Flare Removal - Shooting into the Sun

Photographing dramatic light can be a tricky prospect for the camera, especially when we decide to shoot directly into the sun. When we do this, the reflecting light inside our lenses causes all sorts of flare issues. In this short tutorial, I will show you how to counteract this issue with a simple shooting technique. I will then show you how to blend the photographs together in Photoshop.

The Issue - Unwanted Lens Flare!

Shooting directly into the sun yields unwanted lens flare issues.

Shooting directly into the sun yields unwanted lens flare issues.

Red arrows indicating the unwanted lens flare.

Red arrows indicating the unwanted lens flare.

To get rid of this unwanted lens flare requires a simple technique. This is achieved by shooting an identical exposure directly after the exposure with the sun, but instead of letting the light hit the lens, we are going to be blocking that light using our hand or an object. Your second image will look something like this...

The image shot using my hand to block out the direct light hitting the lens. Notice that all of the flare has disappeared.

The image shot using my hand to block out the direct light hitting the lens. Notice that all of the flare has disappeared.

When shooting the second exposure, make sure your settings are identical to the first, and shoot the second image as quickly as you can after the first one to eliminate changes in the scene. We are going to be blending these 2 exposures together so we don't want anything to be different between them. Also, push your hand as far away as you can, this assists in blocking out more light than if your hand was close to the lens.

Ultimately we are after a result like this, an image with absolutely zero distracting lens flare...

The flare-less final image after we blend the 2 exposures together.

The flare-less final image after we blend the 2 exposures together.

There will obviously be people who like flare in their images, and that is perfectly OK. Personally, I like my images to be as clean as possible, and I implement this technique every time I shoot into the sun.

Lets move into Photoshop, and I will show you how to blend the 2 exposures together.

1. Organise your 2 exposures in the Photoshop layers panel like this - hand exposure at the bottom and flare exposure at the top...

2. Select your top flare layer, add a black mask by holding down Alt and clicking the add layer mask button to create a black mask, this will hide your flare layer and you will see the hand layer showing up.

Red arrow showing the "add layer mask button".

Red arrow showing the "add layer mask button".

Your layers will now look like this...

3. The next step is to remove the hand in the image, by allowing the flare layer to show through selectively. To do this we will paint with a white brush onto the black mask to reveal detail from the flare layer. Click on the black layer mask, select a white paint brush and paint over the hand area with 100% opacity onto the mask to reveal the flare layer detail. Your mask should look something like this...

The white section on the mask is allowing detail from the top layer to show through. The black area conceals parts of the mask.

The white section on the mask is allowing detail from the top layer to show through. The black area conceals parts of the mask.

The final image will look something like this...

Final edited photograph using the technique mentioned above.

Final edited photograph using the technique mentioned above.

As you can see this simple technique is very powerful when used correctly. Its a very quick solution to get rid of sun flare, and does not take that much effort in field and in post production to implement.

Use this technique described above in conjunction with this "Photoshop Tutorial - Fixing A Blown Out Sun" to enhance your images and take care of the difficulties of shooting into the sun.

If some terminology in the blog post is confusing to you or you wish to improve on your processing skills, I encourage you to look at my Landscape Photograph Development Video Tutorial series where I explain my full workflow in depth, as well as provide detailed instruction on many aspects seen in this post. Click here for more info on the video tutorials.