Generally speaking, today’s DSLR lenses are a bundle of glass and mechanisms whose purpose is to direct and control the light hitting a camera sensor. Occasionally, some non-image-forming light sneaks through – little rouges that create artifacts, ghosts, veils and generally reduce the overall contrast of a portion of the image. It’s a bit more complicated that that…and involves more diagrams…but for our purposes, lens flare = little rebellious light-ninjas.
These light ninjas are more inclined to come out and play in very bright light sources, such as while shooting into the sun.
Lens flare can be controlled a bit both through careful equipment choices and light source/composition awareness. For the former, a lens hood goes a long way to help reduce the incidences of indirect light creating artifact (and to protect your lens, I’ve found out the hard way!). Furthermore, reducing lens components creates fewer incidences of flare, because there is less opportunity for the light to go astray. If you’re concerned about artifact, try using fewer filters, or be certain to use filters that include an anti-reflective coating.
Another technique to help reduce flare involves working smarter, not harder. 🙂 Having a little awareness of both where your light source is located and what elements within the frame can interrupt the light’s path from source to lens may save you a lot of post-production grief later. For example, if you can position the sun at the edge of a building, tree, telephone pole (hey, it’s your artistic decision….), etc you can reduce the intensity and amount of artifacts within the final image. Shifting composition so that the angle of the light source changes can also change how lens flare impacts your photo. A slight shift may change the position of the flare…turning around completely so the sun is at your back will almost 100% reduce the incidences of flare. 😉
In the past, light-ninjas were to be avoided at all costs. Times and trends change, though, and over-exposed images with lens flare is now a popular stylistic choice. Just like anything else, knowing the how’s and why’s of flare makes it just one more tool in your artistic arsenal. So do me a favor? If you’ve never tried working with lens flare, give it a try…go make some photo-art!