Harnessing The Power Of Sunflare

Large sunflare over the beach in Hastings

(Photo taken at: 1/400, f/16, ISO 100 – with florescent WB)

This past few days has brought with it glorious sunshine. In England when the sun comes out, people go a little crazy, off come half the clothes, and everyone crowds onto the nearest patch of grass.

In my case my craziness reveals itself in my love for making things sparkle. I’ll take any excuse to create little shining stars across an image, the more or the bigger the stars, the better. To celebrate another beautiful summer morning, I thought I’d share a little tip to help you play with flare yourself.

Today it’s all about aperture.

First the techy stuff. Flare is created by the light hitting all those tiny little specks of dust and grease on the front your lens (yummy huh?). When the aperture is wide open (low numbers: f/2.0, f/3.5 etc) the light has more lens to filter through, but when you close the aperture down, making a smaller hole for the light to come through (f/16, f/22 and so on) those specks suddenly develop in relative size. When the light hits them, it refracts and creates flare. Or something along those lines.

This is a photo with sun at a lower aperture:

Raleigh Caprice in autumn, surrounded by fallen leaves, bathed in sun flare light

(Photo taken at: 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 400)

The flare is here, but with less definition than if I had closed down the aperture.

As I did here:

Portrait of Becky at sunset, with rim lighting and sun flare

(Photo taken at: 1/100, f/16, ISO 400)

One thing to keep in mind is that as the aperture closes you’ll need to add more light to your exposure through either slowing the shutter speed down, or increasing the ISO, or some combination of the two. This means that in low light situations like this sunset photo you may end up with very slow shutter speeds, so prop up your camera (I’m lazy about actually using a tripod), or hold it carefully to avoid motion blur.

The novelty of magically creating little stars hasn’t worn off yet, so I tend to head towards the extreme when I’m playing with flare.

swan swimming in St Albans, Hertfordshire, surrounded by sparkly camera flare

(Photo taken at: 1/250, f/22, ISO 400)

But look, I can add a dozen extra suns to an image! That makes me very happy.

Do you have any other tips for playing with flare?

I’d love to see your photos with flare, or just lots of sun, please share!

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2 thoughts on “Harnessing The Power Of Sunflare

  1. Great post! I love the sunset picture. I usually try to avoid the flares. I’ll have to play around with them and see what I come up with. The sun seems to always shine bright and hot where I am. :-s

  2. I’m still learning, but thus far I’ve learned: a) Sunflare is softest in the late evening or early morning. The harsher sunflare causes shadow problems for me. b) The easiest way to eliminate those hexagons on peoples’ faces with my camera is to put the sunflare in a corner or off to the side. Sometimes when the sunflare is in the middle of the frame or top/middle of the image, the light is just too severe and the subject is too dark. c) Manual focus! Auto focus doesn’t know what to do with itself. d) My best sunflare images always happen when I aim to have some nice bokeh in the background. I’m not sure why, but the hexagons seem to be less of a problem and the light is much nicer when I’ve adjusted the aperture and ramped up the ISO accordingly. e) It’s really easy to wash out a subject, so I try to undershoot. It’s easier for me to lighten a sunflare image and increase the flare than it is for me to darken it and try to recover the subject’s features. f) The neck is not a good location for flare. Unless you want a headless person.

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