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Is Light Flare Always A Problem In A Photograph?

Posted by Schmidt Fine Art Gallery on

Light flare occurs when non-image forming light reaches the film or sensor via your camera's lens.

The most extreme forms of light flare result in strange looking, usually polygonal shaped orange/red colored artifacts in your images.

However, less extreme forms of light flare can also adversely affect the look and quality of your photographs.

The result, usually considered undesirable, will be images that display the following:

  • Lower levels of contrast
  • Decreased sharpness
  • Reduced color saturation

Light Flare Is Fleeting, Blissful And Absolutely Spectacular

It was a lovely summer's evening, though a little cool with a breeze coming off the nearby Neva River, when I photographed the famous Alexander Column in St. Petersburg, Russia.

There was some moisture in the air which, when illuminated by one of the nearby artificial light sources, created flare.

On this occasion I liked the nostalgic feel the light flare produced. The question became how much flare was appropriate before it became overkill.



Is Light Flare Cool In Your Photos?

Is light flare cool or even desirable in your photos? It all depends upon the content of the image and the mood you’re trying to elicit.

Back in the day extreme levels of light flare were usually considered to be the death of a photograph. As a consequence of this belief you did all you could to eliminate the occurrence of flare.

A lens hood or lens shade, which I would normally use ever single time I make a photograph, certainly helps and photographing directly into the light was to be avoided at all costs.

Good advice? Yes! However, it's also just one example of how a so-called rule can be detrimental to the making of emotively powerful and, therefore, successful photographs.

He Has Flair, She Looks Cool In Flares, They Just Dig Light Flare

“Fashions change and rules and approaches need to adopt with the times.”

— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru

Rather than avoiding light flare, at all costs, consider embracing it, when it’s appropriate to do so, in the pursuit of more creative photos.



This post is illustrated by two versions of the same original camera generated file made in Palace Square, right in front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Known as the Alexander Column, the structure rises an impressive 47.5 meters (i.e., 155 feet and 8 inches) into the sky and is topped by a statue of an angel.

It's quite a sight, particularly at night when the column is illuminated by artificial lighting.

For the sake of this discussion let’s refer to the version at the top of this post as the original image. It shows all the flare intact.

The other version, directly above, has been retouched significantly. This level of retouching is rare for me and you can see just how different the image has become now that I've removed the flare from the top left of the photo.

The thing is I like the effect the light flare has produced. However, I feel it might be overpowering in the version at the very top of this post.

Having the flare on either side of the Alexander Column does add a sense of balance and harmony to the image. It seems to quieten the image, which I feel is beneficial to the mood I’ve worked to create.

It's a conundrum, that deserves further consideration. 

While most tourists to this amazing city were, no doubt, sitting in a restaurant enjoying a meal I can tell you I had the time of my life exploring this part of St. Petersburg at night.

The question is what's the photo about? Is it simply about light flare and how we respond to it, on an emotional level, or about the glory of days gone by?

It's important to choose the version that works best visually but, due to the strength of the subject matter, I feel that the look and feel of the image needs to be sympathetic to the underlying theme and narrative associated with the structure.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to have more than one version of a photo. Depending upon the context in which you publish and share the image, one version might work better than another.

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