Facebook Pixel How to Photograph Sun Flare: A Guide (+17 Tips)

How to Photograph Sun Flare: A Guide (+17 Tips)

How to photograph sun flare

Sun flare can add a sense of creativity, beauty, and drama to your photos – and if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably admired the flare effects in some of your favorite landscape shots, street snaps, or dreamy portraits.

But here’s the thing: Your lenses are designed to prevent these supposed “flaws.” They’re designed to give you the clearest, most natural image possible, with zero flare. So when you do sun flare photography, you’re technically breaking the rules!

Fortunately, with the right approach, breaking the rules – and capturing gorgeous flare effects – is easy, not to mention rewarding. I do it all the time in my own photography, and in this article, I share plenty of advice to help you get started photographing sun flares.

Let’s dive right in!

What is sun flare photography?

Sun flare photography

So what exactly is sun flare? Picture this: You aim your lens at the sun, and instead of a big washout, you get brilliant streaks of light. Or maybe it’s a series of floating orbs in varying sizes, descending from the light source like a celestial dance. Sometimes, it’s as defined as a star with pointed beams (sometimes referred to as a “sunstar”).

Sun flare can take on many forms. It can be the superstar of your photograph, literally and figuratively. Or it can serve as an intriguing background, providing just enough zing to make your main subject pop.

The beauty of flare is its versatility. You can use it to elevate various types of photography. Portraits gain an ethereal quality, landscapes become more dramatic, and even your street or macro shots get an added layer of interest.

In essence, sun flare gives you a wide palette of creative options. Whether you’re out capturing a sweeping landscape or focusing on the fine details of a flower, a burst of sun flare can provide that extra oomph.

Photographing sun flares: 17 tips for beginners

Ready to create some amazing shots of your own? You can capture sun flares at any time of day, and with these easy tips, you’ll be out experimenting in no time.

1. Try various aperture settings

Have you noticed that in some photos sun flares look soft and diffused, while in others they look bold and defined? That has a lot to do with which aperture setting was used.

If you use a fairly wide aperture, like f/5.6, you’ll get soft flares. But if you use a small aperture, like f/22, you’ll get stronger, more defined flares.

photographing sun flares aperture comparison

In the split image above, the f/5.6 shot is a softer-looking flare, and the f/22 shot is more defined. The points of the flare are created by the blades of the aperture inside your lens. When the blades come closer together (as with narrow apertures like f/22), you get more defined points in your flares.

Using different apertures will give you a variety of looks to choose from when you’re editing. You’ll also learn which type of sun flare you prefer, depending on the setting and feel you want in your photo.

2. Use Aperture Priority mode

Sun flare photography

The easiest way to control the aperture (as discussed above) is to put your camera in Aperture Priority mode (indicated with an “AV” on a Canon camera, and an “A” on a Nikon camera). That way, you’ll be able to easily adjust the aperture setting.

And with your camera set to Auto ISO, it will automatically choose the ISO and shutter speed settings for you.

Now you’ll be able to quickly switch apertures and see the difference it makes to your sun flares.

3. Partially hide the sun

One of my favorite techniques involves using an object to obscure the sun partially. Think about it. A fence post, a building, or even the branch of a tree can serve this purpose wonderfully. When you allow the sun to peek out just behind these objects, you add another layer of complexity to your image.

photographing sun flares

The effects can be extraordinary. As you move around the object, letting the sun reveal itself in varying degrees, the flare shifts and changes. Sometimes it wraps around your object, other times it bursts forth like a halo. This technique lends your photos a sense of depth and artistic flair that can be absolutely captivating.

But the key is experimentation. Adjusting the sun’s position relative to your object drastically changes the look of your image. A small peek can produce a delicate flare, while a more exposed sun might create an overpowering burst of light. Both are impactful, depending on what you’re aiming to achieve.

