By shooting directly into the sun, you can create a beautiful effect known as lens flare. At first, the appearance of these colorful shapes may surprise you. Some photographers will even tell you it’s a mistake. Don’t let this deter you however. By learning how and when to incorporate these into your photography, your images will benefit from the added visual appeal.

This effect is not just limited to those using DSLRs or other full featured cameras. In fact, some of my favorite examples of flare were captured with an iPhone. This is something you can try in your own home. I used the front facing camera to carefully compose a shot of my dog laying in the sun. The beams scattered through the window, creating rainbow-like slivers of light.

You may have seen this odd looking accessory attached to the front of various lenses. The tool is called a “lens hood” and it was designed to prevent sun flare. I recommend taking this off of your lens and leaving it off. We want to invite flare into the scene, not eliminate it. By removing this attachment, it also improves the lens ergonomics, making it easier to adjust the focal range and manual focus rings. Furthermore, travel photographers have to be very selective with every item in their bag. This lens hood takes up valuable space without providing much benefit.    

If you’ve ever been advised to shoot with the sun at your back, now is the time to break that habit. Shooting into the light source is much more dramatic, and can turn an ordinary scene into something spectacular. You can see how flare will affect the image in the camera’s viewfinder. To make the best use of it, gently rock back and forth and watch how it changes. Moving an inch or two in any direction can make a big impact.

Look for flare opportunities when the sun is partially obscured by an object. Mountains and trees are both ideal subjects to try this with. The effect is particularly pronounced when the sun is high in the sky. This is an important consideration, as good photography does not have to be limited to sunrise and sunset.

Flare is a fun way to add visual interest to your photo in the camera at the time of the exposure. Of course you can also add it in post production. This works especially well when you already have a light source in the image. Here, I used the “Lens Flare” tool in the PicsArt app. By starting the effect near the sun and dragging it towards the bottom of the frame, it looks quite realistic.

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Text and Photos By Chris Corradino