One of the most common problems that you might face while clicking photos at night or while practicing long exposure photography is lens flare. Lens flare is the unwanted light effect produced when bright light scatters or reflects within the lens through glass elements and reaches the camera sensor. Lens flare usually occurs when you are shooting directly into the light source such as the sun or street light, it usually appears as a spot or a streak of light.
I have listed 5 tips which can help you eliminate or minimize the lens flare effect in your night or long exposure photos.
1. Avoid using narrow aperture to minimize lens flare
The higher the aperture value you use, the narrower the lens aperture opening would be. When you shoot with the narrow aperture such as f/22, the lens opening becomes very small for the light to pass through. As the light enters the lens through the small opening, it tends to bend and create diffraction. The bending of light can result in causing starburst effect from the light source such as the sun or the street lights.
To avoid lens flare in your photo, try using an aperture value 1-2 stops less than the maximum available value in your lens. Suppose your lens has maximum aperture value of f/22, shooting at f/16 of f/11 will help you avoid lens flare.
In this practice of capturing starburst effect using a narrow aperture, your lens might also produce some flares on the camera sensor. The image that you see below was clicked deliberately at f/22 to capture starburst effect, which also resulted in lens flare.
2. Use Prime Lens to minimize lens flare
Yes, prime lenses are less prone to lens flare than zoom lenses and the major reason for this is few number of lens elements within the lens. As the light passes through the lens elements, a lens having a fewer number of lens elements will be less likely to cause the flare. The more the lens elements, more are the chances of getting lens flare.
The more the lens elements, more are the chances of getting lens flare. This is one of the reasons why the zoom lenses are more prone to lens flare than the prime lenses.
BONUS TIP: Using a wide-angle lens will minimize lens flare as it will make the light source in the frame comparatively of smaller size in proportion. As in the image below, I used a wide-angle lens to make the street lights appear smaller, thus minimizing starburst effect and flare.
3. Use lens hood to minimize lens flare
A lens hood when mounted on the lens helps eliminate the flare by blocking the lighting directly falling on the front elements of the lens. It stops the light spilling all around you from entering the lens through various angles, basically the light source which is not a part of your frame.
For example, if you are clicking a wide-angle shot standing under a street light and obviously this street light is not a part of your frame. The light coming from this street light would enter your lens if you are not using a lens hood. Thus it is advisable to mount a compatible lens hood on your lens.
The mid and high-end range lenses come paired with a compatible lens hood, but some lenses do not. In that case, you can buy a compatible lens hood from the company store or you can even purchase a third-party cheap alternative. Make sure the lens hood do not create vignetting when the lens is being used at widest focal length.
4. Avoid using filters to minimize lens flare
Using polarizing filter or ND filter might be a regular practice for those of you who click landscapes or cityscapes. As we discussed above, more elements means more chances of capturing lens flare in the photo.
You should always remove UV filter while clicking photos, as it hardly has any use apart from protecting the front element of the lens. By using the UV filter you are adding on a glass element and thus making the camera sensor prone to lens flare.
Polorizing filter and ND filter help you control the exposure of the scene, thus if the really feel the need of these filters then only mount them on the lens. If you can manage a photo without using these filters, it would help you minimize the chances of capturing lens flare.
5. Use good quality lens to minimize lens flare
One should always invest in a good lens, going for cheap alternatives can degrade the output of your photos. The lenses with unsatisfactory glass coating are highly prone to lens flare, whereas high-class glass coating prevents lens flare. Cheaper lens also might have imperfectly cut optics which again increases the chances of flare.
Thus, one should always wait, save more money and go for good quality lens instead of buying cheap alternatives. Though nowadays there are third-party lens manufacturers who are giving a tough competition to Canon, Nikon and Sony lenses, on the basis of sharpness and clarity.