A form of glare, which has become a trope in its own right.
It occurs when a bright object, usually the sun, is in the shot. The light causes a glare off every piece of glass it passes through on the way to the film or optical receiver. This causes a little ghostly chain of circles, on an imaginary line from the object through the center of the frame.
Notably, this camera glitch is included where it doesn't have to be, for dramatic effect, or to make something look like it was shot with a real camera (See The Coconut Effect).
In 3D CGI, the rendering engine can throw one in automatically. (See: the recent Star Trek (2009) opening sequences, Adobe Photoshop's "Lens Flare" plug-in.) Often, the software will even allow the user to specify the type of lens to be faked.
The stylistic use of anamorphic flare (the horizontal, typically blue line) in films largely began in the 1980s, spearheaded by the work of action-movie cinematographers (particularly Jan de Bont) on films such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Michael Bay made it a trademark, and J. J. Abrams turned it into a meme.
3D video games in the mid-to-late 1990s were absolutely polluted with fake-looking lens flare effects. The PlayStation port of Quake II added a little star-shaped glare effect and a lens flare around every light source on the map. Walking down a corridor with spotlights was a ridiculous experience. Games journalists therefore refer to any bandwagon visual effect as "the new lens flare".
In older anime, a fake lens flare combined with a sharp sound effect (shaheen!) is used during a beauty shot of any appropriately shiny Humongous Mecha, as parodied several times on Dexter's Laboratory.
Artists have many debates over the use of lens flares in animation and CGI. Ironically, the artificial element can add a touch of realism (even without The Coconut Effect) due to the fact that the user is watching the image through a screennote . Others feel that the lens flare has been overused and doesn't truly add anything to the image, other than distracting from the quality (or lack there of) of the image.
Ironically, while artists and animators have been working hard trying to replicate lens flares in their projects for that extra little bit of "authenticity," camera manufacturers have been working equally hard at trying to get it to disappear from actual camera lenses.
See also Lens Flare Censor.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann uses these to an extreme, each and every eyecatch uses at least one lens flare.
- The opening stock footage (right after the opening) of Serial Experiments Lain contains a bit of lens flare.
- Used in episode 3 of Umineko: When They Cry in Beatrice and Virgilia's Myth Battle, when Beatrice summons a divine shield. See 4:22 of this video.
- Space Pirate Mito uses a lot of artificial lens flare, especially in the first episode. Ironically, it's not used in the space scenes, just in the scenes of Aoi waiting for his mother at the train station
- K is more than just fond of this. It's impossible to find an episode without at least one and the trailer for the movie was full of them as well.
- Used in the Hansel & Gretel arc of Black Lagoon as Hansel finally notices the glare reflecting off the Hotel Moscow sniper teams' scopes after he's been fatally shot.
- Transformers comic book colorist Josh Burcham is infamous for adding lens flare effects wherever possible.
- Stuart Immonen's work from the early All-New X-Men onward has a tendency to throw lens flares everywhere, unless he does the opposite and makes things intensely dark. His thing seems to be that he really likes playing with lighting.
- George Perez absolutely loved doing this with any shiny object. It's a wonder the Teen Titans could stand to be in the same room with Cyborg.
- Seen in The Candidate as Senate candidate Bill McKay stands at banquet podium in a darkened auditorium, with a spotlight shining on him. Emphasizes neophyte politician Bill's discomfort in his new role.
- Parodied in Hot Fuzz. When Sgt. Angel is in the pub for the first time doing his little Sherlock Scan on all the minors in the pub he spots one kid who smiles at the same time a car outside turns on its lights, causing a hilariously over the top Flare that blinds Sgt. Angel.
- Lens flare effects are applied to lights in The World's End as an homage to modern Sci-Fi movie aesthetics.
- Logan's Run has one of the most intense lens flares ever captured, when Logan and Jessica are forced to walk through a narrow corridor into a blinding arc light (used to conceal the identity of those on the other side).
- The Todd-AO anamorphic lenses used on this movie are today rented specifically for their intense flares.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the camera does a worm's-eye-view of Jack on the ship's deck, with a big ring-shaped lens flare surrounding him. The DVD commentary shamelessly calls that "the greatest lens flare in cinema". This ring flare appears in a position that should be optically impossible, due to the film being shot in the Super 35 common-top format.
