Dealing with Lens Flare in Back Lit Scenes

Back lit Cholla cactus in the Maricopa Mountain Wilderness section of the Sonoran Desert National Monument
Maricopa Mountain Wilderness, Sonoran Desert, Arizona

Flare was the hardest thing to control when shooting this back lit desert scene. If you can control the lens flare you’ll get some very dramatic results. If you don’t block the flare you will lose much of the saturation and contrast that initially drew you to photograph the scene. As if you were looking through a pair old and dirty reading glasses. Since this shot has a higher percentage of shadows and minimal high lights it fooled the meter reading into thinking it needed to over expose the scene. I under exposed this scene but kept the high lights from overexposing on the histogram. Then pulled detail out of the shadows with a few layer adjustments and masks. Only a little detail was brought back to keep the stark contrast between light and shadow. Most cameras have a blinking highlight indicator you can use but sometimes that isn’t enough. Even if the highlights are not blinking, the percentage may be to small to blink, you may not be able to recover all the highlights that have been over exposed so be sure to check your histogram.

Here is a what the scene looked with the lens hood and hand to block out some of the flare.

The same scene with out blocking all of the lens flare.

Of course there are many other methods of blocking the sun.. .

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7 Responses to “Dealing with Lens Flare in Back Lit Scenes”

  1. Rick Says:

    Steve,

    When you say at the end, “Here is what the scene looked like with lens hood and hand blocking…”, what did you do differently to get the top picture? Is that the result of the post-processing, or did you do something else? I don’t understand what you did beyond hood and hand.

  2. Steve Sieren Says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for asking, I used a piece of black matte board that was a lot longer then my hand. I blocked much more flare then my hand could of done. Lens hoods don’t do much when shooting almost directly into the sun so anything you can find that’s flat and long or wide can really with a shot angled towards the powerful morning or afternoon light.

  3. Steve Schwartzman Says:

    You did an excellent job of keeping the scene manageable despite having the sun in front of you.

    There have been times when I couldn’t entirely avoid lens flare, so I let it become a decoration. One example:

    http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/copper-lily/

  4. Steve Sieren Says:

    Steve, thanks for commenting. There is a little bit of flare in the top of image which adds a little bit of atmosphere to the scene and lets you know the sun is right there and coming.

    In your shot I’m going to guess it’s the out of focus circles in the background. Other then that I don’t see any flare at all. As long as flare adds some kind of magic to the scene it doesn’t bother me at all. I shot Mesa Arch 8 years ago and decided to leave some of the flare because I knew everyone would remove from most of their photographs.

  5. truels Says:

    You did a nice job here, and thanks for the inspiration! Happy New Year!

  6. G Dan Mitchell Says:

    Steve: First, just took a look at your 2011 Favorites, and some ver wonderful work there. I may have more to say about that a bit later…

    I’m very aware of this flare issue as I often like to shoot almost straight into the light, for the brilliant edges that this produces on subjects (as in your photograph of the desert plant) and for the wonderful effects of atmospheric recession that it can produce. But you are sure right that flare is a problem!

    I’ve become adept at holding my hat, my hands, or any other available object if front of the lens to shade it as I stand in front of the camera while making the exposure.

    A few years ago I discovered a related trick that sometimes can work in extreme situations, for example when the sun is actually in the frame, and when shading the lens and keeping your hand/hat out of the frame is an impossibility. I go ahead and make the first exposure with my hand just outside the frame. This shades, for example, the upper portion of the scene, but may allow flare in the lower half. Then I make a second exposure with my hand lower – so low that it is actually visible in the shot – to eliminate the flare in the lower half of the image. Finally, in post, i combine the shaded portions of the two images – the lower half coming from the image in which my hand appears at the top and the upper half coming from the image without my had but with awful flare at the bottom.

    This little trick has saved me more than once!

    Take care,

    Dan

  7. Steve Sieren Says:

    Dan, that’s exaclty how I made this image

    http://bit.ly/zFuF8K

    and many other images through out the years. It used to be a secret that has been shared a lot recently in the past couple of years. That technique was something I taught in workshops, I still do but there are many other secret techniques that haven’t been leaked on the free market. I’m sure all will be revealed eventually but thankfully there are always new techniques developed as time goes by. I’ve got this waterfall technique that’s adds more water to a waterfall.

    For the sun blocking technique at times it takes a lot more then 2 images to pull it off and also different placements objects to block the sun. I’m glad you’re not one to stick with only what has been done in the past. I’ve created a little tool I carry with me that does an excellent job for it.

    It’s very similar to one of the old dark room tools.

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