May 27, 2010

You too can have inexplicable lens flares in your film

I caught the 7D-shot French short USB Dream at HDSLR Shooter today. Note that its appearance here is not an endorsement of any kind -- the fight scenes are laughable and there is a totally gratuitous stairway jump at the end that had me palming my forehead. But as I don't speak French, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt -- maybe the dialogue is amazing? Anyway, the reason I've posted the short here at No Film School is to talk about lens flares -- specifically, the software emulation of lens flares.

Here's the short, which, again, I'm not endorsing:

Who knew that asphalt was so reflective?

Gratuitous lens flares aren't restricted to low-budget student shorts: the most recent example of a lens-flare happy big-budget feature is J.J. Abrams' incarnation of Star Trek, which features so many lens flares that even Abrams himself called them "ridiculous." But whereas Abrams and co. had a guy offscreen pointing a bright flashlight into their anamorphic lenses (which yield much cooler-looking flares than non-anamorphic lenses), for low budget productions a similar look would require software plugins (which is what USB Dream is very, very obviously using).

Two such plugins are Red Giant's Knoll Light Factory and Video Copilot's Optical Flares. Using these plugins, you can add lens flares in post instead of actually shooting them on-set or on-location. This gives you more control over the flares themselves (they have all different kinds, most of which would be nigh imposisble to achieve optically). Because apparently everything is brighter in the future, these plugins are most often used on sci-fi/future stories. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these plugins -- I will probably use them myself at some point -- but as with everything in life, doing something just because you can and doing something tastefully are two different things. And doing something as a joke is a third thing! Via kottke comes this parody of Abrams' incarnation of the Star Trek franchise: a clever YouTuber took an old episode of Star Trek and added a bunch of lens flares to make it look like the new iteration. It's pretty effective:

What's your take on lens flares added in post? Useful tool or an affront to "real" cinematography?

Your Comment


"All things in moderation" applies to lens flares as much else in life. I think adding in post is fine, why waste time trying to add flare to a scene when you have a whole cast and crew waiting till you get it right?

I recently saw some episodes of Heros where all the carnival scenes have gratuitous lens flares in nearly every shot - I found it incredibly distracting although I can see why they did it to give it an 'other-wordly' feel. But they also used a lot of dutch angles and grading which was enough in my view. I have to say that my wife did not object so maybe it's only people in the business that really notice.

May 28, 2010 at 5:46AM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM


Agreed, Andy.

Of course, the day after I publish this Pro Video Coalition publishes a review of Optical Flares:

May 28, 2010 at 12:11PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

Ryan Koo

Those flare are so ubiquitous it's getting painful now. Much as we used to see the Trapcode Shine effect literally everywhere (particularly in film trailers) anyone and his dog can get anamorphic flare streaking through frame. They actually did a pretty good job with it on Dark Knight where it actually worked very well atmospherically. You don't actually need anamorphic lenses to achieve it in camera. I used a streak filter (basically a piece of glass with lines cut into it) on a video last year and it gave a pretty unique effect, but you can also tape pieces of fishing line between the lens and the sensor and you'll have a similar effect. I'm so bored of seeing it in music videos but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Everything in moderation doesn't actually apply in music videos and sometimes having the balls to do stuff 'in extremis' will give you a truly original piece. Sadly a lot of directors just tell their dops 'I want it to look like that...' Onwards and upwards as always.
You can see my vid here:

May 28, 2010 at 1:56PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM


It wasn't the lens flares that bothered me in the 'USB Dream' short, it was the fact that I could clearly see the cameraman in the reflection of the car when the guy gets kidnapped! It's kind of hard to suspend your disbelief when you can see the film crew!

Regarding Lens flares in Post (or even during production), for me I think that the old adage applies.

'Everything in moderation'. Simple as that.

May 29, 2010 at 7:30AM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

Leighton Gill

hi , I m french , so i understand everything , and i can tell you that this doesn't help ... it s really bad ..but really !!!

March 25, 2012 at 4:14PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM