How Do Interior Photographers Get Rid of Unwanted Lens Flare?

January 4th, 2018

Ron in Texas says:

I use a Canon 17-40 mm on a 5D MkIII and for the most part, it performs well. However, even when shooting north facing windows or otherwise shade-side windows in certain circumstances, l experience lens flare. The inconsistency of it is what drives me crazy. Is there a magic camera-to-window angle or lens height that can help eliminate this pain? I know that some overhead lighting can be a problem and I turn them off when I can but some window situations just seem to be a problem no matter what I do, even at small apertures! For a while, I’ve tried a polarizing filter, but I found this actually made the problem worse! I think the fact that there were more reflective surfaces in the mix was a problem.

Lens flare is caused by internal reflections in the lens. There are a number of things you can do to reduce or minimize it:

  1. Using a lens hood may eliminate stray light.
  2. Prime lenses have fewer elements inside than zoom lenses so flare may be reduced.
  3. Inexpensive UV, polarizing, and ND filters usually increase flare because they increase the number of reflective surfaces.
  4. Sometimes flare can be reduced by changing image composition.
  5. Flare can almost always be eliminated by putting your hand in the way of the strong light coming through the lens. See Jim Zuckerman’s YouTube tutorial above for details.
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16 Responses to “How Do Interior Photographers Get Rid of Unwanted Lens Flare?”

  • Does opening up the lens help? I know it does with chromatic aberrations (on some lenses).

  • Although I am in Oregon (rain) I use the trunk stored umbrella mostly as a light blocker when shooting into the sun.

  • I use my hand, even if it appears on the frame. Then I mask it out with Photoshop.

  • I get them all the time. Photoshop retouching on those spots does the trick though.

  • I have a very similar setup. 5D MkIII, but use a 16-35mm. It has a lens hood and I’ve never had this happen on the interior. So it could be hood that helps. Otherwise, I’d suggest making there the lens is truly clean. I think any smudge could also contribute.

  • How timely as did extreme addressing of the issue last night when Realtor wanted to know if could do anything with the sunflares in the #1 front photo. He didn’t realize I had done basic Photoshop healing brush to address it and was much better than the original, removing the flare dots but the rays are a whole different issue. Always use lens hood and supplement with hand, reflector/umbrella, and natural features (trees, roofline positioning etc) to minimize but this time on a pole and my arms aren’t that long. Worse, this time of year in the northern hemisphere, the sun arcs low along the southern horizon and there was no way to avoid the big bright ball in the frame. While it was a townhome, most were on the attached unit next door but was distracting. For the first time ever, resolved by actually painting the affected upper portion of the building. In each area (body, trim, roof etc) chose an unaffected area for color sampling then used a wide spread brush with around 30% opacity. Had to do a multi pass buildup along each ray then could even out the entire area. Windows were the hardest and still show some rainbow colors but much improved. Commercial quality for publication? – NO, but far improved with the limiting issues on MLS and a happy client? YES.

  • I’m guessing that Ron is not using the lens hood. I use the 17-40mm and rarely have a problem with lens flare. The lens hood is always on the lens.

  • Some lenses are worse than others. On my Canon crop sensor and a 10-18mm it’s terrible. On the FF and 16-35f4 it vastly improved.

    For exteriors I end up re-composing to place the sun behind trees or limbs. I’ve also used the hand or finger technique and clone out in post. Content aware fill in PS does magic most of the time.

    On interiors especially on chandeliers I use the spot heal brush to remove all those little spots. It’s a pain and depending on your client may be able to get away with some.

  • A lens hood will not solve the problem of flare or blooming from a window. A lens hood prevents light from an oblique angle from causing flare. UWA lenses are very prone to the oblique light from flashes off to the side or overhead.
    A hand or a finger or a credit card or even larger card can block a window or light source.
    Then a second exposure for the window (sometimes with flash) can get the exposure into a manageable range.
    On large commercial jobs I tape black plastic over the windows to eliminate veiling glare, blooming and nasty reflections. A second exposure is made for the windows and a small amount of reflection to make the scene believable.
    The real issue is how much work do you want to put into a shot? If you are working cheap this will kill your business model.

  • They will absolutely show up if the lens is aimed at the windows… in the ambient shots… but, if you are doing a flashed frame first, they shouldn’t appear in that frame, because the flash generally overpowers the flare. Then it’s just a matter of learning to paint in PS effectively. But if you aren’t using flash, it’s going to be a PITA every time.

  • Be aware that some flare may be coming through the viewfinder in the back of the camera, particularly on longer exposures. Always cover or block the viewfinder when shooting interiors. Canon’s neckstraps have rubber pieces which latch over the viewfinder.

  • I think it highly unlikely that light through the viewfinder is the problem here. That is only a problem when the light behind the camera is very bright, which is not often the case with interior photography. Unless you can shoot at a different time of day when the exterior light isn’t so bright relative to the interior, the only practical way to consistently combat the problem described is to use supplementary lighting to raise the level of the interior lighting closer to that of the exterior lighting. Larry is right that some lenses may be less subject to flare because of their design and the quality of their antireflective coatings, but pretty much any lens will exhibit some significant flare under extreme circumstances, a relatively dark interior and a bright window being one of these.

    As mentioned above by someone, the effect might also be sensor overload resulting in “bloom”, a hazy effect around bright areas that looks like flare, but that is an electronic phenomenon rather than optical one (flare). The effects look similar, and you can even have a mixture of the two effects. However, if you are seeing “ghosting”, that is flare. In any case, the solution is the same.

  • Thanks to everyone for the feedback. @ Kerry Bern, I DO use a lens hood at all times. The thing that makes it frustrating is that some days, under what seems like identical circumstances, I have no issues at all. And then other times, it’s like every window is a problem, hexagons everywhere! I rarely shoot directly into a window, and usually I’m at around a 45 degree angle to them in most compositions. Anyway, I’ll give some of the suggestions a try. Maybe a lens upgrade is in order. This lens was bought back in 2010 I think.

  • My first suspect would be a UV or other filter on the lens. I use the Canon 17-40 frequently on a 50D and can’t remember having any problems. If you see some flare when you look at the LCD, go around to the front of the camera and see if there is any light hitting the front element of the lens. If there is, see if you can shade it with something out of frame or you may need to recompose. One of the banes of RE photography is that we don’t often get the chance to shoot the composition we want at the time of day it works the best with the sun. It’s not always too bad. Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving a few inches or panning over a couple of degrees. If a composition isn’t working for any reason, own up right away and try something else. You could fuss with things for 10 minutes and still not be able to solve the problem and 10 minutes is a lot of time on an RE shoot.

  • I made a quick example to illustrate Bloom & Flare and how they relate to ambient vs supplementally lit rooms. All UWA lenses that I’ve ever used seem to have a potential weak spot for both when used on rooms with bright windows. Notice in the example, I’m not squared up to the window, and I’m still getting flare. This same lens is prone to a magenta arc on the left side of the image in certain situations.

  • I really think posting some examples would be helpful. The 17-40 isn’t the greatest when it comes to ghosting, flaring, and bloom. I use the 16-35/4L lens and can shoot directly into the sun and experience little to no effects like the 17-40 has.

    One thing you can do to minimize it is to remove any filters on your lens, and be sure that the front and rear elements are absolutely clean. Any minor grease or haze on the elements will result in making a bad situation worse.

    Below is an example of the quality of Canon’s 16-35/4L lens


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