Depending on what school of thought you come from there are a few rules that we’re going to break in this photographic exercise. We are going to intentionally put a light source into the frame of our photo and by doing this we are going to artistically create lens flare to add a warm ethereal feel to the final photograph. Nowadays the overexposed lens flare riddled photos are very popular and commonplace, but technically they are a big no-no.
*Disclaimer: In my own lifestyle work I LOVE lens flare. This comes in part because I know how to control and apply it to a photograph just like any other technique. At the same time a “technical Faux Pas” like lens flare serves to make my images appear more natural and not too polished.
So why have photographers been trained not to shoot into a light source for so long? For the sake of image quality and contrast. When you aim your camera lens into the light source that light enters directly through the front element and bounces around in-between all of the different pieces of glass within your camera lens. This causes muddy looking low contrast images, and purple/green fringing known as chromatic aberration… a technically poor quality image. You may think, “Well screw that! I’m an artist, I’m focused on the overall feel and impression that an image leaves.” Well then you’re my kind of photographer! Thankfully many lens manufacturers have greatly improved the quality of their glass and added special coatings to minimize these technical imperfections even when we do break the rules.
So lets jump in! I enjoy using a longer telephoto lens for the majority of my portrait work, and for these images I employed my Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. It gives a flattering compression of my subject’s face while also providing versatility with its ability to zoom way in and out. On top of that I know that it can handle shooting into the sun! Towards the end of a recent photoshoot I found myself on the Hudson River in NYC with the sun just about to set. I wanted to grab one more portrait before we called it quits and with the sun just above the horizon it was prime sun flare time!
This first image was taking using just remaining available light. My camera settings were ISO 160 f/4 1/100 Sec. I chose these settings manually to expose for my models face. If I had left my camera on Auto Mode it would have exposed for the glaring sun behind her and left her a mere silhouette. Now this isn’t a bad photo, after all I exposed for my model’s face, which is the most important thing, so most people would call it a day here. Lets look at it further though… by exposing for the models face, we overexposed the bright sun behind her. Thats fine because the sun wasn’t the subject. But in doing so we also lost all of the beautiful warm color of the setting sun that I could see with my naked eye. – This is because when we overexpose something, it greatly desaturates the color. Just like when you take a snapshot on a clear blue day and all you get is a washed out white sky.
For the final photo I wanted both a correctly exposed subject, and to capture the warm feeling of the setting sun, by not overexposing it. To do this I changed gears on my camera and adjusted the settings to ISO 50 f/4 1/200 sec. This gave me that previously avoided silhouette, but my skies were now visible in the image and gloriously orange and vibrant. What about my poor model left in the dark? I simple switched on a light and added enough fill light to my subject to match the camera’s exposure. My background and camera settings were locked in at this point so you I could have used a light meter to set the power output of the flash, or relied on chimping… which is basically powering the strobe up and down and taking test shots until the subject was exposed properly. When using strobes on location there are a number of options but the most convenient options are battery operated. In this image you can see the final setup using a Hensel Porty battery powered strobe kit and a Chimera 30″ collapsible beauty dish.
So next time the sun is setting on you and you want to add a bit of flare to your photos make sure to expose for your subjects face, or add a light to just that and you’ll capture those beautiful warm rays as well. Happy shooting!
– Erik Valind
Erik Valind is a full-time professional photographer living in NYC, who specializes in commercial lifestyle photography and environmental portraiture.
To find out more about Eriks work, click HERE.