Most photographers have experienced lens flare in their images at one point or another. Depending on the situation, you either curse them for their uninvited presence or praise the unique image they have helped create. Want to create a lens flare effect for your next photoshoot? Eliminate an accidental lens flare? Fix one that looks weird? We will cover all the tips and tricks for using lens flares (or not) within your iPhone images.
What is lens flare in photography?
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is a lens flare? It is a photographic phenomenon in which sunlight or a bright artificial light source hits the lens of a camera correctly, causing the light to be captured as a scattered haze, bokeh, or starburst. And the great thing about lens flare effects is that no two are the same.
In the age of film cameras, this was a fun photographic quirk to discover when taking your printed photos. In the digital age, it’s a bit easier to intentionally capture lens flares or adjust the camera angle to avoid them. It all depends on the style you choose.
What Causes Lens Flare?
Lens flare occurs when you capture a bright light source in a photo that is internally reflected off the surface of the different lens elements on your iPhone. The lens elements inside your iPhone are specially coated to reduce lens flare effects, but this has not yet completely eliminated them.
These effects will vary depending on the camera lens that captured the phenomenon. With iPhones, they often appear as little dots. That’s because the iPhone’s sensor is quite small, resulting in a smaller lens flare. And the color will depend on the coating that was used on your lens, as well as the angle of the light you are photographing. Many iPhones produce a lens flare with a greenish hue.
Is the lens flare good or bad?
Instead of thinking that this effect is good or bad, consider it a tool that you can use to your advantage. By slightly modifying the camera angle, you can generally reduce or eliminate the after-effects of lens flare. If you capture a lens flare when you don’t expect it, it will likely be considered a flaw in your image. On the other hand, lens flare effects can add interest to photos, especially if you’re looking for a more artistic or vintage look.
How to get a lens flare in your photography
If your goal is to introduce lens flare into your photography, it’s easy to do. The secret is to shoot in bright light, even if the actual light source is not captured in your photo. Here’s how to achieve beautiful lens flare in your images without using Photoshop.
Tip 1: shoot on a crisp, clear day
A clear, crisp day with blue skies is ideal for lens flare photography. Bright skies can often cast intense shadows and overexposed highlights in your image. To minimize this effect, try hiding the sun behind something in the scene to reduce its intensity. You can also shoot the scene with the sun out of frame but at an angle towards your camera.
Tip 2: Aim the sunlight at a 45 degree angle from your camera lens
When it comes to creating a beautiful lens flare that isn’t overwhelming, the secret is in the positioning. The angle that sunlight hits the front of the lens should be around 45 degrees to start. As you begin to compose your scene, you can slowly adjust the camera angle until you get the lens flare you want. The goal is to achieve an effect that enhances your image without obstructing most of the scene. A lens flare that sneaks into the corner of your image will be less distracting than one that consumes half your frame.
Tip 3: shoot in burst mode
Capturing your lens flare to complement your subject without taking over the scene takes a lot of practice. As the sun moves, the intensity and shape of the lens flare will change. Burst mode is useful for capturing a sequence of lens flare images so you can choose your favorite later.
If you’re shooting with an iPhone X or newer, just hold down the shutter and drag it slightly to the left. Your camera will start taking multiple images in rapid succession. If you’re shooting with an older iPhone model, just hold down the shutter for the same effect.
While capturing the scene in Burst mode, tilt the camera angle slightly to capture different lens flare options. If you’re shooting motion within the scene, like shooting sports, for example, you have the added benefit of capturing different views within the frame.
Once you’ve taken your collection, here’s how to choose your favorite photos from the series:
- Open Photos and choose Albums.
- Scroll down and choose Bursts.
- Touch the collection of photos you want to explore.
- Press Select.
- Scroll through your Burst collection and choose your favorites.
- Touch Done.
- Choose Keep all or Keep only your favorites.
- The photos you choose to keep will be saved and the rest will be discarded.
Tip 4: use AE / EF to lower the exposure setting before shooting
Lowering the exposure helps draw the viewer into the photo and into the focal point, rather than being distracted by super bright light. To reduce exposure before taking a photo, hold your finger down on the focal point of your screen. You will see a yellow box surrounding the focus area with a sun next to it. Use your finger to slide the sun down so the overall image is a little darker than normal. The brightness of the lens flare will also be minimized.
How to add a lens flare overlay in Photoshop
What if you have a photo that would be suitable for a lens flare, but you failed to capture one while in the field? Simple! Add a lens flare overlay in Photoshop Express on your iPhone.
A word of caution about these overlays available in Photoshop: many of them produce effects that are too seamless and unnatural-looking. Scroll through the options before choosing one that works for your image. Here’s how to use lens flare overlays in Photoshop Express:
- Open Photoshop Express on your iPhone and choose Edit.
- Tap Overlays from the bottom menu and choose Light Leaks.
- You will see a number of effects to choose from.
- When you find one that works, use your finger to drag it around your image.
- Use the slider at the bottom of the screen to reduce the intensity of the lens flare.
- When you are satisfied with the results, tap the share icon to save your new photo to your photo library.
How to avoid or correct lens flare in iPhone photos
What happens when an accidental and unwanted lens flare occurs? You can usually correct or minimize lens flare effects with a photo editing app, but your best bet is to avoid lens flare during the shooting process. Here are some tips to keep them to a minimum.
Tip 1: pay attention to the angle of your camera
If you are trying to avoid lens flare altogether, the best solution is to shoot with the sun behind you or in a direction where the sun is not directly hitting your lens. Another solution is to hide the sun behind an object in the frame and then tilt the camera until the flare disappears from the screen.
Tip 2: use the healing tool on Snapseed
Snapseed is a powerful free editing app created by Google, and its healing tool works to quickly erase lens flare effects or other blemishes from photos. This tool works best on small lens flare imperfections and not so well on large and hazy ones. Here’s how to use it to get rid of unwanted lens flare in your photo:
- Open Snapseed and tap + to add the photo you want to edit.
- Tap Tools, then Healing.
- Use your fingers to pinch out across the screen and zoom in on the lens flare.
- Make a series of taps with your finger on it until it disappears. If you get strange results, just tap the back arrow and start over.
Tip 3: when in doubt, cut it out
Sometimes correcting lens flare is as easy as cropping the offending effect using an editing app. This works best at times when you accidentally capture a lens flare in the corner of your composition resulting in an unwanted distraction. Crop it from your image with your favorite editing app, then use the method above to get rid of any additional blemishes in your scene.
Tip 4: minimize lens flare at night with a wide angle lens
So far, we’ve covered different ways to handle the effects of daytime lens flare when shooting in bright sunlight. Artificial lights can also create lens flare, especially when shooting at night. So how do you stop lens flare at night? Start by using a wide angle lens.
A wide angle lens minimizes lens flare because the light source is smaller in proportion to the overall scene. If your iPhone includes the ultra wide angle lens, give it a try. You can also use your hand as a makeshift lens hood to reduce the amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor.
How to remove lens flare in Photoshop
We’ve already talked about how to remove lens flare with the Healing tool in Snapseed. But Photoshop Express is another great photo editing app that can remove lens flare with a few simple steps. This technique works best on small blemishes. Here’s how to do it on your iPhone:
- Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop Express.
- Touch Heal.
- Choose Basic.
- Pinch out the screen with your fingers to zoom in on the lens flare you want to remove.
- Use your finger to paint on it.
- The area will be replaced by a similar area from another part of your photo.
- If it doesn’t seem natural, just try again until you are satisfied with the results.
- If you make a mistake, tap the back arrow and try again.
Whether you like to create images with lens flares or avoid them at all costs, it is important to know what causes them, how to work with them, and how to remove them when you want them out of the picture. Follow these tips to enhance your photos by taking control of this visual quirk.