- Star Trek (2009): Uses. A LOT. Of lens flare....and is the partial page image for this reason. This was a style decision by director J. J. Abrams, who stated it was to represent "a bright future", though he later admitted he went overboard with it. Most of flares in the movie were real however, as it was a VERY brightly lit set, with the ship shining everywhere, causing the flares.
- Super 8: The amount of scenes don't have a lens flare could be counted with both hands. Oh yeah, also made by Abrams.
- Steven Spielberg seems to use incredibly bright spotlighting in his films.
- There is always real lens flare around the spinners in Blade Runner as the light on top of them is so bright. Invoked by the design team as they noted the lens flare made them seem more real and less like pieces of plastic flying around. Also by the same effects team that worked on Close Encounters.
- The trailers and especially the posters for Man of Steel exhibit this, in instances like Superman hovering in front of the sun.
- A Hard Day's Night: It happens during "And I Love Her", as the camera goes around Paul McCartney to catch his silhouette in the stage light.
- The unplanned version happens towards the end of Rockumentary Gimme Shelter, as concert-goers at Altamont are walking past the camera in the dark while a spotlight shines in the background.
- Escape from New York uses them in a more subdued manner, but they're quite stylish nonetheless and add some much-needed color to the otherwise bleak city.
- Twice in The Terminal: when Viktor and Amelia kiss for the first time, and when we see his POV of his friends waking him up to tell him the war in his home country has ended and he can return.
- Babylon 5: The title sequence was one of first uses of CGI Lens Flare.
- Doctor Who:
- Flares often appeared in the Classic series accidentally, as a side-effect of the poor production values. One that unintentionally foreshadows the lens-flare-heavy style of 2010s sci-fi is in the shot at the beginning of "Pyramids of Mars" where the Doctor, to show off his updated costume, slowly reveals his face and strikes a pose, and the light from the TARDIS roundel above him casts purple lens flares across the edge of the screen that brighten as his face is revealed.
- Due to the cheap cameras used, bright light spots - especially flames - show bright red and royal blue afterimages. These could be minimised with effort, but were occasionally exploited for effect - "The Brain of Morbius", a serial featuring a fire cult, is shot to exaggerate this effect, which gives the ritual fire and the sacred Flame a dreamy, slightly trippy look.
- "Planet of the Daleks", particularly well-shot for a Who story of the time, shows the Daleks on the march through the forest in a shot that makes prominent use of lens flares streaking off their shiny tops.
- Series 5 and 6 with the Eleventh Doctor, has a ridiculous amount of lens flare, possibly to show off the new HD format (the series 5 premiere was only the fifth episode of the show broadcast in HD).
- Firefly: The camera lens filters were sent back for worse ones that didn't filter out lens flare. To give it that documentary feel.
- FRINGE: J. J. Abrams creation which uses Lens Flare frequently, especially during dark scenes.
- Lost: Often used Lens Flare, fueling some Epileptic Trees theories about "mysterious flashes" turning up in some scenes.
- Political Animals: Lens flares are used to indicate flashback scenes.
- Revolution: In episode 7, the pendant randomly turns on and activates the lighthouse in the middle of the big fight sequence.
- Southland: This show is riddled with them.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Years before J. J. Abrams got involved in the Trek franchise, in "The Best of Both Worlds", after being assimilated by the Borg, Picard has a red laser fitted onto the side of his head, giving a piercing flare◊ to the Enterprise crew.
- In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), lens flares are seen when Dean shines his flashlight at the camera as he and Sam explore a dark warehouse.
- In general, later seasons of Supernatural make use of lensflares to show when we're in a real setting and when we're not. Pay attention in particular to scenes in heaven—most if not all of the light sources have a very noticeable lensflare to them. Particularly apparent in season 10's "Inside Man," or so says this troper anyway.
- Proof makes use of this for dramatic effect, usually whenever things are tending toward the supernatural.
- Wonder Woman: The solution to one of the big concerns of the show. Previous live action Superhero shows had phone booths, Batpoles, and ripping of clothes. None of those options were especially good for a gorgeous woman to do regularly in prime time. So Lynda Carter suggested the now iconic ballerina twirl. To do it cost effectively every week, they added the Lens Flare.
- The music video for Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" uses about a million of these, making a gritty story about an abusive relationship oddly (visually) beautiful.
