Lens flare – what is it and how can we harness it to serve our creative needs? Find out in my latest youtube photography tutorial. Please take a look at the video and see the transcript below.


In this clip, we’re asking what is lens flare and how can we apply it to add a creative sparkle to our photography.


What is lens flare?

Lens flare is the effect you get when strong light shines directly into the camera lens. As I’m sure you know, a lens is made up of numerous glass elements. Normally, when shooting, light will flow through the elements, one by one, before hitting the sensor or film. But powerful direct light will reflect between the elements – effectively bouncing around like a pinball – before burning an image on the sensor or film.

Lens flare can take different forms depending on the strength and shape of the light and the lens you are using.


Rings, streaks and blobs

You’ll find washed out, or ‘vieling flare’ that will cover much of your image; rings, streaks, hexagon or similar-shaped blobs of light, and – my favourite – starbursts.

Lens flare isn’t necessarily good or bad. It can look fantastic, really adding dynamism to an image, or it can simply mess up an otherwise pleasing image. Or like here, it can just be a bit unnecessary.

Bokeh, is similar to lens flare, but a little different. Bokeh is caused when highlights in an image are blurred or out of focus. It’s a nice effect and works best with a very wide, open aperture.

So here are some tips on how to experiment with lens flare:

‘Golden’ hours. It’s no secret that early morning and late afternoon are the best times to take photos. That’s especially true when using the sun to create lens flare. In the middle of the day, the sun is generally in the wrong place – too directly above – and too bright. Remember – looking directly at the sun, even through a viewfinder is really bad for your eyes.

When the sun is lower in the sky, it’s diffused through thicker atmospheric layers, making it less blinding and also a warmer, more golden colour. Conveniently for photographers, the sun is then also well positioned to make silhouettes. And lens flare works beautifully with silhouettes.
Manual focus. Shooting into the light confuses the auto-focus on your camera. It’s best therefore to duck into shadow, focus on your subject using auto-focus, switch to manual focus (all the while maintaining the same distance between camera and subject) and then shooting.

Manual exposure. Similarly shooting into the light confuses the auto-exposure on your camera. It will try to ‘average-out’ the exposure of the shot, when in fact you often want to keep the shadows nice and dark.

Personally I find lens flare works best shooting with a wide-angle lens. That way the lens flare doesn’t dominate the shot but becomes one feature in a larger picture.
It’s also when you can get the most dramatic results. For crazy lens blur use a lens with a really round front element. These images were shot at 16mm with my 16-35mm lens. You can actually see the roundness of the front of the lens in the lens blur.

The smaller the light source shining into the camera, the more defined the light flare. If you want to create starbursts, try obscuring part of the sun behind your subject. Moving the camera just an inch or two in any direction will change the shape of the light and therefore the lens flare.

Generally a zoom lens will create a broader more blurry lens flare and a fixed or prime lens will create a more defined one. This is because there tend to be fewer elements in a fixed lens than a zoom and therefore less opportunity for the light to bounce around.

Vieling flare produces quite a pale, washed out look. I generally find it necessary to really boost shadows in post-production (Lightroom or Photoshop) to give the image some definition.


Lens flare is not an exact science

My final tip is: take lots of shots. Lens flare is not an exact science. You’ll probably find most of your shots don’t work but you may also get a few corkers too. And the remember the fun is in the experimentation.

So good luck and happy shooting!

I’ve just posted a new youtube photography tutorial on a topic that is front of mind for many newcomers to the DSLR:


Cheap vs pro lens: what’s the difference?


Here’s a transcript of the above clip:


Lenses come in all shapes and sizes.. and yes, prices.


It can be a little confusing when comparing different lenses that cover a similar focal range, for example a general purpose zoom that goes from reasonably wide-angle to long. They do roughly the same thing – but have vastly different price tags.


In this clip we are going to look at two lenses – one cheap and one not so cheap – and ask: what’s the difference in functionality – in other words what can the pro-level lens do that the cheap one can’t – and what’s the difference in image quality.


