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How Do I Get Rid of Lens Flare?
Lens flare can degrade the quality of your photos by reducing saturation, contrast, and introducing artifacts to the image. If you have ever pointed your camera in the direction of the sun you will likely have seen lens flare, although it can occur with any bright light source.
This tutorial will cover how to remove lens flare from your photos, through using better photography techniques in camera, and through fixing lens flare in Photoshop. By the end of this tutorial, you will know how to get rid of lens flare in your pictures.
Table of Contents
1. What is Lens Flare?
Technically, lens flare (also known as lens glare or sun glare) is light that has been scattered by your lens so that it hits the image sensor as unfocused light. This is caused by the large number of glass elements inside your lens, reflecting and refracting the light in unexpected ways. Light hitting the front element of your lens from off-center is a particular cause of lens flare.
The more lens elements that your lens has, and the wider the front element, the more likely you are to see lens flare. This means that wide angles lenses in particular are very susceptible to lens flare.
In practice, lens flare is caused by a bright source of light in the direction that your lens is pointing, but off-center from the lens. The lens is unable to focus this light properly, and it causes lens flare as:
- Hazy loss of contrast
- Colors, shapes and artifacts
- Light streaks
2. Can Lens Flare Make My Photos Better?
Although lens flare is a technical failure of the lens, once you know how it is created, you can sometimes use it to actually improve your photos.
In the photo above, lens flare has actually been used to add an artistic quality that it would not have without the glare. For most landscape and cityscape photography though, lens flare is almost always an unwanted negative.
3. How to Remove Lens Flare
In cases where the artifacts and lens glare ruin what would otherwise be a good photo, you need to know how to get rid of lens flare, including how to stop it from happening in the first place, to removing it in Photoshop.
The methods you use to fix lens flare depend on the type of flare you are seeing:
- For hazy loss of contrast, you should fix this in camera before you take the photo
- For colors, shapes and artifacts in your photo, you can remove this type of lens flare in Photoshop
- For light streaks in your pictures, in camera fixes will help, but you can largely remove this lens flare in Photoshop
4. Remove Lens Flare with Camera Technique
As we saw above, lens flare is caused by pointing your camera in the direction of a bright light source, such as the sun. If you want to know how to get rid of light streaks in photos, then in-camera technique is your best answer. If you have already taken your photo and want to remove lens flare spots in Photoshop, then see the next section.
Use a Lens Hood to Remove Lens Flare
If you are shooting in strong sunlight, around midday, then you can largely eliminate lens flare by using a Lens Hoods, or fashioning a makeshift hood using your hands or any other object to hand.
The aim is to prevent direct sunlight falling onto the front element of your lens. If you can do this, you will not see any lens flare in your pictures.
This method works particularly well for the hazy, loss of contrast lens flare, and for removing light streaks in your pictures.
Take Two Photos to Fix Lens Flare
In situations such as when you are shooting a sunset landscape with the sun in, or nearly in, the frame, you will be unable to prevent sunlight directly falling onto the front element of the lens, as the sun is an integral part of the composition.
You can get rid of this lens flare in camera, but will then have to do some work in Photoshop to create a final photo without lens flare.
- Set your camera up on a tripod and compose your photo.
- Take a photo exposed for the sky. Notice the lens flare you can see in the foreground.
- Use your finger, block out the sun and take another photo, this time exposed for the foreground. Notice how this removes the lens flare.
- How to remove lens flare in Photoshop – Blend your two photos in Photoshop using luminosity masks.
This is the most high quality way to remove lens flare in camera, although this is not always possible to do in camera, in situations where you are unable to set up a tripod.
5. How to Remove Lens Flare in Photoshop
If you have already taken your picture and want to know how to remove lens flare from it, the best option is to use Photoshop or Lightroom (you could also use After Effects, Photoshop Elements, GIMP, Luminar, Affinity Photo, etc, broadly following the same steps below).
To fix lens flare in Photoshop, where you only have one exposure and the lens flare is of the ‘Colors, Shapes, Artifacts’ type, your best bet is to use the Spot Healing Brush, Patch, or Clone Stamp, which act as the Photoshop remove lens flare tools.
