How To Deal With Lens Flare

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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 traveling the unintended path, reflecting within the lens element a number of times before reaching the digital image sensor.

It reduces contrast, saturation and can degrade the quality of the image.

Lens flare can exists in any of these 3 forms:

  • polygonal in the shape of the iris of the lens diaphragm
  • streaks of light
  • haze

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.

how to deal with lens flare

Is Lens Flare Good or Bad?

This is a million dollar question…

And there is no right or wrong answer to it.

Lens flare can be both good and bad, depending on your intention and your interpretation. Although it is an artifact, some photographers tried to harness the effect to their benefit.

When used correctly, it can make your image pop.

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 deal with lens flare
Include lens flare in portrait to make it more artistic
how to deal with lens flare
Using trees to block the light to create a starburst effect
how to deal with lens flare
The unsightly effect of lens flare can be a pain to deal with in post-processing

How To Remove Lens Flare?

There are generally 2 occasions where you can avoid or remove unwanted lens flare.

It is either before you capture the image or during post-processing.

Before Shooting

Be aware of lens flare when you are shooting in the presence of intense sunlight (especially during midday) or directly at the sun.

Make sure you check your image on the LCD screen after each shot. Re-shoot 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.

  1. Use a lens hood. You can either use the manufacturer’s lens hood or a third party lens hood. Some lens hood can cause vignette – so watch out!
  2. Shoot in the shade or get your subject under the shade.
  3. If you are shooting into the source of light (I do that a lot!), here is a technique you will find very helpful. Mount your camera on a tripod, take the image that you intend to and see if there is lens flare. If there is, 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 (even if you’re not a regular Photoshop user, the steps are really easy).

After Shooting

Sometimes you forget to check or you missed it on the LCD screen because it is so small.

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 colors, you can fix it with the following techniques in Photoshop or any editing software.

  1. Use the stamp tool, the brush tool or the spot healing brush tool.
    1. First, create a new layer or duplicate the background layer (so you are not editing directly on the original image itself).
    2. Use 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 it if all things fail.
  2. Use frequency separation technique.
    1. This is frequently used in digital retouching in portrait photography. (if you do wedding or portraits, then you won’t be a stranger to this!)
    2. The principle is to separate the texture and the color into 2 separate layers. For example, when you want to adjust the color 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 color because it is on another layer.
    3. Watch the video tutorial below to learn how to do it and download the free Photoshop actions for frequency separation and try it yourself.

Create Your Own Frequency Separation Action In Photoshop

Here are the steps to create frequency separation.

  1. Load your image into Photoshop
  2. Duplicate the background twice (so in addition to the background, you have 2 duplicated layers on top) by using keyboard shortcut cmd/ctrl + J
  3. Rename the first duplicated layer to color and the second to texture
  4. Make the second layer (renamed texture) invisible
  5. Select the first layer (renamed color), 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
  6. Now select the second layer and make it visible again
  7. 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
  8. Change the blend mode of the texture layer to linear light. You have just separated the color and texture into 2 separate layers!
  9. Lens flare is a color on the image, so to remove it, we need to be working on the color layer. To do that, create a new layer on top of the color layer.
  10. 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”
  11. Set the brush to the size slightly bigger than the lens flare, sample the surrounding area and slowly paint over it. Take your time
  12. 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
  13. Save your image once you are done

apply image settings for frequency separation

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 =)

For more tutorials on image editing technique, please check out the editing technique resource page!

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    • You have to rename the layer first to “color” and “texture” as explained in step 3. You can still do it without renaming it, just make sure you know which layer is for which. Hope this helps.

  • This is exactly what I was looking for, except I can’t get the last steps right — after I clone-stamp on the copy of the color layer (step 11), I’m left with just exactly that, with no texture at all — and if I try to clone-stamp on a copy of the texture layer (step 12), I get a super-brilliant colored swath out of nowhere. What am I doing wrong? Thank you so much, if I can do it right this will be so helpful to me!! Thank you!

    • Hi Kelly, can you send a screenshot to support[a] It’s much easier to see what the problem is that way.

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