I’ll be comparing Canon lenses simply because I use Canon equipment. This is not intended as a lens review – we’ll be looking at general guides that should apply equally to cheap and pro lenses from Nikon or any other brand.


Also, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with using cheap lenses. We’d all love to have the best equipment, but, that said, some of my favourite shots were taken with a cheap zoom lens. Remember – it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it.


So here are the lenses:


First, the Canon 35 – 80mm f4-5.6. This is what’s known as a ‘kit lens’ – a lens that is usually sold as a package with a camera body. This lens is no longer on the market and I believe newer kit lenses are better quality. I bought this lens second hand as a package with this old film camera – total cost: $50.


The other lens is the Canon 24 – 70mm f2.8. It’s part of Canon’s L range, which essentially means it’s a ‘pro’ lens. I bought it second hand but in ‘as-new’ condition for $1,300.


Put the lenses together and we see some obvious differences. First, the L lens is huge in comparison. It also weighs roughly 5 times as much as the 35 – 80mm.


Not surprisingly, the lens barrel for the cheap lens is made mainly of plastic, whereas the L lens is metal. The L lens is therefore much sturdier. It’s also weather sealed to protect the internals from moisture.


Cheap vs pro lens: functionality

Let’s look at the mount-end of the lenses. This gives us a clue as to an important difference in functionality. The glass element for the cheap lens is much smaller than for the L. This indicates the aperture of the lens – and relates to those mysterious numbers: f2.8 for the L lens and f4 – 5.6 for the cheap lens.


To understand what this means, let’s take a practical example:


We’re shooting with the cheap lens at 35mm – so this is as wide-angle as the lens will go. The first shot is at f8. OK, let’s try and blur that background a little more with f5.6 (changing the ISO to keep the same exposure). Let’s blur the background further to f4. Remember that number.


Now let’s change the focal length to 85mm – as long as the lens will go. Here’s f8 (notice the fact that we’re using a longer focal length makes the background naturally blurrier), and now f5.6. But when we try and get to f4, we discover we can’t. This is because the lens has an aperture of f4 – that’s at its widest angle – but only f5.6 at its longest focal length.


So now with the L lens. We’re at 50mm. So here’s f5.6, f4 and beyond to f2.8. Notice the level of blur we get in the background. This lens is f2.8 across its focal range. So here it is at f2.8 at 24mm – its widest angle – and 70mm – its longest.


Having a wide aperture isn’t just useful for background blur. It also gives us much more leeway for shooting in low light.


Here we’re shooting in pretty gloomy conditions. We’re on a veranda sheltering from the rain.


We’re using the cheap lens at 80mm. In terms of aperture, we can only go as open as f5.6. With a sensible shutter speed of 1/100 that means we have to set ISO at 1600. This results in quite a ‘noisy’ image.


Let’s try wide-angle at 35mm. This allows us an aperture of f4, but that still means ISO 800 – still quite noisy.


With the L lens we can shoot as wide as f2.8 – actually we’re shooting just short of that at f3.2, which allows us ISO 500. That’s less noisy.


Image quality

Now we’ve looked at the functional differences between the lenses, let’s try comparing image quality. This is not a scientific comparison – rather my impressions on looking at the images side by side. All the images used in this video were shot on my trusty Canon 5DIII. They are also unprocessed – so straight out of the camera – unless otherwise stated.


The first thing to notice is a haziness to the cheap lens. The colours are not as vivid and the nice contrast of the L lens is lacking. The highlights – the bright areas — are similar but the shadows are distinctly washed out (COLOURED FLAGS).


Let’s also take a look at the corner of the image. You’ll notice that, using the cheap lens, the image is a bit soft. That’s not uncommon in lenses of this quality.


Now let’s look at general sharpness. These shots were captured at f8. Now, f8 – 11 is in the middle aperture range and should therefore be the sharpest. And sure enough, the cheap lens comes out looking reasonably sharp.


Let’s now open up the aperture all the way to f4. Here we can see that the image has a softness to it, especially compared with the L lens image.


