What Is Lens Flare?
Lens flare is a non-image forming light that is scattered in the lens system.
It is commonly caused by bright light travelling the unintended path, reflecting within the lens element a number of times before reaching the digital image sensor.
It can occur in 3 forms. It reduces contrast, saturation and can degrade the quality of the image.
Lens flare can be in the form of:
- polygonal in the shape of the iris of the lens diaphragm
- streaks of light
Wide angle and zoom lens are more prone to lens flare compared to a prime lens. This is because these lenses consist of more lens element.
Therefore, more chances for the light to reflect within the lens element. The diagram below shows you what happens when light enters the lens through an unintended path.
Is Lens Flare Good Or Bad?
This is one of those questions where there is no right or wrong answer for it.
Lens flare can be both good and bad, depending on your intention and how you interpret it. Although is it an artefact, photographers have always tried to harness the effect to their benefit.
When used correctly, it can transform an ordinary image to one that will stand out among others.
In other cases, it can degrade the quality of your image. Sometimes it can be removed during post-processing but in others, it can render your image unusable.
How To Remove Lens Flare?
There are 2 ways you can deal with unwanted lens flare.
That is either before you capture the image or during post-processing.
Before Shooting An Image
Be aware of lens flare when you are shooting in the presence of intense sunlight (especially during midday) or directly at the sun.
Be sure to check your image on the LCD screen after each shot. Re-shoot your image if necessary or if you didn’t like the effect. As they say, prevention is better than cure.
Here are a few tips you can do to avoid lens flare during shooting.
- Use a lens hood. You can either use the manufacturer’s lens hood or a third party lens hood. Watch out for vignette if you use a third party lens hood.
- Try to shoot in the shade or get your subject into the shade.
- If you are shooting into the source of light (I do it a lot!), here is a technique you will find very helpful. Mount your camera on a tripod, take the image that you intend to (don’t worry about the lens flare on this image). Take a second image by blocking the source of the light with your thumb (or a finger, or anything). Blend these 2 images together during post-processing using a layer mask. Watch this video tutorial to learn how to remove lens flare with this technique in Photoshop (if you are a Photoshop user, then this will come to no problem for you!)
After Shooting An Image
This is where you find lens flare in your image annoying during editing.
Depending on the extent and how much your image is affected, you may not be able to do anything about it.
If the affected area is small or it doesn’t involve areas with multiple colours, you can fix it with the following techniques in Adobe Photoshop.
- Use the stamp tool, the brush tool or the spot healing brush tool. First, create a new layer or duplicate the background layer (so you are not editing directly on the original image itself). Try using these tool alone or in combination to cover up or clone out the flare. Adobe has improved the spot healing brush tool in CS6 so it is worth trying if all things fail.
- Use the frequency separation technique. This is frequently used in digital retouching in portrait photography. Its principle is to separate the texture and the colour into 2 separate layers. For example, when you want to adjust the colour of the skin, you won’t flatten the image because the texture of the skin is unaffected. Similarly, when you want to get rid of a scar or a blemish on the skin (texture), you won’t affect the colour because it is on another layer. Watch the video tutorial below to learn how to do it and download our free Photoshop actions for frequency separation and try it out yourself.
Here are the steps for you to follow to create frequency separation.
- Load your image to Photoshop
- Duplicate the background twice (so in addition to the background, you have 2 duplicated layers on top) by using keyboard shortcut cmd/ctrl + J
- Rename the first duplicated layer to colour and the second to texture
- Make the second layer (renamed texture) invisible
- Select the first layer (renamed colour), go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur. Set the radius to around 15-20, depending on the size of your image. The aim here is to blur the image to the extent that you can see make up shapes and borders
- Now select the second layer and make it visible again
- Go to Image > Apply image and make sure your settings are exactly the same as this. Layer: Colour, Blending: Add, Scale: 2 and check the box for invert. Click ok
- Change the blend mode of the texture layer to linear light. You have just separated the colour and texture into 2 separate layers!
- Lens flare is a colour on the image, so to remove it, we need to be working on the colour layer. To do that, create a new layer on top of the colour layer.
- Select the stamp tool, set the brush opacity to about 50% and flow to 100%. Make sure the align sample is set to “current and below”
- Set the brush to the size slightly bigger than the lens flare, sample the surrounding area and slowly paint over it. Take your time
- In some cases, the lens flare can affect the texture layer, so you need to stamp clone on the texture layer. To do that, create a new layer on top of the texture layer and start stamp cloning
- Save your image once you are done
There you go, an elegant and efficient way of removing lens flare in Photoshop. Thanks for reading and do leave a comment if you have any question =)