The film Easy Rider deliberately allowed natural light into the camera lens, the recent Star Trek movies added in CGI lens flare, some people hated it, some love it, it divided opinion and now so can you with Photoshop’s built in Lens Flare filter.

For a long time, allowing any light directly into lens was considered bad form, but eventually some people realised it can give quite pleasing effects and in actual real life, sometimes light gets in your eyes, so it can help to make an image seem more real, more dramatic or evoke that feeling of a blisteringly warm sunny day in June. It can also ruin a photo, and many photographers will tell you never, ever to add lens flare artificially to an image.

It works better with an image that would naturally have lens flare, so either an image where the sun is visible, or an artificial light source like a lamp or fire is visible. Add lens flare to a dull interior photo and it will just look silly.

Lens Flare

First open your image in Photoshop, remember that the filter will only apply itself to the selected layer, so if you are adding lens flare to a composite image with many layers, you will need to either select and merge the layers you want the flare to apply to, or flatten the whole image. It is better practice to just duplicate the layers you want to add flare to then merge the copies, this also allows you to blend the new layer up and down to give subtler lens flare effects later on without re-rendering.

Now choose Filter, Render, Lens Flare to bring up the lens flare menu. The Flare Center popup allows you to position the middle of your lens flare appropriately. This along with the brightness will be previewed in real time. The brightness should be kept in the lower 25% unless this is for an explosion or really blinding light or it will obscure most of your image below. Finally you are given the option of four different lens types to mimic flare from, experiment with them for the look you want. The fourth one Movie Prime also adds lines to the lens flare to mimic a movie shutter, so I’d stick to the first three unless you specifically want that type of additional effect over your image.

Like any artificial graphic effect, lens flare should only be used sparingly, if you add it to every photo you take, then you have lost the plot and your camera should be taken away, but as long as you don’t overdo it, there are times when a little lens flare can really enhance an image. Try it and see what you think.

[Image via Russ Payne]