digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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How to Create Sun Flares for Effect In-Camera

Sun flares – sometimes it's a love hate relation with them in photography. When you don't want them, you can't get rid of them. When you do want them, they can be tricky to create and control.

In this article I'll give you few tips on how to create and use sun flares effectively, and how to avoid them when you don't want it as part of your image like the one below:

Sun hitting the top right corner – also a really dirty lens (all the spots!) from water droplets hitting the front element.

Avoiding sun flares – the right and wrong way

Sun flare is caused by sunlight directly hitting the lens. It can be avoided most times simply by using your lens hood or shade. If your lens didn't come with one you can see if they have one for it at your local camera shop, or try this method.


See that black thing in the upper right corner of the image above?

That's my head!

I was leaning over, trying to cast my shadow onto the camera enough to block the sun from hitting the lens. Guess I leaned a little too far – oops!

The idea is to stand in front of, or shade your lens with whatever you have handy – like yourself. Use your hand, your hat or your whole body. I backed up a bit and tried again – success.


Here's another example where I didn't quite get it right the first time – good thing it's digital and you can just do another one if you have this experience.

Remember to review your images – look at the edges, that's where it will show up.

Another oops, got my hat in the shot again.

Nailed it, and changed the camera angle a bit too.

Creating sun flares intentionally

Now let's look at how you can use the sun to create a sun flare, on purpose. Here are a few tips to help you make a nice looking, artistic sun flare in your image like this:

Position the sun so it's just peaking out at you to get a good sun flare.

Step one – get the sun behind something

Position the camera and yourself so that the sun is just poking out from behind something. It could be a tree, a building or over a cliff like the image above. I find you usually have to move up and down, and back and forth a bit to get it in just the right spot. If you're using a tripod try doing that hand-held first to get the right position. You'll also need to check it often, as the sun moves fast and you may need to move around in just a minute or two.

Step two – expose a bit towards the dark side

In the image below I have exposed for the foreground so the flowers are nice and bright. But look what happens to the sun and the sky? It's all overexposed and washed out. The sun flare doesn't show up very well at all.

Exposing for the foreground has left the sky washed out in this image and the sun flare is less obvious.

Compare the image above to the one below that is now slightly underexposed. Notice how much the sun flare really pops out now? I have some some processing on the raw file in Lightroom to bring out more of the detail in both the sky and the foreground. A perfect example of why you want to shoot in raw format as the files have more information in the dark and light areas.

This is virtually the same shot as above, just darker (and tourists added). Notice how the sun flare really stands out now?

Step three – shoot with a small aperture

So remember by small I mean the actual size not the number. So a small aperture is one that has a large number, like f/22 for example. Below are two images done one after the other, of the same scene – the only difference is the aperture I used.

Exposure: ISO 400, f/4.5 at 1/2000th
Exposure: ISO 400, f/14 at 1/250th

A few other things to note

The lens you use will affect how many arms are in your star burst, as it is representative of the actual aperture blades in the lens. So the more blades in your lens, the more arms you'll have in your burst. Notice how many there are in the image above – lots! That image was done with my Fuji X-series 18-135mm lens.

Compare that to the ones below shot with the Rokinon 8mm lens. You can see that the latter has less blades, which makes sense as that is a $289 lens, versus the 18-135mm which runs $899. So you can generally expect the higher-end lenses to have more blades and it stands true of this comparison.

Shot with the Rokinon 8mm fish-eye lens
Shot with the Rokinon 8mm fish-eye lens

Summary and action plan

Now it's your turn. Get out there on a sunny day and find a good scene to photograph. Then look for an object you can use to partially block the sun and give this a try. Follow the steps and tips above and share your results in the comments below. I look forward to seeing them.


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