Creative Use of Lens Flare – Photographing Flowers
Lens flare is one of those things that can happen when we don’t want it to. It can intrude into images and mess them up. Most of the time, we keep a lens hood on the lens precisely to try and combat this phenomenon. However, have you considered creative use of lens flare? In this post we are looking at photographing flowers whilst deliberately creating lens flare.
So, we already know that we can reduce the chances of lens flare by using a lens hood. What if we want to increase the chances and cause it to happen? The first obvious step is to remove the lens hood. But, if we think about what the lens hood actually does then that may help us to have better chances of a good flare. The hood works by cutting out stray light from oblique angles. So, if there is any bright light coming across the scene from an angle, it shields the lens from this. What we need to do, then, is find ways of getting strong light glancing across the lens. Then we can begin to control and make creative use of lens flare.
The lens you use will also affect your chances of flare. Some expensive lenses have special coatings applied to them that are specifically designed to combat flare. For example, Nikon lenses with the gold “N” on them have a nano-coating that cuts down on flare and ghosting. This type of lens will have its own natural resistance, which normally is helpful, but in this case could get in the way! Cheaper lenses are far less likely to have coatings on them and are often much more obliging for creating strong flare patterns.
I would strongly advise that you don’t look through a real viewfinder if you are using a DSLR. There is a real danger of doing damage to your eyesight if you accidentally look at the sun. Instead, use live view (standard for mirrorless cameras) so that you can see the preview on your screen. While pointing at your subject, try to angle the lens so that light hits the front of the lens at an oblique angle. You can normally manage this if the sun is ahead of you off slightly to one side. If the sun is too far into the frame then you will probably get too bright an image and also too much flare for it to give good results. Keep the sun on the edge or just outside the edge of the frame.
Gently and slowly angle the lens until you get a flash of light from the sun across your lens. Discover what angle you need for this to happen. It won’t work on a cloudy day. Make sure the sun isn’t hidden behind the clouds. Late evening can be a good time as the sun is less intense and you get more of a golden glow. Position the camera to get the flare where you want it in relation to your subject. I’d advise doing these shots by hand quite quickly to avoid any chances of damage to the camera.
The pattern you get will vary and won’t be identical to what you see here, but should be along these lines. These images use flowers and plants as subjects. They were photographed using a 105mm macro lens. You can try this with most lenses, from wideangle to telephoto and macro. Each will respond differently. Just remember to keep yourself and your gear safe you should avoid looking at the sun or having it in frame. High magnification lenses can magnify the sun rays entering your lens and cause damage to the body. So, even if you aren’t looking directly yourself or aren’t taking a photo, make sure you don’t leave your lens facing into the sun for any length of time.
The fact that so much effort has gone into designing lenses, hoods, coatings, etc to cut down on flare suggests that it isn’t something we normally want. Usually, this is true. However, occasionally it is good to use these ideas for creative effect. Creative use of lens flare can liven up a photo. It also looks much more natural than trying to add a fake one in Photoshop. Yes, you have to be careful, but it can also be fun! Why not try the effect with portraits or landscapes too? When processing images you may want to add back in some contrast as the flare effect can cause a low contrast, hazy feel. It may also be worth experimenting with the Dehaze slider in Lightroom, too.
© Joe Lenton, September 2017