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When shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, and specially when shooting with the sun visible in the background, lens flare can affect the picture by reducing contrast and introducing artifacts. Are there any special techniques or any equipment that can be used to reduce the problem with flares? Are certain types of lenses better than other?

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Sometimes you can use the lens flare for artistic effect! –  NickAldwin Jul 15 '10 at 20:55
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But see the latest Star Trek movie on how to abuse them.. –  Davy Landman Aug 26 '10 at 17:07
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@Davy No, that's artistic effect! ;) –  muntoo Sep 11 '11 at 21:04
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6 Answers

Lens hood is a device that is used on the end of lens lens to block the sun or light source in order to prevent lens flare.

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This is exactly the purpose of a lens hood. The other preventative steps are to minimise the number of filters attached to the front of your lens, as lens flare is the result of some the light reflecting back from one element, before bouncing back from another.

If you use a lens hood or try to keep the front element in shade wherever possible, you shouldn't as much flare as without

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Lens hood isn't going to be much help with sun directly in the picture. –  che Jul 15 '10 at 21:22
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@che so why not downvote every answer that says that? The question only asked about minimising, and the tip for not using filters will have a positive effect on reducing flare too –  Rowland Shaw Jul 15 '10 at 21:23
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There's not much you can do really since it's how light behaves when going through a lens. Always to keep in mind: higher quality means less flare artifacts. If you shoot at the sun you'll get flare anyway.

If you want to reduce it use lenses with fewer optical elements. The more elements the more imperfections you can have.

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A lens hood won't do you much good if the light source is in the frame.

In this case, the things to do are (a) use high-quality, well-coated lenses, designed for digital if you're doing that (i.e., the rear element is coated) and (b) minimize extra glass in the optical path - remove UV filters, etc.

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Good answer. In addition prime lenses usually contain less elements than zoom lenses (and therefore less flare) and longer focal lenghts flare less than wide angle lenses. –  Marc Jul 15 '10 at 20:56
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Lenses produce different flares depending on aperture setting, so besides trying different lenses and removing filters, you might want to play with that.

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I know this is an old question, however one particular answer was left out before. One of the key tools we can use to mitigate flaring, ghosting, and contrast loss when photographing a scene with a bright light source (or just slightly off-axis light source in a corner) is to use miltocoated lenses. Multicoating has been used for decades, and is certainly an effective means of improving transmission and reducing undesirable artifacts like flare. Its given us the ability to achieve nearly 99% transmission per lens element, etc. However it does have its limitations, and flare still occurs, sometimes very badly, with intense light sources like the sun.

Newer, more modern lens designs from the last five years use a new form of lens coating...called a nanocoating. Unlike multicoating, which tries to utilize the nature of reflected light against itself, nanocoating attempts to guide as much light as possible into the lens and avoid reflection in the first place. Some light is still going to be reflected, however transmission improves considerably to 99.95%, and flare, ghosting, and contrast loss is minimized to the point where even if it does occur, it often doesn't matter.

So if you have the funds to invest in new, higher-quality lenses, I would say the best tool to combat flare these days is to get a lens with Nanocoating. Currently, as far as I know, only Nikon and Canon offer lenses with quality nanocoats that really do the job well. Some research might turn up other brands that offer it. Intriguingly, one of the best names in the business, Zeiss, still uses their decades-old T* coating, which is often times inferior to Canon and Nikon multicoating, and vastly inferior to nanocoating.

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