7 Ways To Use Lens Flares For Film & Video

Using lens flares in photography, feature-length films, as well as short videos, has gained popularity since its emergence in cinema in the 1960s.

At the start of cinema, lens flares were a crime against the art. Most filmmakers, such as Orson Welles, used to coat their lenses in Vard ‘Opticoat’ to avoid creating lens flares. However, at the start of the 1960s cinematographers took a different approach. Films such as the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke, made use of lens flares to add a sense of realism.

Cool Hand Luke Lens Flares(Cool Hand Luke - courtesy of Warner Brothers)

They wanted to prove to the audience that the film was not shot in a studio but was rather a product of the real world.

The trend caught on and by the 1970s filmmakers incorporated them into Science Fiction films. From there on, lens flares have become a sort of norm in both photography and film.

If you are an aspiring filmmaker or photographer who is interested in lens flares, you may want more control over the image at the start. Lens flare video effects that are edited in during the post-production cycle can help with this.

What Are Lens Flares?

Within the lens of your camera, many parts work to make sure that it can capture an image accurately. A lens flare occurs when the sun hits the lens and bounces around in these parts. The reflections of the light bouncing off the inner workings of your camera create circular shapes on the image. The more directly you point your camera towards the light source, the bigger the flare.

You’re probably thinking, what about the lens flares that you often see in films? These are more streaky and oval-looking.

These are anamorphic lens flares. They occur when the cinematographer makes use of an anamorphic lens, which is oval-shaped. The information in the image is originally crushed when using this lens. So when the image is converted to the regular image size, the flares come out as stretched and streaky.

Check out this Anamorphic Lens Flare FX pack


Why Use Lens Flares?

By making use of lens flares you can create a sense of atmosphere, drama, and realism in your video. The use of a visual flaw allows the film to be grounded in reality. This tells the audience that the events happening on-screen are happening here and now.

Additionally, by making use of a lens flare, you can create depth in the video. By using flares caused by the sun, you can create an environment where the character and the viewer are simultaneously experiencing the moment.

Furthermore, by placing this lens flare strategically, it is able to trigger the emotions of a viewer. An example of this is a well-placed lens flare in a wedding video. By timing the golden lens flare well, it creates a romantic image caught in a dream.

Check out our Lens FX Pack for some creative lighting effects


7 Ways To Use Lens Flares

1. To Create A Sense Of Realism

As mentioned earlier, lens flares are a great way to ground the film in reality. With the revolution of lens flares in the 1960s, filmmakers used it to communicate that the emotions portrayed are real. Audience members engaged easier with the film, as the characters were portrayed experiencing life as they did.

The use of lens flare effects are often used in science fiction films, specifically anamorphic lens flare effects. A famous example is Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. By using lens flares, filmmakers can take a concept that is so otherworldly and make it feel homely. 2. Accentuate Titles

These lens flares are often found as streaks or translucent explosions surrounding the title of the film. By using this specific lens flare effect, you can accentuate the title of the video. The viewer’s attention is immediately drawn to the elegant art of the flare surrounding the title.

This technique, using lens flare overlays, is often used in interviews with politicians or other important people. They are even used in several Oprah Winfrey’s interviews as she makes use of this technique to highlight specific words or people.

Moreover, it is often used in Science Fiction film posters. Lens flares seem to have almost become a trope in Science Fiction films. Thus, filmmakers tend to make use of these lens flares, to communicate the visual identity of the film.

An excellent example of this is the 2013 film Gravity.

3. Lens Flares Caused By Light

This is perhaps the most obvious method of using lens flares, however, it is still useful. In many films, a lens flare is used to depict the brightness of looking in the sun, or someone shining a light into a character’s eyes.

As mentioned earlier, the more directly a ray of light is shone into a camera, the bigger flare it creates. This effect is very natural to what filmmakers may have captured on set anyway. Moreover, it also allows the film to be grounded in a sense of reality.

Furthermore, by using lens flares caused by the sun or lights, you can create fun transitions. There are also a lot of ways you could use this as you can play around with different types of lens flares.

Lens flares caused by on-screen light are perhaps the most versatile and natural form of lens flares. If you are still unsure of how to make use of this lens flare, have a look at Stranger Things. Within the series, the creators continuously make use of these lens flares.

4. Evoke Emotion

As mentioned earlier, lens flares are an excellent way of evoking emotion. By placing the reflection of sunlight properly, you are able to create romantic, dreamy scenes. An example of this is the famous ending scene of the 2007 version of Pride and Prejudice.

Moreover, the 2019 rendition of Joker makes use of translucent, kaleidoscopic lens flares to trap the character on screen. Allowing the audience to feel the sense of restriction that eventually drives the Joker mad.

Another example is Birdman when Riggan Thomson attempts to kill himself on stage. The audience disappears behind a strong lens flare. Allowing the viewers to feel the isolation and desperation of Riggan at that moment.

5. Flashbacks

Overusing lens flares can sometimes be overwhelming and take away the sense of realism it aims to create. However, sometimes that may be exactly what you wish to achieve. When creating a flashback or dream sequence, the filmmaker may want to create a sense of a dream world.

By using a few lens flares layered upon each other, you can create an opaque dream sequence. This may create a sense of being far away, which is exactly what you want to achieve.

This is often depicted in films by golden lens flares caused by the sun as characters may dance or run through fields and houses. The misty aesthetic that this creates, along with other film making techniques, places the viewers in the right frame of mind. Once more allowing the viewers' emotions to be triggered.

6. Color Lens Flares

It’s no surprise that lens flares are not only translucent or golden or white. Red lens flares as well as blue lens flares are actually quite common in films.

When using color lens flares, they are often in correlation with the light used in the scene. Obvious examples of this may be in scenes where characters are playing musical gigs. Different colored lights are used to create lens flares as the music fills up the scene.

Color lens flares can also be used to depict the pulsing red and blue of a police car as a traumatic event takes place. Or red lens flares may fill up the screen as the villain draws near.

By making use of color lens flares, you can draw your audiences' attention to a specific color palette or warning sign. This helps to set the scene and the feeling you want the audience to experience.

Colored Lens Flare

7. Reveal A Character

Lens flares may also be a creative way to reveal a character, highlighting their importance to the narrative. Many films have made use of this trope as a character may step out from behind a lens flare or lens flares caused by torches, for example.

An excellent example of this, once more, is Stranger Things. As the children reveal Eleven to the audience, through the lens flares of their torches.

Using Lens Flares For Video In A Nutshell

Although still a relatively new art form to cinema, lens flares are a creative way to create depth in your film or video. It allows you to develop your creativity and find ways to communicate your narrative and emotive approach.

However, the art of lens flares may be difficult at first. Grabbing one of our CinePacks Lens Flare packs is a great way to practice the art of lens flares. Each pack contains a variety of authentic lens flares that can be used within any and all types of videos. You can use our Lens Flares in all the popular video editing platforms - whether that's Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, or Davinci Resolve, rest assured you won't have any compatibility issues.