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How to Add a Creative Lens Flare Effect in Photoshop

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A nice lens flare adds magic to a photo but making one appear on the spot is difficult. Luckily, it’s easy to add a lens flare in Adobe Photoshop.
The editing program gives you full control over the lens flare effect, its intensity and colour.
Here’s how to add a lens flare effect quickly and easily, in this short Photoshop tutorial.

What Type of Photos Should You Add Lens Flare To

For a natural looking result, you need to pick the right photo for a lens flare effect. The light source should be visible in the original image. It could be the sun, studio lights, or even the headlights of a car.
If you’ve ever taken a photo in the direction of the sun, you’ll know a lens flare sometimes appears naturally. Of course, whenever you want it to appear, it doesn’t. That’s where post-production comes in.
In this example, I’ll show you how to add a lens flare to a photo using a new layer and blending modes. This way, you can always go back to the original photo if you don’t like your Photoshop lens flare.
I’ll use this photo I took in the desert in India as an example.

A portrait of a man standing by a camel in the desert, with a beautiful lens flare effect behind him
© Joris Hermans

Adding a Lens Flare in Photoshop

Step 1: Apply the Lens Flare Filter

Open the photo and apply the lens flare filter. You can find it in the Filter menu.
Filter > Render > Lens Flare. Or press ctrl+f for the Photoshop CC keyboard shortcut for Windows (Command+F for Mac OS X).
Screenshot showing how to apply the lens flare filter in Photoshop
A new window opens up where you can choose between different lens flare looks. The ’50-300mm Zoom’ looks best for my example.
You can also set the brightness of the lens flare and pinpoint the position. Leave the brightness on 100% on the brightness slider.
Position the lens flare somewhere in the light source that’s visible in your photo.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
In my case, I want the lens flare right next to the man’s head in the setting sun. Click OK.
The filter is now applied on the layer of the photo itself but we want it on a new layer. Don’t worry, this step was only to set the position of the lens flare.

Step 2: Add the Same Lens Flare to a New Layer

First, undo the lens flare you’ve applied by clicking ‘Undo Lens Flare’ in the ‘Edit’ menu.
You can also use the shortcut Ctrl + Z for Windows or Command + Z for Mac OS.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
Add a new layer by clicking on the ‘Create New Layer’ button in the Layers panel. Fill the layer with black using the paint bucket tool.
You have to do this because you can’t apply a lens flare on a new blank layer.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
Apply the same lens flare as before by clicking on ‘Lens Flare’ at the top of the ‘Filter’ drop down menu.
You’ll always find the most recently applied filter here.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
The lens flare now appears on the black layer.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop

Step 3: Change the Layer Blend Mode

Now, you need to change the blending mode of the layer to remove the black and keep the lens flare. Select the layer with the lens flare and set the layer blending mode to ‘Screen’.
Your photo will appear again and the lens flare transforms to an overlay.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop

Step 4: Adjust the Colour and Intensity of the Lens Flare

To make it perfect, you need to adjust the colour and intensity of the lens flare to match the photo.
Use ‘Hue/Saturation…’ to change the colour. I made my lens flare slightly more yellow.
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop - hue/saturation adjustments
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop
Screenshot showing how to add lens flare in Photoshop - new layer

Step 5: Add Other Filters to the Lens Flare

The great thing about using a new layer is that you can apply other filters to the lens flare to make it look even better. For example, adding blur.
I used a bit of ‘Gaussian Blur’ in my example.
Screenshot showing how to add gaussian blur in Photoshop
And here’s the result. A cool looking lens flare for that little extra magic…
A portrait of a man standing by a camel in the desert, with a beautiful lens flare effect behind him

Conclusion

Optical lens flares are difficult or impossible to achieve on location. Using Photoshop to add one is the perfect solution and it’s easy to do.
Make sure to only add a lens flare to a photo with a visible light source. The easiest way to start is to use a photo where the sun is visible.
After that, you can move on to apply lens flares to street lights, car lights and even candle lights.

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