Most photographers have experienced lens flare in their images at one time or another. Depending on the situation, you either curse them for their uninvited presence, or you praise the unique image they’ve helped to create. Want to create a lens flare effect for your next photoshoot? Remove an accidental lens flare? Fix one that looks weird? We’ll 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’s a photographic phenomenon where light from the sun or a bright artificial light source hits a camera lens just right, causing light to be captured as a scattered haze, bokeh, or starburst. And the cool thing about lens flare effects is that no two are alike.
In the age of film cameras, this was a fun photographic quirk to discover when you picked up your printed photos. In the digital age, it’s a little easier to capture lens flares intentionally — or to adjust your camera angle to avoid them. It all depends on the look you’re going for.
What causes lens flare?
Lens flare occurs when you capture a bright light source in a photo that reflects internally off the surface of the different lens elements in your iPhone. The lens elements inside your iPhone are specially coated to cut down on lens flare effects, but this still doesn’t eliminate them entirely.
These effects will vary depending on the camera lens that captured the phenomenon. With iPhones, they often appear as small dots. That’s because the iPhone 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 lens flare good or bad?
Instead of thinking of this effect as being good or bad, consider it a tool that can be used to your advantage. By slightly altering your camera angle, you can usually reduce or eliminate lens flare aftereffects. If you capture a lens flare when you aren’t expecting to, it will probably be considered a defect in your image. On the other hand, lens flare effects can add interest to photos, particularly if you are going for a more artistic or vintage look.
How to achieve lens flare in your photography
If your aim is to introduce lens flare into your photography, it’s easy to do. The secret is to shoot into bright light, even if the actual light source isn’t captured within your photo. Here’s how to achieve a beautiful lens flare in your images without using Photoshop.
Tip 1: Shoot on a clear, crisp day
A clear, crisp day with blue skies is ideal for lens flare photography. Bright skies can often produce harsh shadows and overexposed highlights in your image. To minimize this effect, try to hide the sun behind something in the scene to reduce its intensity. You can also shoot the scene with the sun out of the frame but angled toward your camera.
Tip 2: Angle the sunlight 45 degrees from your camera lens
When it comes to creating a beautiful lens flare that isn’t overpowering, the secret is positioning. The angle at which sunlight hits the front of your lens should be about 45 degrees to start. As you begin to compose your scene, you can slowly adjust your camera angle until you get the lens flare that you want. The goal is to achieve an effect that enhances your image without obstructing most of the scene. A lens flare that sneaks in through the corner of your image will be less distracting than one that consumes the middle of your frame.
Tip 3: Shoot in Burst mode
Capturing your lens flare so that it compliments your subject without taking over the scene requires 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 that you can choose your favorite later.
If you are shooting with an iPhone X or a newer model, simply hold down the shutter and drag it slightly to the left. Your camera will start taking multiple images in rapid succession. If you are shooting with an older iPhone model, just hold down the shutter for the same effect.
As you capture the scene in Burst mode, tilt your camera angle ever so slightly to capture different lens flare options. If you are photographing movement within the scene, like shooting sports photography 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.
- Tap the photo collection you want to explore.
- Hit Select.
- Scroll through your Burst collection and choose your favorites.
- Tap Done.
- Choose to Keep Everything 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 your exposure settings before shooting
Reducing exposure helps to draw the viewer into the photo and toward the focal point, rather than being distracted by super bright light. To reduce the exposure before taking a photo, hold your finger down on the focal point of your screen. You will see a yellow box surrounding the in-focus area with a sun next to it. Use your finger to slide the sun down so that the overall image is a bit darker than normal. The brightness from the lens flare will be minimized as well.
How to add a lens flare overlay in Photoshop
What if you have a photo that would be well-suited for a lens flare, but you didn’t manage to capture one while out 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 a bit too perfect and not very natural looking. Scroll through the options before choosing one that works for your image. Here’s how to use the 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 series 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 lower the intensity of the lens flare.
- When you are happy with the results, tap the share icon to save your new photo to your photo library.
How to avoid or fix lens flare in iPhone photos
What happens when you get an accidental, unwanted lens flare? You can usually fix or minimize lens flare effects with a photo editing app, but your best bet is to avoid lens flares during the shooting process. Here are some tips for keeping them to a minimum.
Tip 1: Pay attention to your camera angle
If you are trying to avoid a lens flare altogether, the best solution is to shoot with the sun behind you or in a direction where the sun doesn’t directly hit your lens. Another solution is to hide the sun behind an object in the frame, then tilt your camera until the flare disappears from the screen.
Tip 2: Use the Healing tool in Snapseed
Snapseed is a powerful free editing app created by Google, and its Healing tool works to quickly erase lens flare effects or other imperfections from photos. This tool works best on small lens flare imperfections and not as well on large, hazy ones. Here’s how to use it to get rid of a lens flare that you don’t want in your photo:
- Open Snapseed and tap + to add the photo you want to edit.
- Tap Tools, then Healing.
- Use your fingers to pinch outward across the screen and zoom in on the lens flare.
- Make a series of taps over it with your finger until it disappears. If you get weird results, just tap the back arrow and start over.
Tip 3: When in doubt, crop it out
Sometimes a lens flare fix is as easy as cropping the offending effect out by using an editing app. This works best at times when you accidentally capture a lens flare in the corner of your composition that results in an unwanted distraction. Crop it out of your image using your favorite editing app, then use the method above to get rid of any additional imperfections in your scene.
Tip 4: Minimize lens flare at night with a wide-angle lens
Up until now, we’ve covered different ways to handle lens flare effects during the day when shooting in bright sunlight. Artificial lights can also create lens flares, especially when you are 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, try that. You can also use your hand as a makeshift lens hood to reduce the amount of light that hits your camera’s sensor.
How to remove lens flare in Photoshop
We’ve already talked about how to remove lens flare using 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 imperfections. Here’s how to do it on your iPhone:
- Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop Express.
- Tap Heal.
- Choose Basic.
- Pinch your fingers outward across the screen to zoom in on the lens flare you want to remove.
- Use your finger to paint over it.
- The area will be replaced with a similar area from another part of your photo.
- If it looks unnatural, simply try again until you are happy with the results.
- If you make a mistake, tap the back arrow and try again.
Whether you love creating images with lens flares or avoid them at all costs, it’s 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.