How To Create A Realistic Lens Flare In Photoshop

If you feel like your photo is missing a little something, I think I might have your answer. Adding a lens flare in Photoshop can create more dimension and transform the feel of your photo. At first, adding a lens flare into Photoshop doesn’t seem all that hard. Just go up to Filter > Render > Lens Flare and call it a day.

But there’s a problem.

When you create lens flares with this method, they are permanently stuck in place. If you want to reposition or adjust the lens flare on its own, well, good luck. This creates the flare but makes it impossible to do any further customization.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn a more effective way to create a lens flare in Photoshop. Here you’ll discover an alternative method to make and adjust the lens flare to perfectly suit your image. It’s straightforward and only requires a few extra steps.

And for those who are looking to add a little more pizazz to their images, you’ll discover a few extra tips here as well.

Let’s get started!

How To Create A Lens Flare In Photoshop

To create a lens flare that you can move around and adjust, you need to put it on a new layer. The problem is, you can’t create a lens flare on a transparent layer. That’s why you’ll need to fill it with black.

Create a new layer and place it above your image.

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To fill the layer with black, press X to set your foreground color to black.

Then press Option + Delete (Mac) or Alt + Delete (PC) to fill your layer with the foreground color. Now you will have a completely black layer.

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With this layer selected, go up to Filter > Render > Lens Flare.

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In the lens flare dialogue box are a few different options to help you customize the flare. You can choose between a few different types of flares by clicking on any of the options. Additionally, you can change the brightness of the flare using the brightness slider.

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Besides look adjustments, you can also change the actual position of your lens flare. Click on the flare and reposition it to the same location as the main light source is in your image. Since the background is black, it’s a bit of a guessing game, but do the best you can.

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Once you’re happy, click, OK.

Now you need to get rid of your black background by changing your layer blending mode from ‘normal’ to ‘screen.’ This blend mode makes all the black in your layer completely transparent.

Now you have a lens flare ready for action on its very own layer! Grab your move tool by pressing V and reposition the lens flare as necessary.

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Lastly, rename your layer to ‘Lens Flare’ to make it easy to identify.

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– Adding A Blur To Your Lens Flare

Out of the gate, a lens flare in Photoshop can look unnaturally sharp. To help make it blend into your image more, let’s add a slight blur.

With your lens flare layer selected, go up to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

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Set your blur radius to something conservative. You don’t want to go overboard with this, or you run the risk of making it look even more unnatural. I’ll set my blur radius to 2.5 pixels. 

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Click OK to commit to your changes.

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Now with a slight blur, your lens flare is looking more realistic. At this point, you could leave it here and call it a success, or you could take things one step further…

How To Add A Sun Glow To Your Lens Flare

Since the image I am using for this example is at sunset, I want to accentuate it even more. Creating a sun glow effect adds more color and life to the lens flare you just created.

Grab your brush tool by pressing B and create a large brush at 0% hardness.

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The brush menu found in the top settings bar

Go to your color palette and select a deep orange color to match the light of a sunset.

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Create a new layer and click once in the center of your image. Now you’ll have one large orange dot in the middle of your photo.

Go back up to your color palette and choose a slightly lighter orange color. Reduce your brush size by using the [ or ] keys and add a smaller dot within your first one

Rinse and repeat this process until you have a few different layers of color.

With your light orb created, change the layer blending mode from ‘normal’ to ‘linear dodge (add).’

Grab your move tool by pressing V and reposition your glow over the source of your lens flare.

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Lastly, change the fill value of your sun glow to help it blend better in your photo. The fill value you use will depend on the colors and exposure of your image.

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By adding a sun glow, you can enhance the look of your lens flare in Photoshop. It’s also an easy way to enhance a sunset and make the colors pop.

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But what if there was one last thing you could do to make your image come to life?

Enhancing Your Lens Flare & Image With A Gradient Map

In a nutshell, a gradient map is a way to add specific colors to your image. When it comes to lens flares and sunset tones, there’s no easier tool to enhance them.

To start, create a new gradient map from your adjustments panel.

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You can also create one by holding on the adjustments button at the bottom of your layers panel.

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Before you can edit your gradient map, you need to open the editor by clicking on the gradient bar.

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To create the colors you want, click on the color swatches in your gradient. By default, you’ll likely see a gradient with only two color swatches like this.

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Double click on the left color swatch and choose the color for your shadows. For my image, I will select a deep red.

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Next, double click on the right color swatch to choose a color for the highlights. In this case, I will choose a middle orange color.

Once you have the right colors chosen, commit to your changes by pressing OK.

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Now change your layer blending mode from ‘normal’ to ‘overlay.’ This blend mode will help to apply the colors more naturally into your image.

Change the fill value of your gradient map to something that looks a bit more natural.

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– The Final Result

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Creating a lens flare in Photoshop is only the beginning. After applying a few other techniques, you can create a far more realistic and captivating look. The main reason why a Photoshop lens flare won’t look natural is that it isn’t properly blended. Using sun glows and gradient maps help to fix this problem!

Conclusion

So that was how to add a lens flare in Photoshop using a non-destructive method for the most control. Rather than having to get your flare right from the start, this method lets you continue to adjust it long after it’s created.

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– Brendan 🙂