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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

{photography with lei} capturing sun flare

So, you want to get a great shot with sun flare (or lens flare)?  Well, today's your day, because I'm going to give you some tips on just how to work with the sun to get that creative look you are after.  We'll talk about flare and we'll also talk about other ways to make sunlight work for you, instead of against you.  My very favorite photos all have a touch of sun in them. There is something about sunlight casting it's warm glow over your subject, that is so inviting to me.  

There are many ways to capture sun or lens flare.  Do you prefer to have you subject illuminated from behind?  Such as the examples in this post at I Heart Faces?  This method achieves more of a "sunburst" effect behind the subject, and produces a reflection off your glass that creates orbs.  It's bit more harsh (though beautiful) than what I typically do.  And probably more accurately termed "lens flare" than "sun flare".

I consider my work to be more along the lines of "sun flare" (although I see photographers use the words interchangeably).  If you prefer to have the flare cast more of a haze over your subject such as this...

... then you fall into the same category.  It's a much softer end result.  I just love the dreamy effect of that hazy sun flare.  So I am going to turn my focus to that. (Others who are more interested in learning about lens flare should read through the "I Heart Faces" post linked above, or THIS article.)  

Capturing that flare takes a bit of practice and requires some skill and knowledge of your camera.
So be prepared to hit and miss a few times before you get it right.  Since I am partial to the more hazy effects,  I usually position my subject to the right or left of the sun, where the light falls more naturally on my subject.  I also shoot in low angled light... which means I tend to shoot at the beginning or end of the day (mostly end, at sunset).  Your window for capturing these kinds of photos at sunset is pretty narrow.  Typically about 15-20 minutes.  So you need to know when the sun is going to set and plan accordingly.  It needs to be done on a clear day and you need to think about how much or little flare you want.  If you shoot in an open area you are going to have much brighter light.  If you shoot in a more shaded area, the opposite is true.

As far as settings on your camera, the sensor is going to expose for the total amount of light in the scene before you.  So unless you shoot this in manual or priority modes, you are likely to end up with a silhouette effect - with your subject blackened out by the brightness of the sun.  In order to compensate for that, you will set your exposure to the SUBJECT itself, instead of the big picture.  Get in close to their face and then set your exposure.  Back up and take a shot.  If you have a viewfinder, that is great.  Because I often make further adjustments based on what I see there.  Often, I end up with my subject and background a bit overexposed (according to my taste), based on my camera's metering.  So I will lower my shutter speed and take a few more shots until I am happy with the results.  But in these low light conditions it is important that you not let your shutter go below 100.  If you run into trouble there, you need to bump up your ISO.  It will probably be at least 400 -  600+ if you are in any kind of shade.  

As far as your aperture goes (if you are shooting full manual), you need to find what is called a "sweet spot" on your lens.  I am betting many of you have a 50mm, because it's a great first lens and because I have recommended it to you!  Ha!  The 50mm can open as wide as 1.8, but with the amount of light pouring into your camera you may find it hard to focus on the subject at that width.  I would close in around f/2 or 2.2 for this type of shot.  It will make it easier to focus on your subject, especially a moving one such as pictured above.  

Now I know those of you without the bells and whistles are feeling left out.  There are actions you can download for free, as well as actions you can buy that will apply a flare effect to your photos.  Nothing's as good as the real thing... so of course I would love for all of you to still go out and try and do it using your own skills.  But even I sometimes like to amp up the effects with a little action in post processing.

Pioneer Woman has a fabulous action for free called "Sunlight".  It comes in her second set of actions which you can see and download HERE.

Here it is in "action" on one of my photos!

It's at a pretty low opacity, but it had the desired effect I wanted, because I took this photo on a somewhat overcast day.  If the sun were shining more brightly, you can tell from looking at this photo that it would be positioned somewhere in the upper right portion of the image.  I could take the processing as step further by applying an actual lens flare effect in photoshop, like so:

See that?  It even cast a few orbs across the image.  How did I do this?  In Photoshop I went to Filter, then Render, then Lens Flare, and I selected the 50-300mm zoom for my lens type.  This can be a fun tool to play around with, but don't get overzealous with it - you can see right though this, like any other photoshop  "trick", if you go overboard.

Totally Rad Actions (TRA) also has one I love called "Flare-Up".  This one comes in a rather large set and is a bit of an investment, but if you are ready to start playing around with and learning how to use actions, I highly recommend TRA.  I have and use many of them and absolutely LOVE THEM!  Here's "Flare-Up" (from TRA v.2) in action on one of my "overcast" photos.

Buy it HERE.

There are other fun ways to use sunlight to your advantage, if flare isn;t your thing, if if you're just not quite ready to tackle the challenge.  In this photo I positioned my daughter facing the light.  Because the sun was just about the set, it wasn't terribly bright (making her squint) and it was nice and soft, rather than harsh or dappled across her face. 

In this photo I sat my her down and let the sun kiss her on the back of head, so she looks "bathed" in the light.

{she's a cutie isn't she?}

I just love using the sun to my advantage.  I know we had a whole discussion in the beginning of this series on using shade and enjoying overcast days, but there is a lot to be said for learning how to shoot in any kind of light!  It will make you a better photographer overall!

Would love it if you guys shared some sun flare shots (or any shots using the sun to your advantage) with me over the next couple weeks!  Then I can highlight a few in my next post.  Sound good?  Email them to me at


Blogger The Allen Family said...

Stunning!! Maybe some day when I'm able to take my camera off Auto, I'll come back to this. ;) I'm actually wondering if you have time to answer a quick question... I just got a Nikon D3100 for Christmas and don't anticipate getting other lenses ever (or for a very long time) is it better if I keep the lens off my camera when not taking pictures? Or does it not matter? Thanks!

April 5, 2012 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Berry Family said...

Thank you for the great tips. Can't wait to try it out in the bluebonnets.

April 5, 2012 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger Berry Family said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 5, 2012 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger The Duckworth Family said...

Love it Lei...great as always! I've tried my hand at a few sun/lens flare photo's and without much knowledge of what I was doing or how to do it I didn't get GREAT results...but certainly learned a bit through the process. I'm hoping to do some easter pictures this weekend so I'll try to take a few. Thanks for the great tips and I'll share if I get any to work!

April 6, 2012 at 1:08 AM  

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