- The video for the Michael Jackson/Akon duet "Hold My Hand", made well after Jackson died, abuses lens flares to give seemingly everything nice in the world an etherial, "magical" quality.
- The music video for Katy Perry 's music video for "E.T." has a few of these. These are probably computer generated.
- The video for Daft Punk's "Robot Rock" is a fairly simple set up of the duo performing in a studio filled with television sets. It was shot on video tape for an aged look and, as a result, is roughly 90% lens flare.
- Some Magic: The Gathering cards have this in their art. Wingbeat Warrior caused someone to send in a letter wondering what it was doing there, which earned the reply "Yes, there are 35mm cameras all over Otaria. Photography is a favorite hobby there."
- Some illustrations of the Transhuman Space setting (for GURPS) feature flare, notably some in Spacecraft of the Solar System. This occasionally irritates some fans, who feel that it doesn't fit the hard SF style of the setting.
- Older Ace Combat games (such as Air and 2) has no lens flare. Conversely, it got really gratuitous in 3: Electrosphere (but it does look awesome). Later games have it, but not as pronounced. It does serve quite functionally. If you line up the lens flare, you will get disoriented by staring at the sun. Think that's not a big deal? The very first mission in Electrosphere has you heading towards the sunset to intercept some backup fighters. For a lack of better term, you basically couldn't see shit (aside from the lens flare that is).
- Snowboarding game Amped had a series of pre-release screenshots, which showed a lens flare reflecting off the skier's goggles. The screenshots are shown here, and the fact that the lens flare was a default Adobe Photoshop application the rest of the screenshots to be scrutinized for flaws.
- Test Drive did this with 5 having light flares and 6 having lens flares on the PC version. The 2002 reboot Overdrive did the same, and Unlimited got rid of them entirely.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first Zelda game to use real-time lens flare (the ending cutscene in Link's Awakening featured a faux lens flare in one shot). The flare effect is actually not programmed properly, as the lens flare will display even if the sun is blocked.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the aliens glow which produces a lens flare. Because there is no cross hair while aiming you bow, this makes it easier to shoot them by lining up the circles of light.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses a more realistic hexagonal lens flare plus the darkening of the screen when the camera is pointed at the sun to better simulate the effects of a digital video camera (the image on a digital camera darkens when the camera is pointed at a bright light).
- Perfect World International's debut trailer's use of lens flare was savaged by Kotaku's debut (and only) episode of Trailer Trash. Their response? Make a new trailer, ''Now with more lens flare". The lens flare disappears when the sun is setting or rising, or when the sun is obscured.
- '97 racing game POD featured lens flares around the sun of the alien planet the game was set on. Yes, that sun that was usually obscured by dark red clouds. All you saw was the... lens flare.
- Sa Ga Frontier - Alkaiser and Alkarl's Bright Fist and Shining Kick attacks generate a lens flare.
- This is decently done for the opening animation in Sonic Advance 2, a Game Boy Advance game. The "camera" flies across the ocean before panning up to reveal an island. It continues to fly up, giving us a lens flare, then the title screen.
- Vectorman might be the first video game to feature a lens flare.
- Wipeout 2097 had a fairly convincing (for its time) star-shaped flare effect applied to your hovership's plasma exhaust. The sequel Wip3out, with its much more minimalistic and clean design, simplified the lens flare to... four flat triangles sticking out◊ from the exhaust.
- Battlefield 3 has some really bad ones. Trying to assault the TV Tower on the Sharqui map can be an excercise in frustration as you get cut down by people you simply can't see properly because of the massive lens flare that comes directly from behind the building.
- Mass Effect has this for any light or computer screen, creating an "imaginary line" version of the flare, and being a techy sci-fi game, this is practically everywhere...
- This shows in the Grand Theft Auto series especially during sunrises or when you're nearing a beach.
- Die Hard Trilogy might be the earliest game on 32-bit consoles to have lens flares.
- Silent Hill 2: We see some superb flares in the HD remake when James is facing the camera with the flashlight attached to his jacket.
- Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain uses them on a near-Abrams scale. Cutscenes are full of them but they actually tie in with the gameplay as well, letting you know if you have a light shining on you, which needless to say is not a good thing in a stealth game.
- Kirby's Epic Yarn features lens flares in its beach-themed levels. They're also made of yarn.
