Photography Tutorials

Lens flare

What is lens flare?

Your camera lens is actually made up of lots of different lenses stacked together and if a very bright light source (especially the sun) gets into the camera at just the right angle then it will bounce around and reflect off all those surfaces creating a pattern on your image.

lens flare - lomo lca
Lomo LC-A and 35mm film

If you have a lens with lots of elements inside it you are much more prone to lens flare but it effects all camera, large and small, new and old.

Modern lenses, especially the pricier ones are all engineered to try and stop this from happening – they even have special coatings to help eliminate anything remotely flarey.

lens flare - autumn leaves
Canon 5D MK II and 50mm compact macro lens – the flariest of all my lenses

One of the first things I do with a new camera or lens is to shoot a few photos into the sun, just to see how it copes – what effect it gives.

Sorry to go all ‘health and safety’ on you, but PLEASE BE CAREFUL SHOOTING OR LOOKING DIRECTLY INTO THE SUN.

vivitar ultra wide and slim - lens flare
The plastic lens of the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (with 35mm film) gives a very unusual lens flare

If you want to avoid lens flare…

One thing that will make a big difference to avoiding lens flare is to shade the sun from angling itself into your lens – a lens hood is ideal for this although you can just use your hand or hold a newspaper out of shot between you and the lens – it would do the same job.

I’ve found a great website called – they have templates for most lenses so you can print off and make your own lens hoods – what a great idea! No excuse for lens flare now – unless you want it, of course.

lens flare - pentax k1000
Pentax K1000 and 35mm film

How to deliberately get lens flare…

There’s something about the pattens and washed out nature of lens flare that gives such a special quality to so many images. I think some of this is down it it mainly happening when the sun is low in the sky (the golden hour) and the light is always more magical then anyway. Also, lens technology before the 80s was less advanced than it is now and so it can instantly give a photo a retro feel.

  • Shoot into the sun.
  • Remove your lens hood.
  • Set your camera to ‘manual’ – if you’re shooting straight into the sun it you’re going to need to give it a hand with the exposure settings.

How to cheat and add lens flare with Photoshop

Choose a photo that looks like it should naturally have lens flare, so one with a sun shining and lots of natural light.

The lens flare tool in Photoshop is destructive and will permanently alter you image, so start by creating a duplicate layer of your chosen image and work on this.

  • Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare.
  • You’ll see a mini version of your image with a little cross – you can move this cross around (it represents the centre of you light source).
  • Pick a style of lens – I use the one that’s closest to the actual lens I used to take the photo.
  • Adjust the brightness until it looks ‘right’.

In this example I moved the light source to the top-left, set the brightness to 177% and selected the 70-300mm lens.

lens flare - before

lens flare - after


There’s no doubt that some photos are enhanced beautifully by allowing the lens to flare naturally in the sunlight – like any effect though it can be over-done, at least knowing where and when it’s likely to happen gives us some control over it.

How do you feel about lens flare?

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    nancy donaldson
    15 October 2011 at 19:10

    thank you so much for sharing this, i alway use lighting effects
    and never tried the lens flare…..isn’t that fuuny, it was right there in front of me!! so many tips and trick to learn.
    i was away last weekend and took some fantastic photos, some with great lens flare and now i can add it to the ones that didn’t work out

  • Reply
    17 October 2011 at 08:52

    Finally, a photographer who acknowledges that not everyone always wants to avoid lens flare. Hoorah for you! The other things I have noticed that help create nice lens flare with an SLR (probably works with other cameras too but haven’t checked) is to have the lens as closed up as possible (that may not be the correct technical term), i.e. to shut the lens down to f16 or f20 if possible (did that sound better or am I still getting it wrong?). For me at least, that gives more pretty disks of different colour across the image. The other thing that seems to work is to get the light source (sun) almost out of frame, i.e. to have it right on the edge of the frame. No idea why, but it seems to work. For me anyway. Have a lovely week!

    • Reply
      18 October 2011 at 14:23

      Hi Cass – that sounds like a great tip – I will have to do some experimenting.

  • Reply
    17 October 2011 at 14:47

    its funny, I love natural lens flares, especially with my toy cameras but I really hate the photoshopped lens flare look, I think because its so uniform, whilst with my film cameras I can never predict how my lens flares will look.

    • Reply
      18 October 2011 at 14:21

      I definitely think it looks better when it’s natural too – and this is one battle that film will always win over digital – film camera lens flare always looks much better than the digital sort.

    Leave a Reply