Monday, February 28, 2011

oh, let the sun flare in

Sun flares make me happy.  Photos with a crisp starburst in the sky or with magical hexagonal or circular "bubbles" streaming down from above or even ones with a lovely soft haze about them ... they're all great to me. As an amateur photographer, I thought I'd give you a run down of what I've discovered through trial and error and a little research. If you've never tried to capture a sun flare before or haven't had much success in the past trying to shoot one, this post might be for you. If you're a pro photographer, you may want to skip to the bottom of this post where I've listed a few really awesome must-read tutorials with spectacular sun flare sample images.

Any camera will work
Use your camera phone if you like. Really, any camera will do. I used my Blackberry for one of the sample photos below. If you're shooting with a dSLR and own several lenses, your kit lens may be the better option since prime lenses are built to minimize sun flares or glare. This doesn't mean sun flares are impossible to capture with a really good lens. The effect will be different but not impossible. My point is get out there with whatever camera gear you have and experiment.

Nikon D70
Feb 11:21 AM
Exposure 1/160 at f/25
ISO 400

Shoot when the sun is low
If you're new to capturing sun flares, start by shooting in the early morning or early evening hours when the sun is lower in the sky. For one thing, the sun is less intense then so pointing your camera towards the sun will be easier on your eyes. Also, you won't have to lie flat on the ground to get both your subject and the sun in the shot. If you do plan to shoot at mid-day when the sun is quite high, just remember not to wear your favourite white outfit.

Focus on something other than the sun
I quickly discovered that trying to focus my camera directly on the sun is not only hard to do, if not impossible especially when my dSLR is set to Auto Focus, it also hurt my eyes big time! Start by obstructing your view of the sun with a tree or a plant. Your eyes will thank you for it. You can also try catching a sun flare on the edge of something like a building or window frame. But remember to be kind to your eyes and lens ... focus your camera on a tree, building or window frame but not the sun itself.

Blackberry Bold
April 7:05 PM

Move around
You may not see the sun flare at first so move your camera or yourself around until you see a sunburst with crisp lines radiating from it or bubble-like reflections streaming down. Sometimes, it's just a matter of tilting your camera slightly. But be prepared to get jiggy with the floor or ground if you have to.

Nikon D70
Feb 2011 12:25 PM
Exposure 1/15 sec at f/25
ISO 200

Practice with a prop
If you're shooting indoors, achieving proper exposure on your subject can be challenging. Practice with a prop, preferably something that can't walk away or complain while you get your camera settings and positioning right. Now, Diego's face is still on the underexposed side in this shot but I think you get the idea about the value of practicing with a prop. Also note that I caught the sun flare on the edge of the window blind.

Nikon D70
Feb 4:58 PM
Exposure 1/6 sec at f/22
ISO 200

Catch the sun's reflection
For those who are a little wary of looking directly at the sun, capturing its reflection can be just as beautiful and less invasive to your eyes. The photo below was taken at mid-day using my point and shoot. This camera has manual capabilities but I'm pretty sure it was set to (Auto) Landscape mode when I noticed the sun flare reflections on the water near a couple of swans. As luck would have it, my then 2-year-old decided to get a better look at the swans who in turn thought they were about to be fed and swam closer to the boardwalk.

Nikon P6000
April 12:35 PM
Exposure 1/400 at f/7.2
ISO 64

You can capture sun flares on any reflective surface. Metal and glass work just as well.

Nikon D70
Feb 12:03 PM
Exposure 1/60 sec at f/25
ISO 200

Clean your lens
And while you're at it, clean your window too if you're shooting through one. Dust and spots on your lens (and window) will become more visible in these types of shots.

Get technical
Here's my take on the ideal settings for capturing sun flares with a dSLR but I encourage you to follow the links at the bottom of this post for tips from the pros.

A lot of sources will recommend that you set your ISO at 100 or lower, if you can. However, ISO 200 is the lowest I can go with my D70 which shows that capturing a sun flare is possible at higher ISO settings. It's actually even necessary to use a higher ISO value in low light or indoor situations when a silhouette is not the effect you're trying for. Having said that, I've never experimented going beyond ISO 400.

Shoot with a smaller aperture (high f-stop value). I found that the smaller the aperture, the sharper the sunburst rays become. With my Nikon D70, I generally shoot between f/16-25.

Manual focus
Getting the right focus may be difficult when the sun is intense. You may need to set your focus manually and/or use the focus lock feature on your camera. On my D70, I have an AE-L/AF-L button that allows me to lock my focus on my subject and then reframe my shot to capture the flare.

Embrace the imperfections
My shots are far from being perfectly crisp but that's the beauty of capturing sun flares. Even a slightly blurry or hazy image looks lovely to me when the sun's rays are caressing everything. My son looks almost angelic in this shot, don't you think?

Nikon D70
Feb 5:27 PM
Exposure 1/6 sec at f/16
ISO 200

Do your research
There are probably more tutorials out there on the Internet but I found these posts really useful.

Get out there and practice
Go outside or, if you're afraid of the cold like me on this blustery February day, find a good (clean) window facing the sun and go snap happy. But don't overdo it. You'll get a headache looking at the sun for too long. Pace yourself. The sun will come out another day.

So what works for you? I'd love to hear from you if you've got additional sun flare tips. Also, don't forget to share your amazing sun flare shots with the PHC Flickr group.


  1. Wooo! An AWESOME tutorial on sunflares! Love it :-) very helpful.

  2. Thanks so much for this, there is an "I Heart Faces" theme coming up with sun-flares and I was trying to figure out how to do it!

  3. Thanks for the tutorial! I Can't wait for it to stop raining and I can try this out!

  4. Great tutorial! I can't wait to try it out!

  5. I love a good sun flare! Well done on the pics and thanks for the great advice :D


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