- Remove lens flare shapes and artifacts in Photoshop by first creating a new, blank layer.
- Start with the Spot Healing Brush, making sure it is set to ‘Sample All Layers’ then paint it carefully over the lens flare.
- For smaller sized artifacts, this may be sufficient, but for larger instances of lens flare, you will then need to repeat this with the Patch tool and/or the Clone Stamp. These work essentially the same – for Patch you draw around the area to be replaced, and for Clone Stamp, you first select an area to act as a source, then paint this over your lens flare.
How to Remove Light Streaks in Photoshop
If you have light streaks, or a hazy lens glare that you want to remove in Photoshop, this takes longer and requires more careful work. (Remember that it is always much easier to remove light streaks using proper camera technique before you take the photo, rather than trying to do it afterwards on your computer). Assuming that the areas that the lens glare and light streaks cover are relatively large, you will not be able to easily use the tools above without some preparation.
- Remove lens glare in Photoshop by first creating a new, blank layer, and set its blending mode to ‘Color’.
- With a soft brush (press ‘b’) that is a little smaller than the size of the lens flare to remove, paint over the lens flare on the new layer, after first using the color picker (hold ‘Alt’ when on the brush tool) to choose a color from your photo next to the lens flare. By painting over the lens flare in this color, on the ‘Color’ blending layer, you will remove its color effects.
- For smaller amounts of lens flare, you can then use the Spot Healing Brush on another new layer, making sure it is set to ‘Sample All Layers’ then painting it carefully over the lens flare.
- If you are trying to remove a large, hazy area, you will be able to then restore the correct contrast using a Levels layer. You will need a layer mask for this Levels layer, which you can either draw by hand, or use saturation masks to make the selection for you. This kind of mask will automatically select areas of high concentration, such as lens flare. To find out more, take a look at the tutorial on how to use saturation masks, and look at the free Photoshop action pack you can download to create them, here. If you want to start using it right away, then download the action pack to create saturation masks by signing up to my mailing list below:
6. Remove Lens Flare Lightroom
If you want to know how to remove lens flare in Lightroom, you are more limited than if you were using Photoshop, but it is still possible. The Spot Removal tool in Lightroom is essentially the same as the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop, and is used as the Lightroom remove lens flare tool.
- Select the Spot Removal Tool in the Develop module of Lightroom.
- Paint this over any lens flare. This will work provided the lens flare is relatively small, and the flare is of the ‘objects’ type. This will be less effective to get rid of light streaks and large areas of low contrast glare.
Lightroom will automatically choose a source part of your photo to overwrite the lens flare. You can drag and drop this to another area if the automatic result doesn’t look too good.
For larger, hazy areas of lens flare, you can use the adjustment brush combined with the various range masks in Lightroom to try to capture the glare, and fix it.
- If you have tried the Spot Removal Tool and it has not worked, then select the Adjustment Brush in the Develop module of Lightroom.
- Set the brush as you see fit to fix the lens flare. Eg. Add contrast, change the color, reduce the highlights, etc.
- Paint this over any lens flare.
- To perfect the result, set the range mask for the brush to Luminosity and adjust the sliders until the lens flare is removed.
Ultimately, it can be quite difficult to know how to get rid of sun flare in Lightroom, because of the differences in how the lens flare manifests from photo to photo. With a lot of careful work with the Spot Removal Tool and Adjustment brush, you should be able to do a good job, but Photoshop is a much more powerful tool to do this, and of course good camera technique in the first place is even better.
7. Other Ways to Remove Lens Flare
If you don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom, you can remove lens flare largely in the same way as the steps above in Photoshop Elements, Luminar, GIMP, etc.
If you are working on a mobile device, you are better off using a lens flare removal app like Snapseed. This is very powerful, free photo editing software that can do much more than just remove lens flare. You can’t use layers in it, but there are equivalents to the spot removal tool that you can use to largely fix lens flare in your pictures.
If you are happy to do the work in your browser, I would highly recommend PhotoPea, a free browser-based version of Photoshop, that will let you use layers on your phone, and will therefore let you follow the Photoshop workflows above.
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