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If you've ever taken photographs with the sun in front of you, you're likely to have experience flare, which probably ruined your photographs. Flare is caused by direct light entering the lens, which then bounces around the glass elements causing a reduction in the photograph's contrast. Sometimes this will just make the picture look washed out and lacking vibrant colours, but often you would also see a series of coloured shapes across the photo. The shape is an image of the lens' aperture or diaphragm and will often be hexagonal. This is joined with streaks of coloured light crossing the picture - all helping to ruin the result.
Modern lenses have multicoated lens elements and are designed to reduce flare but even with the most expensive products it can still occur. The easy way to prevent flare is to shoot with your back to the sun - a method that was always suggested in camera manuals before multicoated optics. The trouble with this suggestion is that there are many occasions when you cannot control where the sun is in relationship to your subject. It's easy, for example, to ask a person to turn direction or change the angle that you shoot a flower from, but try shooting a castle on a hill top or boat out at sea and you're usually stuck with no other choice than to face the sun.
Fortunately there are things that can be done. First make sure the sun is at least out of the frame. If this is not possible adjust position so that a nearby building or tree shields the sun from the camera position.
Alternatively shield the lens from the sun using your hand or a piece of card. Take care to avoid this creeping into the frame. Better still use a purpose made gadget called a lens hood. This attaches to the front of the lens, usually screwed in on a thread at the front of the lens. Some hoods, such as the Cokin one are attached using a filter holder and some custom models provided by lens manufactures either clip or bayonet onto the lens rim. The depth of the hood has to suit the angle of view of the lens or you will find the corners of your photo appear black where the hood has crept into the frame.
Some hoods are universal and designed to cover a range from, say 35mm wide-angle to 85mm telephoto while others are more specialised covering wider and longer angles of view. Some custom made ones cover specific lenses with independent lens manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron providing a lens hood free with many of their lenses. Some have a petal shape to ensure that they give maximum protection against flare on a wide angle lens.
Custom hoods from camera manufacturers tend to be optional and are often fairly expensive especially in larger sizes. Expect to pay between 15 and 50 depending on the make and model. Standard rubber hoods are made by many accessory manufacturers, such as Hama or Hoya, while Jessops have their own range to suit sizes from 49mm up to 72mm in standard and wide angle versions.
If a lot of your photographs are taken into the sun consider buying a bellows hood, which can be mounted on any lens and depth adjusted to suit the angle in use to give you maximum control of lens shielding. A good one is made by Lee filters for their pro filter system and has superb control of depth.
Whatever method you use to control flare you'll see the benefits in photographs with more colour and contrast.
When the sun is in frame you will see strong flare patterns.
With the sun just out of the frame a contrast reducing streak appears.
Even when hidden behind trees flare can still be apparent.
A different angle improves things dramatically.
The sun above right
has made this flower
shot lack colour.
A lens hood was used here to reduce flare and increase contrast. The picture beside illustrates the difference the hood makes.
Sigma's 'petal' lens hood ensures maximum benefits from flare on a wide angle lens.