Welcome to lesson 3, devoted to shiny ufo and ghosts that invite themselves in your photographs when a bright light is around the corner: Ghosting, Flare & Glare.
At every air-glass surface, some light is bounced back rather than transmitted along its intended path. Modern coatings help reduce the effect significantly (up to 10 stops of reduction) but never completely. As a consequence, some scatter of incoming light can occur and lower the contrast or produce unwanted parasite reflections.
Flare is plainly visible, particularly in older lens designs, as a series of colourful geometrical patters (circles, ellipses, hexagons) aligned along a line originating at the sun or a bright source of light.
Glare, on the other hand is simply a lessening of contrast due to the presence of unwanted light in shadow areas. It can kill off the impression of clarity you expect with the best lenses. The photograph above shows both glare (the trees should be darker) and flare (the UFO patterns at lower right).
Since this problem is due to scattering and parasite reflexions, you can make it appear easily in the following situation: point your camera towards the sun or a very bright light and, if possible include a large portion of dark areas (shadows, trees) where the artefacts will become very obvious, as above. Move the bright light source around the frame and slightly outside the frame (sometimes, the worse cases of flaring occur when the sun is just out of sight).
A very good lens will show no lessening of contrast and no weird shapes floating about in the image, as below.
Glare (lowered contrast) can be partially cured by increasing contrast. There is no escape from the effects or flare, though. Although some dig the look created by flare, it’s nearly impossible to remove when you try to.
In both cases, it is best to prevent than to cure. Avoiding very bright lights around the edges of the frame (using your hand, a tree trunk or a good lens shade for protection). Remember the effects of glare occur when the sun is just outside the frame, as below (in the second photograph, I blocked the sun with my hand).
When you cannot avoid a bright light shining on your lens, closing the aperture helps reduce the effects of both. The image above is at f/8. Compare with the same lighting and (old) lens at f/2.8, above.
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