Lens Flare Tutorial: How to Create it and Shape it with Aperture

While accidental lens flares can really look a mess, intentionally adding a lens flare into your portrait shoot can add to the uniqueness and creativity of a shot. And while it’s pretty easy to mimic the effect in post-processing, it’s not very hard to get the real thing in-camera, as commercial photographer Jay P Morgan demonstrates:

Lens flare occurs when non-image forming light enters your camera, reflects off the lens elements, and then hits your camera’s sensor. It can look like light streaks, any number of polygonal shapes, or give your photo a washed out effect. Most photographers assiduously avoid lens flare, but it can be used for creative effect, particularly in portraits.

Speaking of creative effects, who in the world would have thought of pointing a flashlight at the lens to create lens flare during a portrait shoot? Well, other than Jay P Morgan!

Using a flashlight to create lens flare

One of the coolest things Morgan shows us is that the shape of the lens flare polygon is largely due to your camera’s shutter blades. The more you stop down your aperture, the more sides you’ll get to your flare.

Aperture effects the shape of the lens flare

“If you’re in a dark situation, you’ve got a lot of contrast. A flare will open up a lot of the shadows.”

Another thing to be aware of is that lens flare will inevitably desaturate your photo. In Morgan’s words, the “blacks just seem to melt away.”  So if you’re looking for a “summery,” open feel to your image, try giving lens flare a shot. And if you want less post-processing work, getting it right in-camera will definitely save you time. (Conversely, trying to edit out unintentional lens flare can be quite a pain, so if you don’t want it, use a lens hood and watch out for extraneous light!)

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