Shooting into the sun, removing lens flare

January 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Shooting into the sun, removing lens flare

There was a time when shooting into the sun was a bad idea. For a start there are the concerns about peering through a viewfinder straight at that big ball of fire and the impact on your eyes. Fortunately, with digital cameras we can avoid that by using live view to set up our composition. Then there were issues with that much light damaging the sensor. I've heard of this but I don't think it's an issue with modern cameras. Perhaps if you do it all the time then, eventually, it will cause problems but I don't think occasional shots are too much to worry about. What can be an issue is sun flare. Even with the cleanest of lenses there is the chance of getting flare that can ruin an otherwise beautiful image. Fortunately there is a way to deal with it, and here's how. Let's take this image as an example. This is a RAW file made out of three exposures in camera to deal with the contrast and combined using the HDR merge function in Lightroom (you can read about that HERE). I've done some basic tonal adjustments on it in Lightroom (highlights, shadows, black and white points)

I shot this on the side of a mountain in Spain and, as you can see, I shot straight towards the sun. Overall I really like the image but there is this horrible lens flare on the lower part of the image, you can see it even more clearly in this zoomed in view.

Now I could probably do something using the clone tool in Photoshop but it's going to be difficult to avoid making a mess of some of the grass that way. Fortunately, as I knew this was going to be an issue, I have another way. Immediately after I took these exposures I took three more, exactly the same, but this time I blocked out the sun with my thumb (note, you really need to be shooting on a tripod in order to do this as the compositions really need to be the as close to identical as possible).


After combining them using the Lightroom HDR merge I copied and pasted the develop settings from the first image so that the it has the same tones and colours as the first one. You can see that, by blocking out the sun I have removed the lens flare from the foreground. The next steps are really easy I select both images in Lightroom  

and then open them as layers in Photoshop

Once in Photoshop I make sure that the image with my thumb in is the top layer. As there is a possibility that I may have moved the camera very slightly between shots I Auto Align the layers

The auto setting is what's needed here

Now I apply a layer mask to the top layer and invert it so the top layer is completely hidden (the standard layer mask fill is white and I want black to hide everything. Cmd and I on a Mac or Ctrl and I on a PC will invert the layer and make it black)

Now I can see my image that has the lens flare in the foreground, the layer with my thumb in, that doesn't have the lens flare is completely hidden by the black mask. With my layer mask selected I select a soft round brush, make sure that it's white, set the opacity at 100% and simply paint over the area where the flare is. In this case, in addition to the obvious big flare there were several smaller spots when I zoomed in so I chose to paint over a bit more of the foreground. You can see how much I painted in the layer mask here


This is what the image now looks like, after the blending that I have done. The ugly flare is gone it's ready for the rest of the processing workflow.

If you're interested in my landscape photography processing workflow you can read it HERE  After processing, this was the final image

One additional note. If the camera has moved a fraction between the shots you might find that the Auto Align leaves some odd effects around the very edge of the image. You can either clone these out or, as I did in this case simply crop the image in by a few pixels to get clean edges. I hope you've enjoyed this and will find it useful. If so a Share or Like is always appreciated and please feel free to leave a comment below


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