Now let’s try and address the haziness in the cheap lens. Here we’ll darken the shadows in Lightroom in order to create some contrast. As you can see, it works quite effectively – we have a much more pleasing image. But it does come at a cost – we’ve now lost a lot of the details in the shadows, especially compared with the L lens image, which hasn’t been altered.


Loss of shadow detail is especially important when you print images, as prints tend to increase the contrast – brighter highlights, darker shadows – meaning more loss of detail.


If you want more detailed, scientific comparisons between particular lenses, I’m sure you can find them on the web. But I hope that’s given you some idea of the difference between cheap and pro lenses. Essentially they boil down to build and durability, aperture – perhaps the most important one for me – and image quality.


But whatever lens you use, have fun and keep shooting!


And please check out my other youtube clips!


Sydney Portraits, tripod, DSLR, shooting video


You’ve probably got a tripod already and you may not have used it much. Now you are entering the realm of video the tripod will be your best friend. Why? Well, one of the biggest mistakes many amateurs make when shooting video is to think that they’re shooting a James Cameron movie and pan and swoop all over the place.


This tends to induce seasickness in the unfortunate viewer and means he or she cannot focus on the most important thing – the subject.


To start off, imagine that instead of shooting Avatar you are instead shooting a French arthouse film. Set the camera on a tripod, take a moment to frame your subjects, press record and let the action happen. In other words KEEP THE CAMERA STILL.


This is particularly important when shooting with a DSLR. DSLRs use rolling shutters which can cause a ‘wobble’ effect when the camera is moving or when shooting a fast moving object. For more on this, please see this article.


Once you’ve got some shooting under your belt, you can experiment with hand-held, or you can create lovely smooth motions with a slider or a jib. Note though, sliders and jibs are usually mounted on tripods, which means your three-legged friend is even more of a must-have.


If you can afford it, it’s worth investing in a good, solid tripod (Manfrotto are the industry standard). A flimsy one may be fine for a light camera in a stable environment but once the wind starts to blow, you’ll need something with a little heft.

Camera shake, minimum shutter speed, lens focal length, Sydney Portraits


Let’s say you are shooting a still object, perhaps a vase, using your SLR and a 50mm lens. Without knowing any better, you set the shutter speed to 1/25 of a second. The image looks OK – until you zoom in close. Then you see that the whole image is slightly blurred.

Why? Well, you are suffering from camera shake. This is the inevitable movement of the camera when you press the shutter button. Note: this rule only applies for handheld shooting – not for use with a tripod.

How to avoid camera shake?

By ensuring that your shutter speed is equal to or higher than the focal length of your lens. So, for a 50mm lens, shoot at 1/50 or faster. For a 200mm lens, 1/200 or faster, etc.

Of course, whatever shutter speed you use, you still need to hold the camera still. And any fast moving objects in the frame may well still be blurred. But sticking to the minimum shutter speed rule is the first step in getting nice crisp images.

Want to learn more? There’s plenty of useful info about camera shake, focal length and shutter speed here.


lens-hoods_sydney-portraits_tom greenwood_photography


Lens hoods can be a pain, cluttering up your camera bag, so what are they for and are they worth using?

Lens hoods are primarily designed to reduce lens flare. This is the clouding of an image, often accompanied by light rings, when the main light source (eg. the sun or a flash) sneaks in from the corner of the frame.

Note that lens flare is not always bad – it can be used for great creative effect. And in many situations, the nature of the light will mean it’s not really a factor.

I shoot a lot of portraits with an off-camera flash, shooting through an umbrella. In this set up the light source can be closer to the subject than the camera. Therefore the risk of light from the flash sneaking into the lens is high. A lens hood is therefore vital in keeping it out and avoiding a clouded image.

The other use of lens hood is to protect the lens. I once fell 3 metres through a hole in a stage onto concrete breaking my foot and smashing a camera. But both lenses (I was carrying two cameras) were largely unharmed because, I am convinced, they were wearing lens hoods. Take heed!