4. Move around and take lots of pictures

When shooting sun flares, it really helps to move around – a lot. If you are partially hiding the sun (as mentioned in the previous tip), a slight movement to the right or left will cause a big change in the flare. Your photo could be flooded with too much light, or you might miss the flare altogether. But moving could also reveal the flare in just the right spot to create the look you’ve envisioned.

sun flares through leaves

It’s important to take lots of pictures. You’ll eventually learn how much sun to include in relation to the amount of flare you want.

sun flare in forest

Sun flares can be unpredictable; that’s part of what makes them fun to work with.

5. Take photos with and without flare

Sun flare photography

Sun flares are almost always striking, but they can also be a double-edged sword. There are moments when a sun flare enhances your photograph and times when it distracts from your subject. That’s why it’s wise to shoot both with and without the flare.

For instance, let’s say the sun is hovering near the edge of your frame, producing a soft, diffuse flare (as in the image above). While it may look beautiful, it might also steal focus from your main subject.

So what do you do? You frame so the sun is completely blocked for one shot – and you allow it to do its thing for another. This gives you the freedom to choose which image works best when you get back home.

Another trick is to cover the sun with your finger when it’s close to the edge of your frame. Later, you can merge this image with the one containing the flare. This technique allows you to decide just how much flare you want to keep in the final composition.

The goal is to always have options. Sun flares can be unpredictable. Sometimes you’ll love the ethereal quality they bring; other times, you might find they take away more than they add.

6. Try using some filters

When photographing sun flares, filters can be helpful. I recommend considering either of the following options:

  • Polarizing filter: You’ll get different effects as you rotate this filter. It can help increase color saturation and decrease reflections. If you have a polarizer, play around with it and see how it affects the flares.
  • Graduated neutral density filter: This filter is darker at the top and becomes lighter near the bottom. It can prevent part of the image from looking blown-out when shooting into the sun.
graduated neutral density filter

I used a graduated neutral density filter for the photo on the right. It helped control the light, which kept the colors richer.

7. Shoot during different times of day

Around sunrise and sunset, the sunlight comes in at a unique angle. This creates a warmer, golden color, whereas during midday, there is a cooler (bluish) or more neutral light.

In the following image, two of the photos were taken around sunset, and the other two were taken a few hours after sunrise. Can you guess when each photo was taken?

images shot at different times of day

I bet you got it right – the images on the left were taken near sunset. They have a warmer feel, don’t they? Whereas the images on the right have a cooler feel.

8. Divide the sun with your camera

You can get a softer, more diffused look by composing your photo so that the sun is not fully in the frame. Try cutting the sun in half, or only including its bottom third.

sun flare cut off at the topic of the frame

Play with it. Create different effects and see which you prefer.

9. Use a tripod and a remote shutter release

As I mentioned earlier, a smaller aperture setting (higher f-number) will give you a sharper, more defined flare.

But using a small aperture also means that your camera will require more time to take the photo. The longer the image takes, the more chance there is for camera shake to cause blur.

If you are handholding your camera, this could be a problem. When your camera is on a tripod, there is much less chance of camera shake.

photographing with a tripod

Using a tripod will help keep your photos looking sharp and your sun flares looking crisp. By using a remote shutter release (or your camera’s self-timer), you’ll reduce camera shake even more.

10. Keep the sun at your model’s back

By keeping the sun at your model’s back, you’ll allow the light of the flare to spill out around them in interesting ways.

sun flare portrait

Depending on the time of day, you might need to lie down, and have your model sit or lie down, too. The image above was taken around 3:00 PM in the afternoon, and I was lying on the ground.

The higher the sun is, the lower you’ll need to be in order to place the flare at your model’s head or at your model’s shoulders. Having your model sit down will make it easier for you.

And when the sun is lower in the sky, positioning becomes easier for both of you.

11. Bracket your images

Sun flare photography

Sun flare photography comes with its own set of challenges. One minute, you have an underexposed subject, and the next, you’re squinting at an overexposed ball of light. This is where bracketing comes to the rescue.

Bracketing involves taking multiple shots of the same scene at different exposure settings. As a result, you get a series of images, each with a different exposure, giving you a better chance of capturing that perfect shot.

