As I get my new online workshop class started this Friday, March 4th, through PPSOP.com (Perfect Picture School of Photography), I wanted to add a nice outdoor tip for everyone.
I often have people ask about how my photographs come out so crisp, so colorful, so clear, and often it’s from simply doing one thing; keeping flare out of my lens.
Flare is when the Sun, or any other light source, creeps into your camera through the front element of your lens, usually when you are pointing toward the light. I can happen with any lens although wide-angles can be more susceptible since they cover a wider field of view. We see flare in still images and video, digital or film-based. The visible artifacts from flare can cause your images to look hazy, lose color and contrast, or add hexagon or octagon-shaped rings resulting in a less than desirable outdoor photograph.
How do you know if you have flare? On occasion, you can see it through your camera’s viewfinder, easiest by toggling your hand in front of the Sun, then out, then blocking it again, to see if you notice a change in the scene. However, the best or most accurate way to see if you are you getting flare is to mount your camera on a tripod, then walk around the front to see if you notice the reflection of the Sun in the front of your lens. If you see the bright white specular source shining in your lens, you have some type of flare.
Can you simply shoot away from the Sun to avoid flare? You can, but it’s not always the best alternative to create a great shot. Here is a list of five ways to shoot toward the light while keeping flare out of your shots:
1) Don your Lens Hoods: Use your lens hoods whenever possible; I leave mine on most of my lenses almost permanently. This adds some protection to the front of the lens, shading it from the Sun.
2) Be Handy: One of the best methods of blocking any light from hitting the front element of your lens is your hand. Yes, you have to be careful from having it show up in your shots (one great way is to preview the photo on your back LCD screen after you capture it), but it can be highly effective. In fact, for some scenes where I’m shooting almost straight into the Sun, a long lens hood (such as the one I have on my 300mm lens) still doesn’t block the Sun; but extend my arm out and shade the lens with my hand and the color and contrast noticeably increases when looking through the viewfinder.
3) Take advantage of natural gobos: A gobo (as they are often referred to in most studio photography) is any object a photographer may use to block a light source from causing flare. I use black cards in the studio, but in the outdoors I will use a tree, a branch, a flower, a mountain, a rock, a cloud, a hiker, anything I can to block a large portion of the Sun. Another way to insure this is to make sure your camera is placed in the shadow of an object.
4) Avoid too many filters: The more external glass (filters) you add to your lens, the more chance you have of degradation or flare to your images. Filters can also stick out farther causing the lens hood to be less effective.
5) Purchase high-quality glass: This is a bit tougher since it truly deals with buying high-quality lenses, which in turn usually means a big dent in your wallet. But it’s true- the finer the glass, the less flare your will obtain. Sometimes, depending on the final scene you desire, they may be no way to avoid flare, for example, in the case where you may want the Sun in your composition. With some top-notch lenses, you can shoot straight into the Sun without hardly noticing flare, but those are rare and expensive pieces of gear.
Finally let me say sometimes deliberate use of flare can be okay. It takes some time and experience knowing when to leave it in and when to remove it, but flare can create a mood and a feel, so a potential mistake can be a welcome addition to a scene!
Join me for my new 4-week course on PPSOP.com called “Nature and Landscape photography“: http://www.ppsop.net/land.aspx
– 4 weeks
– 4 lessons
– 4 assignments
– 4 critiques
– along with Q&A, all leading to producing better nature and landscape images!
Happy shooting! Sean