Posted by: David Vernon | March 4, 2010

Seeing Stars and Flares

FramedWant to make a light source go all star-filtery without an actual star filter – like in this image?

Don’t spend your money on a pricey filter. Just stop your lens down to its smallest aperture – say f/22 (in this case) or less and the effect will occur naturally when pointing at a light source. There’s no Photoshop effect in place here – it’s just the effect of really squinting with your lens.

Did you also notice the lens flare that is occurring on the beam of light landing in front of the barn? Lens flare is a sometimes undesirable aberration of light that comes in two forms (which we’ll explain in a moment). I say sometimes undesirable because sometimes it is NOT. There are times that flare can add drama to your image.

So what exactly is lens flare? Let’s have Michael Reichmann from Luminous Landscapes give us an explanation, quoted here:

“Flare takes two forms. The first is best described as ‘non-image forming light‘ that affects the photograph…. It degrades the contrast of the image by increasing the exposure without adding any image content. Every photographer knows that the way to avoid it is to shield the front of the lens from the sun (when doing outdoor work) or from any artificial light appearing directly in the shot when working indoors.

The second type of flare is caused when non-image forming light enters the lens in such a way as to reflect off the internal surfaces of the lens, causing the elements themselves to become part of the image.”

Also, if you’re feeling ambitious, the detail-oriented folks at Cambridge in Colour have a, well, ummm, detailed (but great) explanation of flare on their site.

So star effects are a result of small apertures while flare is a result of very bright direct or fairly bright nearly direct light entering the lens. But both can be used creatively.

Christina Dickson, writing over at Digital Photography School, has five tips for going artistic and including lens flare. Then Mr. DPS himself, Darren Rowse, takes you the other way with his article on eliminating lens flare. You know – for when you aren’t feeling artsy.

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