all about lens flare

by @ohkatieday

I LOVE ME SOME LENS FLARE. When I first started photography, lens flare was like this inconsistent unicorn that would appear then vanish. I felt like I was lucky to get it, but found it impossible to control. (Like that wild horse in every wild horse movie from my childhood. Amiright? No? Just me?)

But after a bit of observation, I realized it’s more predictable than I thought. It actually can be tamed! (Just like the end of that wild horse movie when you realize it’s actually lovely and also that maybe there’s a wild horse in all of us? Amiright? Too far?)

OK, enough with the wild horses. Here are 3 tips to controlling lens flare and making it work for you.


Look for the edge of light

See how Leah is standing in the shadow cast by the building right before her

To look for the edge of light, look down first, not up. Lens flare only happens when the light source is being partially blocked by something. If you stand on a shadow YOU are literally at the spot where that’s happening. No more looking up with a camera to your eye and doing like a weird square-dance number and possibly running into people until you see that light refract.

If your subject is a person, have them stand on the edge of light, then the light will refract all around them too.

You can learn more about standing on the edge of light in this post about tips for shooting in direct sun.


choose camera settings according to your style

Left: f/2.0 Right: f/22

This is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ time! Are you going for a soft, glowy look to the lens flare, or a sharp, graphic refraction? Set the aperture of your DSLR camera accordingly.

Set a low f-stop for soft and glow. Think f/2.0 or lower.

Set a high f-stop for sharp, graphic refraction, starbursts with lots of extra spots and rainbows. Think f/12 or higher.

I tend to choose soft and glowy for portrait and sharp and graphic for a product shot or architecture shot.


For extra interest, shoot through glass

This could be a window, a prism, or even a glass! Get creative. Anything the light can pass through will only cause more refractions.

Here’s a photo of a glass bottle shot THROUGH a glass window at a high  f-stop…basically the most you can ask of light to do. (WE DID IT!!!!! We broke the light a billion different times! Look at that tiny starburst right on the very top of the bottle. Aww. It’s so adorable.)

And there you have it. Go out and break some light. (And while you’re at it, break that wild horse inside. Mmkay?)

All photography by Katie Day and edited using A Color Story.

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