Lens flare from lights during night shooting


Iron Flatline

Hi all.

I am having some problems with lens flare, and I'm not sure if there's some obvious technique that I'm fumbling.

This first image was shot on a Canon 5D with a 28-135mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS at 28mm. It's a 30 second exposure at f/22. I know that's an odd setting, but I wanted some really crips stars around the light. By the way, it is noisy - I made a real beginner mistake by leaving my camera on a 250 ISO from an earlier shoot. I would have shot this stuff at 100 ISO. I'm also not convinced that the Image Stabilization is of any help. If anything, I assume that a long exposure might end up slightly soft and shaken with a flywheel spinning around... not sure how the IS works though.


The next two were shot at different exposures, with a much better lens. It's still a Canon 5D, but using a 16-35mm 1:2.8 L. Yes, I'm still at 250 ISO, don't even get me started how I feel about that... :(

First one is 6 seconds at f/22, and the second one is 1/6th of a second at f/2.8:



Thanks to a passing car I got a really nice light source for the blue garbage can, and it also off-set the curb nicely.

Anyway, I can mitigate some of the lens flare by shortening the exposure time, but then I don't get the crisp stars I was hoping for.

So who has some advice for night-time shooting? I'm "stabbing in the dark"...
Do you have a lens hood? If not, buy one. They will reduce lens flare.

Try and find subjects that you want to take a photo of, rather than just the street. There are so many things on a street that I don't know what to look at, such as the last one. I didn't even notice that garbage can until I read your description. If you chose a specific subject and did your long exposure on that, you may come out with a nice photo.

To reduce camera shake, put your camera on a tripod (which I assume you've already done), then set the camera to timer mode. That way when you press the shutter you aren't shaking the camera, since the shutter goes off in 10 seconds or whatever you set it to. During that ten seconds stand awayyy from the camera and don't do anything to touch the tripod or it.

For the last two I would suggest moving your camera way to the left. You've got an ocean, and you aren't shooting it? So turn the camera so there are the streetlights since you wanted, but include the ocean. The ocean is much less cluttered than the street.
I use a lens hood, but that only shields against light coming on to the lens from sources that are out of the shot. A lens hood can't help me against flare from light sources that are clearly in the shot.

I appreciate that you took the time to answer. I'm not really looking for compositional advice. The goal was to capture starry flares around the lights - but I'd like to do it without the flare clearly visible in these shots.

Yes, I'm using a tri-pod on all these shots. I use a programable Canon remote shutter release, that I've set to 10 seconds delay, and then the programmed shutter speed.

One solution I can think of is to simply be further away. At greater distance, the light source is more centered, leaving less refraction across the various glass elements. They line up, rather than coming in diagonally because I'm too close and just below.

Anyone else?
Lens hoods only reduce flare coming in off-axis. Shooting straight on to lights at night will always give flare no matter what - but a lens hood is still a good idea.
Focal length, aperture and lens quality all have an effect on flare. You also need to make sure that the front of the lens is perfectly clean and free of condensation. Air humidity can affect things too.
In the first shot you can clearly see the shape of the aperture opening - and the reflection off of all the internal lens surfaces.
In this situation flare like this is a fact of life so you have to learn to live with it - or try and use it ;)
Experiment - but it will still be a bit 'chuck it and chance it.'
If you want perfect repeatable starbursts - buy a starburst filter or two. Plain glass with etched parallel lines.
Widen the apeture and remove any filters. If you are on a tripod, turn off IS.

FWIW, my night shots have always come out best at f8-f11. Anything above f11 will give star burst flare.

The fewer elements the lens has, the better for this work. Try a 50mm prime instead (and stitch multiple images if necessary).

Rob said:
FWIW, my night shots have always come out best at f8-f11. Anything above f11 will give star burst flare.
Yes, but star burst flare is what I was going for...
might want to adjust your angle. slightly higher or lower could get rid of the flare you don't want.
They have lots of potential, but I would dim it down a bit, even in the third picture. Maybe with photoshop use the burn tool on the light shedded from the poles and make the sky a tiny bit lighter after you dim the lights down to kind of make an inverse relationship between the lights and the sky.
Hertz van Rental said:
In the first shot you can clearly see the shape of the aperture opening - and the reflection off of all the internal lens surfaces.

are you talking about how the islands off center seem to be elevated slightly from the center of the picture?

if that's not what you're talking about, can you explain a little more?

reason i'm asking is that I'm in the process of trying to find a DSLR & lens too. I want something that i can walk around with and not have to keep switching lens's, and the 28-135 that was used to shoot this is the one i was considering if i went with canon. After seeing that slight distortion, i'm not sure i want that...
No, he's talking about the various hexagonal light shapes refracting off the right front street light. It's what I'd like to avoid.

As the owner of a (now heavily used) 28-135, I can only speak highly of the lens. It is a very good lens, and I would suggest never judging a camera or lens by an image compressed to a tiny JPEG and then displayed on a computer monitor at 72 dpi. Take a look at prints. I think you will find that it is a very good lens. Learn to use the Image Stabilization.

If you can afford it, the 24-105 L from Canon is even better, but costs four times as much. You need to be a pro or a really avid/advanced hobbyist to see the difference.
Do you have any filters on your lens? I noticed that when I had a UV protector filter on I would ALWAYS get lens flare. I took it off and don't have a problem at all. I shot this with a D50, tripod, 24-120 lens @24mm, f/22, 30 seconds. Anytime you point your lens right at a light source, you risk lens flare, I guess I'm just lucky. I haven't had any since I removed the filter. As stated, a starlight filter would help.

Nice. Yup, I had a UV filter on it. I'll try it without.

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