Walk Towards the Light
1. the process or art of producing images of objects on sensitized surfaces by the chemical action of light or of other forms of radiant energy such as x-rays, gamma rays, or cosmic rays.
As you can see from the definition above, light is EVERYTHING in photography. I first fell in love with photography as a teenager. I attended Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina where I took my first photography class with instructor Bryon Baldwin. He loved photography and his enthusiasm for it was contagious.
For me, photography was the perfect way to marry my artistic side with my desire to tell stories, both real and imagined. I always felt like I had an artistic soul but was a mediocre musician and wasn’t interested in the traditional ways of expressing myself as an artist, such as drawing or painting. Since elementary school I had loved writing stories and would often lose myself in my imagination and musings. So I grew up to become a professional watcher of light and the objects they illuminate.
I soon realized that to love photography you must understand light and become technically proficient at capturing light as you see it. As a watcher of light you have to learn to record it in all its many forms. Today I want to write about a side effect of bright light called lens flare. Flare is caused by a very bright light source either in the image or shining into the lens, but not in the image. Generally this bright light produces a haze and makes the image look washed out or devoid of contrast. Typically photographers try to eliminate lens flare. Most commonly, it occurs when shooting into the sun (when the sun is in frame or the lens is pointed in the direction of the sun), and is reduced by using a lens hood or other shade. But if you are a lover of light you will want to find ways to embrace lens flare and make it work in your favor.
This portrait was taken in 2001 at Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC. My client, Jane Rouse Ellison, wanted a spring bridal portrait. I was shooting film with a medium format camera. Unlike fast, spontaneous 35mm photography, 120mm forced me to slow down and be very intentional about what I was photographing. I saw this amazing weeping cherry tree and envisioned having Jane surrounded by the new blossoms. I wanted to create a feeling of hope and rebirth. I set up my light in front and had her turn her back to the sun. This gave her a natural hair light and I think the lens flare works to create a magical look.
In this image of Jeannine Sato and her son, Kenji, I deliberately shot into the sun to create lens flare. I really do think it creates a great mood, when used sparingly. Because lens flare typically produces an image low contrast I usually go into Photoshop to increase the contrast in post production. Again, I am using this normally undesired effect to bring more meaning to the image. For me, motherhood and raising children is such a fantastic journey but it goes by so fast! The haziness of the lens flare contributes to the illusory, fleeting feeling. And on a side note I think brunettes, especially, photograph better with a little bit of hair light so not to get lost in a dark background.
Here are two more examples of intentionally using lens flare. In the image above you can see the tell tale lens flare circles coming across the frame. The spatial distribution of the lens flare typically manifests as several starbursts, rings, or circles in a row across the image. In the photograph below the lens flare created by the early morning sun is almost overpowering.
You can even artificially create lens flare if you really want to. This image of my youngest, Leo, was taken at night in Croatia as we were walking to a Carnaval celebration. I slowed the shutter down to an eighth of a second and bounced my powerful flash off of a nearby, light colored wall thus creating the lens flare. I also put my flash on rear shutter sync. What a handsome pirate!
This is what happens when you combine lens flare and smoke. I love smoke bombs!
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