Lens Flare: What Is It And How Do You
by Bob Shell
photo at left was taken with a zoom lens without a lens hood. The
photo on the right was taken with the same lens in the same location,
but with a properly designed lens hood. A lens hood can make the
difference between a disaster and a good photo.
Lens flare is one of those optical phenomena which can
ruin an otherwise perfect photograph, and all too often you don’t
know it until after the fact when you get your photos back from processing.
Lens flare can show up as yellow-orange streaks, geometrically shaped
spots, or an overall haze which reduces contrast and saturation and masks
Lens flare, also called veiling glare, is caused by light reflecting inside
the lens, either from lens surfaces or from internal components in the
lens. At every lens surface where the lens meets air a certain amount
of light will be reflected. Modern lens coatings have reduced the amount
of this reflection, but none can eliminate it.
The more air/glass interfaces a lens contains, the more light will potentially
be reflected and cause problems in your photos. Modern zoom lenses often
contain a large number of individual lenses (lens elements) inside their
When you look at lens specifications you will usually see something labeled
“Elements/Groups” followed by a number like 18/10.
This means that this particular lens has 18 separate lens elements in
its barrel, but some are cemented together into groups. The number of
air/glass interfaces capable of causing lens flare is normally the number
of groups doubled, so this hypothetical lens would have 20 air/glass interfaces
and would likely be prone to lens flare.
Problem causing flare is usually caused by very bright lights within the
image area, such as the sun in the sky, or just outside the image area.
Typically it is the lights just outside the image area, those you don’t
see when composing your image, which cause the problems. Contrary to what
some people believe, there is no filter which will correct for lens flare.
In fact, by adding two more air/glass surfaces, a filter may simply make
The solution for lens flare is a properly designed lens hood. I personally
believe that no lens should ever be used without a proper lens hood, and
some manufacturers apparently agree and include good lens hoods with their
For those lenses which do not come with hoods, most manufacturers offer
lens hoods specifically designed for the lens as accessories, and generic
hoods are available in those cases in which the manufacturer does not
For very serious professional photography the manufacturer’s lens
hood is often replaced with a bellows type lens hood sometimes called
a compendium. These are standard equipment in the motion picture industry
and are also available for use with most still cameras.
Their advantage is that they can be adjusted to exactly match the focal
length of the lens in use for maximum blocking of extraneous light. Although
somewhat large and inconvenient for use in 35mm cameras in the field,
I consider them essential equipment for my medium format cameras in my
Lens hoods come in a variety of shapes and lengths. Make sure you
get the one that is right for your lens.
Professional bellows lens hoods are the best for professional
use but are less convenient than hoods which do not adjust.