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What is a lens flare?
Lens flare is a phenomenon of light getting scattered in the lens system after it hits the front element of the lens. This non-image-forming light gets reflected off the glass surfaces inside the lens. Therefore, lenses with many elements like zoom lenses are more likely to suffer from lens flare.
While unintentional lens flare can damage the composition and ruin the image, in some cases lens flare can be desirable and used to enhance the picture.
Anamorphic lens flare
How can you avoid lens flare?
The most straightforward way to minimize the risk of lens flare is to use prime lenses. These lenses have a simple lens formula, with fewer lens elements where the light could bounce in any unwanted way. Primes are significantly safer when it comes to avoiding unintentional light reflections.
Blocking your light source can also protect you from unwanted lens flare. Shooting in direct sunlight will likely result in scattered light hitting your sensor. When in nature, seek cover under some trees to filter the light or shoot early in the morning or right before sundown. A lens hood can also help avoid unwanted lens flares.
Unwanted lens flare can ruin pictures but learning how to create and control this effect can give your shots a beautiful cinematic touch.
In the early days of Hollywood, lens flares were strictly frowned upon. Any footage had to be rerecorded when unwanted light got in, and non-glare protective coatings were continuously improved. Nowadays, certain filmmakers strip away this coating to gain better control of intentionally creating lens flares.
Many recent sci-fi and superhero movies feature anamorphic lens flares, where the oval-shaped diaphragm produces beautiful stripes of light dancing on the screen. J.J. Abrams uses this technique a great deal in most of his movies, including Star Trek and Star Wars The Force Awakens.
Whether you find lens flares beautiful or think they are distracting, now you understand them a little more. Avoid unintentional light reflection or experiment with different styles and techniques to bring your creative vision to life. Want to try lens flare photography? Read this article about lens flares on Masterclass.
About the instructor
David was born and raised in Denmark, who loves cinematography. He produces, shoots, directs and edits with main interests in cinematography.