How Flare Affects Skin Tones on Film

Flare. Love it or hate it, all photographers need to be mindful of it. Flare can be a nuisance, but it can also be a powerful artistic tool. Either way, if you find yourself shooting backlit scenes on film, then this blog is for you!

We're exploring how flare affects skin tones in your film imagery...

Flare from a back-lit subject Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

What Is Flare?

Flare is created when light is refracting and reflecting within your camera lens. This happens when your subject is backlit and you are pointing your camera towards the sun. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a digital camera or an analog camera/film camera. All cameras are susceptible.

Graphic showing how flare happens within a camera

What Are the Effects of Flare?

Flare will dramatically influence the color and contrast of your scene. So, Richard Photo Lab suggests that subtle flare be your goal—enough to add an artistic effect without 1) completely altering the colors & contrast of the scene and 2) creating inconsistencies with the rest of your shots.

Four photos displaying a range of flare A range of flare, from minimal to intense.

As flare increases, contrast and color saturation decrease. Extreme flare will look like a haze across your entire image. That greatly reduces the contrast and saturation of your shot, making it look muddy and washed out.

A picture with intense flare Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

Controlling Flare

Because light is reflecting on to your lens, flare is something that cannot be controlled in scanning—its effects are embedded in your exposure (though there are post production tricks that can be used to "save" an image). That's why it is so important to be cognizant of possible flare in film photography and do all you can to control it!

An image with artistic use of flare Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

Another image with artistic use of flare Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

For example, if you are shooting a portrait, try and get the sun behind the subject's head (or a strategically placed tree, etc.) for beautiful backlighting without intense flare. Then, keep your eyes peeled! If you or your subject move even just a tiny bit, the sun can end up hitting your lens, making that shot look extremely different than a previous shot where the sun was behind the lens.

Example of an image with intentional flare Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

Remember, when you are shooting a backlit scene, you will want to meter for the skin or shadow side of the face so that your exposure is calibrated for the skin tones.

Image with flare Image by Albany Katz

Avoiding Flare

Preventing flare is easier than you think. If you don't want to risk having flare, you can get a lens hood to block your lens from direct sunlight. Or, when in doubt, just don't shoot in the direction of the sun! Make sure it is always behind you or directly above you.

An image with intentional flare Image by Mon Soleil Weddings

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