Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lens Flair

Lens flair occurs whenever bright light strikes the front of the camera lens. This is common with subjects that are backlit, and in these circumstances will greatly reduce contrast. However lens flair can also be used as a creative element in your photography.

A common occurrence of lens flair happens when a person is working indoors but there is an extremely bright light coming in through the window as is common with noonday sun on south facing windows. This is a common mistake for new photographers and usually happens in one of two ways. The first is that their eyes are easily able to adjust to the difference in interior light and the light coming in through the window and they don’t realize it will be an issue. The second is that they understand to get a silhouette of their subject they need a strong back light but again underestimate just how strong that light is. In both cases this happens because our eyes are much more adaptable to the lighting conditions then the camera. The quick fixes for these issues is the use of window shades, adding interior light, shooting pointing away from the window, or shooting at a time when the exterior light is not so intense. North facing rooms are favored in photography for this reason.

Midna with Lens Flair
Midna with Lens Flair
In many other cases lens flair will occur without the problem light source being visible in the viewfinder. This happens because while the light source is in front of the camera it would only be visible in the view finder with the use of an extremely wide angle lens. For this reason many photographers use lens hoods with their DSLR when they are shooting to help keep lens flair from occurring unexpectedly. This is generally a more common problem outdoors but can happen with any hard, bright light source. When this happens the bright light striking the lens gets refracted back to the sensor and appears as bright orb, or a line of bright orbs as the light strikes each element in the lens assembly. This effect was commonly used creatively in the film industry in the 70’s and 80’s to convey harsh bright sun conditions as are seen in desserts to the audience.

I have included a couple of creative examples of lens flair. The first was shot in studio using the hair light to create the flair. In most cases a hair light will be used with a diffuser, commonly a soft box, and will be placed above and slightly behind the subject shining straight down so that it just highlights the hair. In this case I used the light without any kind of modifier and placed it several feet behind the subject and directed it towards the ground just in front of the camera. The character portrayed in this image is Midna from The Legend of Zelda the Twilight Princess, this character is from the fairy world and has fairy lights as part of her headdress. Adding the fairy lights in post is one option, however the subject would not be properly lit for the effect to look natural. Hair lighting is needed and it needs to be the same color and have the directional quality of the fairy light. Just one of many examples of why it is better to do the manipulation in front of the camera in stead of in post.

Leaning Tower of Pisa with Lens Flair
Leaning Tower of Pisa with Lens Flair
The second example is using lens flair as an element of an architectural shot. In this example the loss of contrast is much more evident and is at the limit of my tolerance. This is an excellent example of where having a RAW shooting option would be a big help. In this case I was shooting with a little pocket camera and was limited to JPEG. RAW would have allowed the recovery of much more information and the image would have been able to retain a much higher level of contrast. Still it is quite a usable image and not a bad showing for the built in HDR settings on the camera.

Once a photographer understands what causes lens flair and the conditions in which it is likely to be present they can then take steps to eliminate it our control it for creative use. Unfortunately many photos are ruined because the photographer does not understand why it is being washed out or which light source is doing it. Frequently the flair does not appear as an obvious line of orbs but only makes itself known through a complete loss of contrast in the finished image. Once a photographer has enough experience to know what is causing the loss of contrast they

can then start experimenting with more creative ways to use the light.

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