And even if you fail to get a single frame that successfully exposes for the entire scene, you can always combine the exposures in post-processing. The process, often done in software like Photoshop, allows you to take the best parts of each shot and merge them into one. You get the perfect flare, the perfect sky, and the perfect subject, all in a single, stunning photograph.

Remember, though, that bracketing is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on your scene, you’ll need to adjust how many shots to take and at what exposure differences. This will allow you to cover the full range of light conditions!

In a nutshell, bracketing gives you options and flexibility. It’s an additional step, sure, but one that could mean the difference between an okay photo and an extraordinary one.

12. Use a reflector

A reflector is designed to reflect the light back onto your subject. Reflectors are usually made of fabric (white, silver, or gold) and can be handheld, hung from a freestanding base, or placed on the ground.

Using a reflector can be helpful if your model is in the shade. It helps to brighten the face, making the photo look more pleasing.

13. Cover the sun with your hand to focus

Sun flare photography

It can be hard to focus when shooting sun flares. There is so much light that your camera may struggle to lock focus on the right spot. 

When this happens, hold up your hand to cover the sun, compose your photo, and press your shutter release halfway. Once your camera focuses, take your hand down and press the shutter the rest of the way.

You may have to try this a number of times until you get exactly what you want.

14. Place the sun out of the frame

To get a really soft flare effect without a bright point, try placing the sun out of your frame.

the sun in the upper right corner

I love how this adds soft light (as shown in the photo above), and how the eye is drawn up to the source of light.

15. Use spot metering

Sun flare photography

Spot metering handles bright light really well, so if you’ve got a choice, go with this metering mode. All but one of the photos in this article were taken using spot metering. 

If your camera does not have spot metering, then partial metering is the next best choice. Note that I use autofocus with the focus point set to the center (as the focus point is where your metering mode will be active).

16. Do some post-processing

How to Photograph Sun Flare: A Guide (+17 Tips)

Capturing the sun flare is only half the journey. The other half takes place behind the screen, in your editing software. Don’t shy away from post-processing; it’s your best friend when it comes to making those sun flares truly stand out.

A simple tweak in exposure can make a world of difference. Maybe the flare is too bright and washing out the image. Dialing it down a notch can bring out the details you initially missed. On the flip side, boosting the exposure can amplify the flare’s effect.

White balance plays a critical role, too. You might prefer a cooler or warmer flare. With a slide of a button, you can go from a summery golden hue to a winter morning’s icy blue. Experiment and see what complements your subject best.

Dehazing is another tool to consider. Sometimes sun flares can appear too diffused. Adding a dehaze effect can make the light rays more distinct and the flare more striking. This tool can dramatically shift the atmosphere of the photo.

Don’t forget to play around with colors and contrast. Adding a bit of contrast can separate the flare from the background, making it more pronounced. Adjusting the colors can change the flare’s mood, giving you creative freedom to make the image uniquely yours.

17. Have fun!

Sun flare photography

This last tip is probably the most important:

When photographing sun flares, experiment and have fun.

Don’t be afraid to take tons of pictures, try different aperture settings, and move around. Sun flares are wild and unpredictable. Be creative and use different objects to block (or diffuse) the light. You’re bound to get lots of overexposed and underexposed photos, but you’ll get a lot of gorgeous results, as well.

Photographing sun flares: final words

Sun flare photography

By choosing to capture sun flare, you’re stepping out of the ordinary. You’re breaking free from conventional rules, daring to add that extra layer of magic to your images.

What’s more, you don’t have to be an expert to get started. The techniques we’ve discussed are accessible to photographers of all levels! And remember, the rules are meant to be bent, if not broken, in the pursuit of your unique vision.

So grab your camera and head out. Whether you’re hiking up a mountain or strolling down a bustling street, the sun is ready to collaborate in your next photographic masterpiece. Don’t miss out on this source of natural brilliance. Your next shot could very well be your best one yet.

Now over to you:

What type of sun flare shots do you plan to capture? Do you have any tips I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dena Haines
Dena Haines

is a photographer and content marketer. She blogs about GoPro and action camera photography on Click Like This. Check out: 32 Cool Things to Do with a GoPro.

I need help with...