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Anatomy of a Flare Shot

February 3rd, 2010  |  Published in Featured, Shoot

One of the questions that I am frequently asked by other photographers and hobbyists is how to take a shot that has sun flare in it.  I love the look of the sun’s rays shooting through the frame and wrapping around my subjects.  Contrary to what most people believe, it’s not a Photoshop trick- it’s done in camera and it’s actually a fun technique to master (although you should be careful of your eyes when photographing straight into the sun).

First, be aware that some lenses flare more easily than others, and some produce better flare than others.  For example, I am a Nikon shooter (the D3), and I dislike the flare from my 50 1.4.  For the purposes of my work I steer clear of that lens when I am trying to produce flare in camera because I dislike the look of the flare that it produces (unless I am silhouetting my subject, in which case I don’t mind using it).  The rays are less defined and will often be punctuated by bright green bubbles in the most unfortunate spots.  On the other hand, I love the flare that my 28 1.4 produces and I don’t mind the flare that my 35 2.0 is capable of producing.  So, if I am going after nice, intentional flare, I will choose a lens that provides me with the most pleasing flare that I can get.  Whether your flare shot succeeds or fails (according to the vision that you have in your mind) can often be determined by something as simple and immediate as your choice of lens.  If you have chosen poorly, then you could be dooming your flare shot from the start.  How can you find out if your lens produces beautiful or ugly flare?  Usually a google search can help you out, but if all else fails and you are choosing between lenses that you already own, simply test them out in the same conditions with the same subjects within minutes of one another.  You may not see the difference through the lens, but I guarantee that you will see the difference in the results.

I absolutely love shooting with a very shallow depth of field- I like to shoot my lenses close to wide open, and I am usually shooting at an aperture of 1.4 to 2.8.   One of the only times that I stop down (if you don’t know what that means, “stop down” is what we say when moving to a smaller aperture/higher number) in camera is when I want to take a flare shot.  If I want less-defined flare, I might keep it at f/5.6, but if I really want prominent flare, I might take it to f/13 and beyond.  What happens to my flare shot if I forget to change my aperture and I leave it at 1.8, for example?  I will still see the flare, but it will show up as a haze rather than defined rays of light across my frame.  This is the type of flare that can be replicated in Photoshop- the Boutwells (creators of the Totally Rad Action Set) have a few actions that will add this hazy type of flare to your shot.  As pretty as that can be, most of the time when I am after a shot with flare, what I really want to do is capture the defined rays.  Therefore, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that your camera settings will definitely affect the type of flare that you are capturing in your frame.

After I have chosen my lens and changed my camera settings, I frame my subject.  The flare that you will get in your frame is affected by the angle of your lens relative to the sun as well as the angle of the light relative to your subject.  It is really easy to overdo the amount of light coming into the frame and completely blow your shot.  Play around with it, moving around the light and around your subject.  Flare will often work best if the sun is wrapping around your subject or another object — if you keep your subject or that other object in between you and the sun, it is easy to change the look of your shot by moving an inch in one direction or the other.  Flare also works well when it enters the shot from the edge of the frame; you can achieve some beautiful rays of sun shooting across you image even when you aren’t shooting directly into the sun.  Once you have set up your subject, shoot a dozen (or more!) frames so that you have different flare patterns to choose from.  Often the difference between a shot that you love and a shot that you simply like can be a matter of inches.

Keep in mind (if you don’t shoot on manual) that the camera will want to underexpose your subject because of the amount of light entering the frame. That will work if you are going for a silhouette effect, but if you want detail in your subject then it will be important to shoot in manual, spot meter or use exposure compensation when shooting into the sun.

I have included some examples of shots that I have taken that have varying degrees of flare.  When looking at these flare shots, notice that the shots with the longest rays are those that have been taken with the smaller apertures (higher numbers).

~Michelle

MichelleFLARE

Post by Maine Wedding Photographer Michelle Turner.

About Michelle Turner

Michelle Turner has written 19 post in this blog.

Michelle is a professional wedding photographer who splits time between Maine and Puerto Vallarta.

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