May 30, 2018

How to Avoid Making Your Lens Flares Look Like Total Garbage

Lens flares look awesome—until they don't.

I think it was J.J. Abrams who once eloquently said, "Lens flares! Lens flares! Daddy wants pretty lens flares!" It's true, lens flares are pretty, or rather, they can be. There are many ways to misuse these brilliant little specters, whether by slapping a basic Lens Flare effect on your clip or by machine gunning the real deal into your film, but in this video, Jordy Vandeput of Cinecom shows you a few ways you can add lens flares to your work that are both beautiful and motivated. Check it out below:

Believe me, I get the appeal of lens flares. It's a fast and easy way to add instant style to a shot, not unlike the Dutch angle, but like the Dutch angle, there are some things to consider before you go hog wild.

  • In-camera or stock?: There are pros and cons of using both in-camera flares and stock flares. Capturing them in real time means you don't have to worry about making them look realistic, but that means you can't get rid of them once they're there. Using stock means you can choose from a bunch of different styles, but those cost money.
  • Make your own flare assets: If money's an issue, you can always try to design your own lens flares, but be sure to really study up on how to make it look natural. We've all seen amateur films with a Lens Flare effect straight up plopped right onto a clip without any modification whatsoever. 
  • Use a lens flare for transitions:  A really subtle, stylish way to use lens flares is using them with a transition. So, right before you cut to the next clip, you have a flare go up and blow out the shot.
  • Block 'em out: For the lens flares you don't want, there are simple ways to block them from entering your lens. You can use a flag, some Cinefoil around your lens, or the barn doors on your matte box.
The barn door on this matte box is making easy work of those unwanted lens flares.
  • Does the flare make sense?: Your lighting should inform the way you use a lens flare. For example, if you have frontal lighting, it doesn't make sense to have a lens flare, but if you have some backlighting or a visible lighting unit, then it does.
  • Animate: If your camera is moving, make sure that your lens flares are moving along with it.
  • Emphasis: If you want to make a light source look more epic or important, like headlights, street lights, or lights from a spaceship, add a flare. 
  • Use flares sparingly: Unless your film is called Lens Flares 2: Annihilation, you don't need to splatter lens flares over every shot. Use them only when it makes sense and when it is motivated. Occasionally, yeah, you can use them to add some style, but that approach gets old quickly.

How do you use lens flares in your work? Let us know down in the comments.     

Your Comment

3 Comments

Literally an advertisement disguised as a filmmaking tutorial. I know it's hard to tell sometimes because 90% of the tutorials posted on this site are the same sort of generic, self-evident advice but when the first line of the video description is a link to buy their $100 pack of stock lens flairs, all you're doing is enabling this cancerous online filmmaking culture where it's all about ways to generate the easiest possible internet income and any actually helpful filmmaking and storytelling advice coming as an afterthought, if at all. It's preying on those who know little about the subject to get clicks and giving them confused, inconsistent guidance on their path forward, constantly dangling things that they can buy in front of them as solutions to their crippled skillset. It's pretty gross, honestly.

Also, hot tip: never use stock lens flairs, it always looks bad and obvious. Yes, always. It's distracting from the things you're doing well and you don't need them. Please stop.

May 31, 2018 at 5:02PM

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Hi Max,
am with you. But the beginners or the indies need some guide to learn about the lens flares. Why don't you put up a good tutorial on lens flares for us. Am sure you will be highly appreciated by the beneficiaries. Lens Flare is a good but tricky subject to work with. Please Max, guide us with a good tutorial(s).
Thanks in advance.

May 31, 2018 at 11:38PM

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Dibyendu Joardar
Director of Photography
661

Hear hear.

June 4, 2018 at 9:59AM, Edited June 4, 9:59AM

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Micah Dudash
Director at Pilgrim Film co.
191