Quick Tip: How to Easily Avoid Lens Flare

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Lens flare is either haze or unwanted light artifacts across the image. It happens when a bright light source, such as the sun, shines into your lens, or is present in your image. Today we'll taking a quick look at lens flare, and how to ensure that unwanted lens flare doesn't spoil your images!

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in December of 2010.

1. What is Lens Flare?

If the light source is shining into your lens, but isn't present in your image you'll see a haze across your image. This haze reduces contrast by whitening the saturated areas and by adding light to the dark areas of the image.

If the light source is present in your image, you'll see unwanted light artifacts in your image, almost like a tunnel with larger dots appearing closer to the camera and getting smaller as they get closer to the light source.

These occurrences of lens flare happen when the light is scattered and reflected inside the lens. So if the light source is shining into your zoom lens, the lens flare will be greater than a prime lens because there are more elements for the light to reflect and scatter off of.

Now don't get me wrong, lens flare can be a great tool in your photography arsenal. It really comes into play when you're shooting people on a nice sunny day and you want to create the well-known, lomo effect. But at the same time, it can be a huge pain. Maybe the angle your trying to capture creates a deep haze over your image that not even Photoshop can fix. That's where our handy lens hood comes in.

Here's an example of what I consider to be good use of lens flare:

Nice Flare!

2. I Want One!

Lens hoods are great to have in any camera bag, whether professional, amateur or beginner. They stop the flare when you don't want it and they let the flare in when you want it; and for only $20, who can say no?

When I say $20, I don't mean that all lens hoods are $20. There are many different types of lens hoods, especially for Canon. In fact, Canon USA's website says they offer 40, yes 40, different styles and sizes. Don't forget there are different sized lenses, each requiring a different sized hood; 46mm, 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 72mm, and 77mm with 58mm being the most popular.

Canon USA's cheapest hood is $29 and their most expensive is, I hope you're sitting down, $860. I guess that's a small price to pay when protecting a $19,199 EF 600mm F/4.0 L lens.

Anyway, back to our lens hoods. We don't need any of these specialized lens hoods for our basic lens flare removal. All we need is a universal hood, usually made of rubber, unlike the specialized ones which are usually made of durable plastic.

By the way, when I say universal, it doesn't mean it will work with any lenses. It'll only work with lenses that fit that hood's size.

E.g. a universal 58mm lens hood will only fit on 58mm lens. As I stated before, 58mm is the most common size, but it's always a good idea to double check.

I picked up my universal hood downtown at Vistek in Calgary, AB. It's a basic, universal, 3-tier, rubber hood. Since it's a rubber hood, it can "fold" into itself, thus the "3-tiers".

My Universal Rubber, 3-Tier Hood:

Universal Rubber Lens Hood

3. How Do I Use It?

Most lens hoods, including my universal, will screw into your lens or your UV filter, etc. After you attached your hood, take a look through your view finder, double checking you cannot see any vignetting because of the hood.

If you have a super wide angle lens and a long hood, chances are you're going to see a vignette on the edges of your image. This happens because your lens can literally see the inside of your hood. This would only happen with an extremely long hood and a extremely wide angle lens used at the same time.

Although we've got a fancy lens hood, all of our lens flare isn't eliminated. Try taking a couple shots facing the sun but not including the sun in the frame. There should be nearly zero lens flare. Well that's good, isn't it? Isn't our job done now?

Yes, and no.

Hazy Lens Flare:

Hazy Flare!

4. Helpful Hints

We completed our primary task—getting rid of lens flare while shooting into the sun. But how do we get rid of lens flare while actully shooting the sun itself? Unfortunately it's very hard to get rid of lens flare while the light source is in the frame. There are some tips that we can use to help minimize this type of flare:

  1. Keep your hood on. Always better to have it on, even if it's not sunny out
  2. Lessen the amount of glass / elements the light has to pass through. Remove any filters you have on your lens. Try using a prime lens rather than a zoom. Zoom lenses have more elements that the light has to pass through, therefore creating more lens flare
  3. Try adjusting your aperture. Different aperture values tend to lead to different amounts of lens flare
  4. Although #2 mentioned you used a prime rather than a zoom, wide angle shots tend to flare more than their longer focal length counter-parts

I know it's rarely 100% possible to remove lens flare, but at least you can reduce it with these simple steps. The best practice, as always, is to just go out and try. Just go shoot, shoot, shoot. Practice makes perfect.!