Friday, January 27, 2012

Lens Flare Love

Oh, Lens Flare - how I love thee.

Sometimes called "light flare" or just "flare", it's a technique I learned in the very beginning because I was falling in love with every picture I found that displayed it. I started realizing that this was not an accidental, rainbows-and-unicorns type capture - this was actually a deliberate effect. And it was something that made every picture magical and warm... exude ambiance and presence. Like a warm hug overlaid onto the scene.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am in love with Carla Ten Eyck. :) She is one of those photographers that just gives me goosebumps and knocks my socks off with every session she posts. I just love the way she sees the scene before her, the way she uses the camera, her flash, the ambient light. She is a rock star in my world (ok, not just mine - she's a rock star to many people in this world!) and she has so much fun doing it. It's not just a job - it's a lifestyle to her! And it shows so magically in her work. :) She has taught me so many things about perspective... and using - no, rocking - what you have, that I am sure I have much of her influence in my work. (Side note: Mike gave me a mentoring session with her for Christmas - woooot! I am beeeyond psyched to work with her! Dream present, seriously!)

A few years ago, when starting to learn my mother's camera, I was online most of my kids' naptime, basically doing what I do now on Pinterest - looking for visual inspiration. Trying to find my style. Seeing what pictures moved me and trying to recreate what I really liked. Getting inspired, practicing, learning, getting inspired, practicing, learning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And the day I found a picture with the phenomenon known as light flare, I was smitten. Probably not even the right word - immediately obsessed might cover it more accurately. This picture - again that I do not have! - was a profile shot of a bride and groom, enveloped in this warm glow that just elevated the picture from sweet to incredible. It was taken by Stephen Maloman, a Florida photographer whose work I love too - his is very masculine and modern. Even though I would probably not choose him for my own wedding photographer only because I think his more striking and minimal work would not fit my romantic, rustic and soft ideals (for a wedding), I love ogling his stuff anyway. Back then, he posted this picture I mention on his blog, and I immediately commented, like a crazy girl - something to the effect of... "HOW?" And he answered, "I honestly don't really know - I just do it." :) He did tell me that the effect was called "flair" (notice the spelling!) and it brought to mind the movie Office Space - the Friday's kind of restaurant that Jennifer Aniston worked for - how she needed "15 pieces of flair!" and it threw me for a loop. But it sounded somewhat plausible... you're certainly adding flair to the picture by capturing that light! LOL, I am such a dork... (which also reminds me of my sister, who at a very young age, who heard "Wind Chill Effect" - and thought it was "Windshield Effect", the temperature it feels like if you were out on your windshield, in the wind... Sorry, Beth - I figured if I was throwing myself under the bus, I wanted company! I love you. :))

Anyway, after a few weeks of finding this effect (not the windshield, the flare, lol) in many places from many different photographers who all did not know how they did it - I realized, 1. It's flare, not flair - so it basically means the way the light is flaring into your lens and dominating your picture. 2. It's not always desirable - that's why they sell "flare hoods" for your lenses, so the light cannot enter your lens in that way 3. I needed to know how to do this... I had it bad.

I also have to mention that many of these photographers lived in sunny and warm climates, and I started thinking that maybe, just maybe they were able to do it because the quality of light in Florida, say, is just so much warmer and present than here in often-gloomy Buffalo. I almost gave up!

So, one day, I just thought to myself and entered "lens flare tutorial" into Google, and I was presented with the gift of my biggest future inspiration, Miss Carla Ten Eyck. Because like the generous teacher that she is, she had just recently posted the exactly titled post, Lens Flare Tutorial on her old blog. How freaky is that? So, I clicked. And I learned. And I experimented, and I finally found out how to accomplish this feat of unimaginable beauty, thanks to Carla.

At the time, I tried to use my kids as models - but they weren't really good at staying still yet. :) So, my obliging and patient Golden Retriever, Cody, fit the bill nicely. And here are some of my early experiments with him. I would go out everyday at the famous "magic hour", the hour right before sunset, and snap away until the sun sunk below the horizon. It was late fall, so the magic hour was about 2:30/3:00, right about when the kids were still napping. This is like, Fall of 2008. :)

Here are some of my favorite examples of other photographer's work with light flare. Let me mention again, that some people do not like this - my husband thinks it washes a photo out sometimes and takes away from the vibrancy of the picture, others think it adds wonky color casts. I still adore it, and I love trying to capture layers of light when I do sessions or when I am just walking around the yard.

Maloman Photographers (he does an amazingly great job of keeping the crispness and the vibrancy with the warm flare):

 Visit Carla's tutorial above and also her site/portfolio for some great flare images! Here's one of hers I really liked:

Her tips from her tutorial:
Time of day to me seems like the biggest overall connector: I don’t think I have gotten lens flare in the morning, or maybe I’m just not up that early shooting, is more like it!! So:
ISO is the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 on the back of your camera - so you want something low, like 1 or 200. "Open lens" is referring to a low f/stop. The "f 4.0" on your display is your f/stop. Go as low as your particular lens will allow. At the time, I had my kit lens on my camera, so f/3.5 was the lowest I could go. I was experimenting with trying to get shapes to my bokeh (my light blur!), so when she says "stop down", that means increase your "f-stop" value. I was working in the f 18.0/f20.0 range for my hexagonal shapes! The lens I have on my camera right now goes down to an f/1.8. This low will give you that all-encompassing glow you see in so many of the examples above. Totally my favorite!

But! If you want the sun to look like a star... then you have to stop down to 18 or 20... or more, keeping your ISO low (1 or 200). Sometimes a very cool effect:

(you've seen this one recently!)

Have fun experimenting! I know I did... and still do! Every shoot, if the sun is out, I try to incorporate some flare somewhere.

Another very cool fact: lens flare is starting to become quite popular - if you look around, you just might see it in movies, ads, tv shows - I know JJ Abrams likes to use it! The new Star Trek movie is loaded with it, and just recently, seeing Super 8, I noticed he peppered it in there too... love!

Since I have learned how to capture it, I now know that light is one of the biggest reasons I love to photograph. Emotion is such a close second for me, but light is everywhere, all around us, in different qualities and colors, casting shadows and highlighting, shining through and glistening off - when you learn to see the light and how it plays with our surroundings, it's quite enchanting. The way it sets the red leaves on a fall tree on fire when you see the light through it, the way snow can twinkle like a million diamonds after a fresh snowfall, the way it casts a shadow of your son onto the ground next to him, simultaneously setting his hair aglow - light makes everything more dynamic, more ethereal, more exciting! And playing with light is so incredibly challenging and satisfying when you realize that you can manipulate it too!

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