How to Capture Beautiful Sun Flare

May 19, 2020

Sun flare or, more technically, lens flare can be a beautiful phenomenon in photography. The type of light that creates flare is drool-worthy, and almost every photographer I know becomes a little giddy around this type of light. Lens flare occurs when certain light types enter into a camera lens and bounce around, scattering and refracting. The scattering and refracting results in a creative haze, and artifacts (colourful geometric shapes) show up in an image's exposure. Lens flare is an effect that many photographers love, as it infuses beautiful creative light into an image. I've put together a few tips for you specific to capturing images with beautiful sun flare.  

1. Backlight 

If you are looking to infuse your image with sun-drenched haze and geometric flare artifacts, then you will want to backlight your subject. Backlight occurs when light placement is behind your subject. You will be shooting directly into the light. When you backlight, it allows for light to enter into your lens, which you want when you create images filled with sun flare.  

ISO 200, 105mm, f2.8, 1/640SS

2. Watch for too much haze

If too much light is entering your lens, the light may overwhelm your exposure and overpower subject detail. This problem can be addressed in several different ways. 

  • Use your lens hood: When backlighting your subject, it is an excellent idea to use your lens hood. The hood acts as a shade and can help reduce the amount of light hitting your sensor.  
  • Use backlight when the sun is lower on the horizon: As the sun dips towards the horizon, it softens. This is an ideal time to backlight your subject and mitigate overpowering sun flare effects. 
  • Filter the sun: If the sun happens to be a little higher in the sky or if you discover that a lot of light is hitting your sensor and washing out your subject and scene, look for ways you can filter the light. One of my favourite techniques to filter a strong backlight is to position my subject in front of a tree line.
  • Angles matter: Your position to the backlight can dramatically improve the quality of the backlight. Slight changes in your camera's angle or movement can reduce the amount of light entering your lens. When using backlight, a burst of exposures with slight movements up, down, right or left or small changes in camera angle will affect the amount of haze and flare in an exposure.  

ISO 400, 116mm, f3.2, 1/1600SS

3. Choose your lens wisely 

Lens choice when it comes to the quality and types of flare does matter. Lens flare will look different between lenses. The artifacts in my Nikkor 105 f2.8 are some of my favourites. 

Additionally, a fixed focal length and a zoom lens will manage flare differently. Zoom lenses will often result in an increased sun flare effect as there is more internal surface area inside the lens for light to refract. 

Quality and age of lens matter, too, as higher quality newer lenses are coated with an anti-reflective finish. This coating can help light transmit in a cleaner manner reducing the amount of haze and flare. 

ISO 100, 200mm, f2.8, 1/320SS

4. Choose your settings thoughtfully 

Aperture choice certainly matters when managing sun flare. Remember, aperture affects how much light enters into and hits your camera sensor. A wider aperture will result in more lens flare, whereas a smaller aperture will reduce sun flare effects. 

Also, keep in mind that the smaller your aperture, the more likely you will produce a sunburst, which is a distinct burst of light instead of haze and scattered artifacts, which are more common with wider apertures. 

ISO 400, 105mm, f3.2, 1/800SS

Next time you are photographing in backlight, remember that sun flare can come in the form of haze, geometric shapes or even as a sunburst. Backlighting your subject is a beautiful way to infuse artistic light, including sun flare, into your images. Don't be afraid to experiment and practise with this type of light.  

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