- No Man's Sky could easily be 'Lens Flare: The Game'. Every light source has lens flares. Flowers get so bright they cause lens flares and washout when you scan them.
- The Turing Test: Present all over the place, and it was one of the reasons why some people initially thought Ava was a robot. It actually seems to be due to the player being given TOM's point of view at all times (who just uses Ava's eyes to interact with the world during most of the game).
- The Golden Sun title-sequence starts with one. It's about as realistic as can be expected from a Gameboy Advance game.
- This is a fairly common effect in Final Fantasy XII to the degree that this article showing preview screens from the game's high-definition The Zodiac Age remaster made a point of it.
- It also seems to be a common effect in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel in any area where you can see the sun. It's particularly noticeable in the Nord Highlands.
- Mega Man Zero: Phoenix Magnion produces plenty of these as he flies around the arena.
- Dr McNinja shows you where lens flare is appropriate.
- Fey Winds: He has his own lens flare... That's wrong.
- An example from The Order of the Stick, here.
- Questionable Content: Samurai AnthroPC vs. squirrel Now featuring lens flare IN SPAAACE!
- Fisheye Placebo has a character telling an inanimate object, which inexplicably has the Adobe Photoshop lens flare filter applied to it, "Don't you lens flare at me!".
- Lens Flare: The Movie
- How It Should Have Ended: Parodied in "How Star Trek Should Have Ended" when Captain Kirk orders the Lens Flare Generator be turned off. "Why would you have lights that shine in your eyes?"
- The hosts of Eat Your Kimchi are very aware of lens flares and mention them when reviewing music videos.
- It appears quite often in The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, especially when Jane records her entry outside. It adds to the vlog's unpolished, home-made feel. For instance, it was present when Jane was showing her viewers the sky and a rose garden in episode 1; or when her little student Adele set up the camera to record their dinner, there was light coming from the ceiling lamp in episode 12.
- Captain Disillusion has a lens flare as a Sidekick that explains how different optical illusions work.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- It used a (rather subtle) lens flare during Pinkie Pie's song, "Smile, Smile, Smile."
- It shows up multiple times in the season three finale, mostly during the first song and its reprise.
- It's used in the opening of the My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), which has a pegasus flying towards the direction of the sun. It's used a couple of other times and there's also a crepuscular rays effect at one point.
- Lens flare is occasionally used in The Legend of Korra.
- The effect is simulated in "Haleakala Sunrise" from Toot & Puddle when the title characters view a sunrise from near the top of Haleakalā in Hawaii.
- The simple presence of lens flares can be a useful aid in constructing a scene in 3D. Given most light sources on computers are points and have no actual size, having something show up there can be a big help when positioning lights.
- At the Iron Editor competition of Anime Central 2006 (think Iron Chef with AMV's). One of the competitors included the comment on his AMV of "Lens Flares = More Points!" As it was true that special effects added did have a merit for the purposes of judging. The audience witnessed him place a liberal number of lens flares on a large Mecha shot. The MC for the competition foolishly stated that "at least they aren't lens-flare nipples" 5 minutes later...not hard to see what happened.
- This is not merely an animation or CGI trope. Modern lens coating has reduced flare a lot, but many prefer to use older lenses (which are more prone to flare) as strong coating has much higher contrast and many directors prefer the softer look of lenses with less (or no coating). For example Janusz Kaminski and Spielberg used uncoated lenses on Saving Private Ryan for that reason.
- Apple's iMovie editing software actually has a lens flare effect. Presumably other editing software does as well.
- There are many types of lens flares. One of the most famous is the one produced by anamorphic lenses, used to shoot movies in Cinema Scope format. These have a very special type of lens flare because of a cylindrically curved lens element, which results in a horizontal streak of light, often blue in color. They look like this◊ and tend to feel big budget. The reason comes from that most movies shot anamorphic (at least tended to) be very big budget productions. Lenses with the cylindrical element at the front (such as Panavision and Todd-AO) tend to have the most pronounced effect, as opposed to lenses with the element in the center or rear (such as Hawk and Arri) which tend to be less pronounced. Hawk manufactures a special filter for use with their lenses to create the classic blue streak.
- Vintage television programs sometimes exhibit an inverted Lens Flare effect or "dark halo" around bright points of light, such as lamps or metallic objects reflecting the studio lights. This was an artifact of primitive TV cameras, which could be overwhelmed by brilliant glare.