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I usually try to avoid lens flare, usually by avoiding shooting directly into bright lights (or using other techniques to minimize it). However, sometimes I find a situation where lens flare actually adds to the image.

What can I do to effectively incorporate lens flare into my image? Also, are there any ways to do so while minimizing loss of contrast?

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Is it acceptable to add it in post, rather than taking it at the time? – mmr Aug 20 '10 at 2:21
That is an option, but I prefer to avoid doing anything in post that I can do in the camera. – chills42 Aug 20 '10 at 11:41
Adding flare in post looks fake anyways, at least in my opinion. – John Cavan Aug 20 '10 at 23:50
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The flare is likely to wash out contrast, regardless, but that too can make the scene work better. I'm not really sure that you can change that except, perhaps, using HDR techniques.

In any case, some of the more effective uses of flare that I've seen are with images that are silhouettes, where the beams stand out against the dark foreground. The other place that I've seen it work well is with the wash out creating almost a low-contrast cross-processed look. I think it's a bit trial and error, but in a number of articles I've read regarding artistic lens flare, the use of manual focus really helps to fine tune the look you're going for.

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Does the focus distance actually effect the flare much? – chills42 Aug 20 '10 at 20:27
I'm actually not sure. The focal length often has an impact because the wider the angle, the more likely you are to include something like the sun to cause flare. Which, I guess, would argue for the focus distance having an impact as well. – John Cavan Aug 20 '10 at 22:19
So did you mean manual mode? Or manual focus just because the autofocus doesn't work as well? – chills42 Aug 20 '10 at 23:12
Both I think. You're going to want precision on shutter/aperture and on focus. – John Cavan Aug 20 '10 at 23:14
If you're trying to set it up, then yes, you need to be on manual because the flare is created by the distances between elements, and any change in those distances will change the flare. If you want it to be what you see in the preview, you have to make sure the camera doesn't change anything by itself when you snap the picture. – Jasmine Jan 9 '15 at 21:53

I think it's interesting that it's not uncommon to see lens flare added to CGI sequences (think SF space scenes). It's a fingerprint of the device (lens), and people may expect to see it when a bright light source is in the scene. In general I try to avoid it, but sometimes it works. My IR camera is particularly flare prone, so I try to incorporate it in the composition. The flare characteristics of various lenses is different, so practice is probably the only way to get an idea of how your lenses each react to flare situations.

"Tim Summons His Gemini Mind-Wack Powers" alt text

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Very nice illustration shot. – Gregor Müllegger Sep 24 '10 at 10:50

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