).
If you don’t have a lens hood (or your camera can’t take one) then use your God given hood – your hand (or someone else’s) to help shield your lens from the sun. Just be aware of not putting it in the corner of your frame if you’re shooting at a wide angle focal length – especially if you’re shooting through a viewfinder that is not on a single lens reflex camera (where what you see through the viewfinder is slightly different to what you get in the actual image).
If you don’t have access to a lens hood and you’re using a camera with a zoom lens you might find that moving your zoom to a different focal length might help decrease the impact of sun spots. It might not remove them completely but could lessen the impact and/or change the position of them to a less distracting spot in the image.
One of the most effective ways of reducing lens flare is to move yourself to a new shooting position – either so you’re not shooting into the Sun quite as directly or so that your lens is more shaded by some other object from the Sun or main light source. Try moving around your subject but also try changing the height that you’re shooting from (ie get down low or shoot down from a height) as all of these things change the angle at which light hits your lens.
Another option for getting rid of lens flare is to use elements within your image to block it. Sometimes it’s possible to to place a tree, building, person’s head or some other element between the sun and the lens – and as a result remove the flare altogether.
If you can’t eliminate lens flare consider working WITH it. You might need to try a few different framings and positions to shoot from to make sure it’s in a good position that adds to the impact of your shot – but don’t be afraid of it. At times it can actually give that special something or point of interest to a shot.