How To Create Lens Flare

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Lens flare is a light artifact that occurs when an intensely bright light travels into the lens through an unintended, non-image forming path. It comes in different forms, do read this tutorial on how to deal with lens flare if you want to know how lens flare occurs and how you can avoid it.

In this tutorial, we are going to show you how you can create a lens flare to transform a dull image into something more lively.

Tips On Creating Lens Flare

You can technically create lens flare in any kind of image, there is no right or wrong here. Photography is an art, so I believe you should do anything that you feel is right for you. If your aim is to create a more natural image, here are a few tips for you.

  1. Choose images that have a source of light. It can be sunlight or artificial light (studio light). For example, adding a lens flare to an image taken in a dimly lit room may not look so natural.
  2. Watch out for the source of light. You don’t want to add the effect in the opposite direction of the source of light because that will look weird.
  3. To create an artificial effect that looks natural, you can try to make it as subtle as possible. After all, less is more.
  4. The effect will make any existing light in your image to look more intense. In the presence of brighter light, any shadows cast by your subject will be darker. Don’t forget to fix that!

How To Create Lens Flare?

There are 3 ways you can create the effect in Adobe Photoshop. Each produces a different result and feel. Experiment with different images and you will soon find a technique that will be your preferred method.

You can download the image used in this tutorial to try it out yourself =)


Lens Flare Effect In Photoshop

create lens flare in photoshop

You may know this already, Adobe Photoshop has a tool to add the effect to your image. The problem is, most people add it straight to the image itself, which you won’t be able to edit it later if you change your mind. The trick here is to add the lens flare onto a separate layer – non-destructive editing!

  1. Add a new layer on top of your image
  2. Fill the new layer in black color with either the Paint Bucket Tool or shift + backspace
  3. Go to Filter > Render > Lens Flare
  4. Choose the type you want, the location you want to place in and the brightness of the effect, click ok. This will add the effect to the black layer
  5. Change the blending mode of the black layer to Screen
  6. You can now adjust the size or rotate the effect by cmd/ctrl + T
  7. You can also add a layer mask to the black layer to mask out any flare that you don’t like

The Gradient Tool

create lens flare in photoshop

The gradient tool is a simple and effective way of creating a quick lens flare to add that extra light and warmth to your image. The gradient tool can be found in the Tools Panel, stacked together with the Paint Bucket Tool and the 3D Material Drop Tool. You can select it from the Tools Panel or shortcut G.

  1. Select the gradient tool
  2. Change the foreground color to a color that is similar to the color of the sunlight
  3. On the top left-hand corner of the Photoshop window, select “Foreground to transparent“. Watch the video tutorial above if you don’t know where this is
  4. From the corner of the light source (in this example, the top left-hand corner of the image) click and drag towards the center of the image
  5. Simply undo and repeat the last step if you are not satisfied with the result. Repeat it until you are happy with the direction of the effect
  6. Change the opacity of the layer to your like

The Brush Tool

create lens flare in photoshop

This method creates a lens flare that is highly customizable and the result is stunning. It does take a little longer compared to the other 2 methods above. I recommend that you also watch the video tutorial above as the steps to create the effect can be difficult to remember at first.

  1. Select the brush tool from the Tools Panel, change the size to about 550 and hardness to 0, opacity to 100% and the foreground color to white
  2. Paint it anywhere in your image
  3. Duplicate this layer. Name the bottom layer “sun” and the top layer “glow”
  4. Change the blending mode for this 2 layer to “Linear Dodge
  5. Select the layer “sun”, make the layer “glow” invisible for now (uncheck the eye)
  6. Add a hue/saturation adjustment layer. Clip this adjustment layer to “sun”
  7. In the hue/saturation adjustment panel, check the box “colorize“, select a Colour similar to the color of the sun and set Saturation to 100%. Gradually bring the Lightness down towards 0 until you like the color of the “sun”
  8. Select the layer “sun”, reduce “Fill” until you can see the texture of the underlying layer again
  9. Now make the layer “glow” visible again” by checking the eye
  10. Select the layer “glow” and repeat step 6-8 on layer “glow”
  11. Group all 4 layers (“sun”, “glow” and their adjustment layers) together by selecting all 4 layers and cmd/ctrl + Gi
  12. Move the layers to where you want the lens flare to be
  13. Select the layer “glow”, cmd/ctrl + T to bring out the transform tool, move your cursor to one of the corners, hold opt/alt + shift while click and drag to enlarge the “glow” layer to your like
  14. Play around with the Colour, Lightness of the adjustment layer clipped to “glow”, and also the “Fill” in the layer “glow” until you like how the lens flare looks

How To Create Realistic Shadow

how to create shadows

In some images, like the one above with the elephants, you need to create shadows if you have added lens flare and light. This makes the image looks more realistic and more believable. This technique is also very useful if you are into composite photography. We are going to create shadows in Adobe Photoshop CS6. The reason I mention this is that in Photoshop CC, you can use layer style to create shadows and save it as a separate layer, which is much easier. For all those who use the older version of Photoshop, fear not, follow me 🙂

One thing to bear in mind is the direction of the shadows. You want to create shadows away from the direction of the light. In the example above, the sun is coming from the left side of the horizon. So the shadows are pointing away from the sun, towards the right. Let’s get started! There is also a video tutorial below to show you how to in Photoshop.

before lens flare and shadows are added
Before lens flare and shadows are added
  1. First decide the direction of the shadows, which will always be away from the source of the light
  2. You need to make a selection of the object that you need to create the shadows for, in this case, the group of elephants in the foreground. I used the quick selection tool for this job
  3. Once you have made the selection, save it as a new layer and duplicate it once. You should now have 2 layers of the selection. One of them is going to become the shadow and the other will become the layer above it
  4. Select the first layer and make all other layers above invisible (so that you can see what you are doing). Now fill the layer with black. You can do this by shift + backspace, and select black. Congratulations, you have just created the shadows!
  5. Now make other layers above it visible again. You should now see the shadows behind the second layer
  6. Make sure the shadow layer is selected, cmd/ctrl + T to transform. Use cmd/ctrl + opt/alt + click & hold to compress or stretch, and use the combination of rotate, resize, reposition to make the shadows in position. Make sure the feet of the shadows are aligned to the feet of the object
  7. Change the blend mode of the shadows to overlay
  8. Create a layer mask for the shadows, and paint over with black to create a gradient away from the feet. You can achieve the same result with the gradient tool
  9. You can lower the opacity of the shadows layer to the effect you like

That’s it! Practice a few times and you will be more efficient in doing this.

Thank you for reading and I hope this was useful! Do leave a comment if you have any questions 🙂

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