Lens Flare– Aack!!
Photographing Lapland Longspurs
I was driving in the Allegan forest on a back service road when I came across a group of Lapland Longspurs foraging for seeds on the ground. I didn’t know what they were then, but I knew that these were birds I had never photographed before. I followed my usual pattern. I quickly and quietly pointed the lens out of the car window, got my exposure settings right, and started shooting. It wasn’t the most comfortable position to be in. The birds were on the ground and had to be photographed from the passenger side of my car. (I didn’t dare get out, or even move the car.) My camera’s weight was resting on the storage bin that I keep ready in the passenger’s seat. The len’s hood stretched outside the window and was tilted downward.
I always check the sun’s location before I shoot. I was facing the sun, so it wasn’t the best direction to be shooting, but the lens was angled downward, so I thought I’d be fine. The anxiety of missing the shot was upon me, with good reason. The birds stayed in place less than a minute before flying away. I was able to get off about 5 shots.
After the birds were gone, I took a look at the camera’s display. Lens flare had ruined my photos. The above photo of the male Longspur was the best shot, the other 4 were heavily washed out and pockmarked with flare. Very disappointing, especially because the Lapland Longspur is not a common sight for bird photographers in West Michigan.
What is Lens Flare?
Pointing the front element of your lens towards the direct and intense light of the sun causes lens flare. Once this bright light sneaks in and hits the camera’s sensor, your images will be subpar. Depending on the severity of lens flare, you will usually see round or polygonal blobs, streaking and washed out images, or images with very little contrast. The anti-reflective coating on the lens element does help minimize flare, but will not eliminate it entirely.
Avoiding lens flare is usually simple if you follow these steps:
- Make sure the lens hood is attached to the lens.
- Reposition yourself so that you modify the angle at which the sun hits the lens.
- If you can’t reposition yourself, shade the lens with cardboard or your hand to minimize the impact of the direct light.
My long lens hood was attached and the lens was angled downward, but unwanted bright light still made its way in to my sensor. I should have taken a quick look at the camera’s display after my first shot and adjusted accordingly. Live and learn.
All I can do is look ahead. Lapland Longspurs nest in the arctic tundra, but a few of them visit Southwest Michigan every winter. (NOTE: “Longspur” is a reference to the elongated claw on its back toe.) I will keep searching this winter and hope that I get another opportunity to photograph these lovely birds.
If you are interested in learning more about the migration habits of the Lapland Longspur, here’s a link to eBird’s Migration Tracking.