Digital SLR Photography

A handy tip for removing flare from landscapes

By Daniel Lezano. Posted

You’ll often find that shooting landscapes in strong side-lighting results in images with more depth and texture as the light casts shadows across surfaces, revealing finer details. Backlighting, on the other hand, can create tricky scenarios for photographers as it makes exposing for a scene difficult and capturing flare more likely.
Flare can manifest itself in several ways – most commonly it appears as colourful circular or aperture-shaped artefacts across the image, although it can also be seen as a more general haze, lowering the contrast in the frame.

Flare is caused by light bouncing around and reflecting off optical elements within the body of the lens itself – it’s most common with zoom lenses as they often contain more elements, and especially wide-angle zooms as it’s more likely you’ll be including the light source in the frame due to their wider field-of-view. For some images, flare can be desirable but in landscape photography it’s usually best avoided as it's distracting and lowers image quality. Thankfully, dealing with flare is relatively easy using a simple technique. It’s not rocket science, but it’s certainly a useful trick to have up your sleeve…

1 Establish exposure

Sometimes to capture the sun illuminating a scene in just the right way, flare is inevitable as the sun has to be just out of the frame. Adjusting your position so that the sun is hidden can help, but may compromise the image. Instead, using aperture-priority mode, establish the exposure before transferring the settings over into manual exposure mode to ensure they don’t change.
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2 Use your hand

Use your hand to block the sun from the lens – using manual mode prevents this from causing shifts in exposure. Using LiveView, or looking through the viewfinder, hold up your hand, or another form of ‘flag’ between the light and your lens, casting the lens into shadow. You’ll be able to see when you’ve got it. If your hand is out of the shot then perfect – take your image and you’re done. If you can see your hand then you’ll need the next steps…

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3 Stack exposures

Shoot one exposure with the sun flagged, and then another immediately after with your hand out of the way. Back at your computer, load both images into your chosen editing software and carry out your editing, as you would normally to the unflagged image, before syncing or copying these changes over to the flagged image. Then, open both images up in Photoshop, or another software that supports Layer Masks like Affinity Photo – we’re going to use the flagged image to remove the flare from the unflagged image.

3 WITHOUT HAND

3 WITHOUT FLARE

4 Layer Mask

Stack your unflagged image (with flare) on top of the flagged image, and add a Layer Mask to the unflagged image. Then, using the Brush Tool, paint over the artefacts of lens flare with a soft-edged brush, with Black set as your colour to reveal the flare-free areas underneath. Take care around the area where your hand appears into the frame. If you make a mistake, switch your colour to White and paint back over. Save your image and you’re done – lens flare removed!

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