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 Nature Photography :: Tutorials :: #05


Despite the advice that used to be printed on the Kodak film boxes, it's usually best to point your camera towards, or even directly into the sun. Almost invariably the old "sun over the shoulder" advice will produce a more boring photo.

The problem with pointing a lens towards the light is that the sunlight shines directly on the front element and from there it bounces all over the inside of the lens.

This is "flare", or "non-image light".

At best it will just make the photo a little low in contrast, at worst a whopping big flare blob is produced as in Figure 1.

Fig 1: Bad lens flare, the large light blob is obvious but there is also a general reduction in contrast, especially in the upper left.  
The cure is simple, shade the front element of the lens. Often a lens shade will do this but many of them aren't really up to the job.

If you are using a tripod just stand to one side of the camera and, with your hand, slowly place a shadow over the lens. There's no need to totally shade the lens but do as much as possible, remembering that with very wide angle lenses it's easy to get your hand into the shot.

If you're hand holding the camera then it's a bit more difficult because, of course, you only have two hands. This means that you'll have to take the shot single-handed which is not ideal from the stability point of view.

Fig 2: Flare removed by shading the lens with my hand.  
To see if you have flare in a shot it's usually better to stop the lens down. Often a general, all-over-the-photo reduction of contrast is not that noticeable through the viewfinder, but with the lens stopped down the flare turns into a large blob as shown in Figure 1, or sometimes a series of smaller blobs. In either case it's easy to see, and this of course is a good argument for using a camera with a stop-down facility.
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