No Sun, No Problem: How to Create Natural Looking Sun Flare

Warm smiles and serene sun flares seem to be landing on the shoulders of portraits all over the internet nowadays. Complimented with beautiful bokeh from a shallow depth of field, the allure of a sun-kissed image image is easy to see. What happens when mother nature doesn't seem to be on your side? In this article, I am going to show you how to master "faking" sun flare. White Balance

The first step is to take control of the white balance in your photo. The Auto white balance setting only seeks to produce neutrally balanced tones. These are fine most of the time, but we want to make the final photo appear warm as if it were taken at golden hour. To do this, set your camera to the Shade white balance preset and now the whole photo is instantly warmed up.


Gelling Your Flash

Next we have to create a fake sun. You can use a speedlight or studio strobe to do this as long as the flash is off-camera and is triggered to flash remotely. With our new white balance setting, a bare flash will actually appear cool and blueish on it own. To warm up the flash we simply need to apply CTO - Color Temperature Orange - gels to it. They are sold in different intensities and for this technique I recommend that you apply 2x Full Cut CTO gels to your flash. The first gel will balance out the flash color temperature with the new white balance setting on your camera as we see below. The second gel will add add even more warmth to the image. (Check out LEE filters for large gel kits and Rogue for small flash gel kits as seen in the video below.)

A single speedlight with two CTO gels acting as our fake sun.

Warm saturated fake sunflare is the result of doubling up the CTO gels.

Light Placement

The final step is the positioning of the light. Lens flare is the result of direct light skimming off of the front elements of your camera lens. So use a light stand or an assistant to position the flash behind your subject aiming back at the camera. Get focus on your subject then shift your composition slighting to hide the flash just outside of the edge of the frame. Voilà!! It now looks like you have a beautiful warm sunset in the background. Make sure to experiment with the placement of the flash to produce more or less sun flare in the final image. 

Placing the flash just outside of the frame leads to maximum flaring.

Real World Scenarios

As full-time assignment photographer this technique has saved my hide multiple times. On a shoot for Fitness Magazine I was hired to create an environmental portrait of a subject for the July issue. The photo editor specifically requested my signature style of warmth and sun flare to fit the summertime issue. The only catch was that the shoot took place on windy Lake Michigan in JANUARY... hardly the ideal sunny setting for a summertime photoshoot. In the end we fought of subfreezing temperatures and walked away with the winning photo. My client was thrilled and the readers were none the wiser ;)

The fake sunflare technique in action shooting an assignment for Fitness Magazine.

Behind the Scenes look at the Fitness Magazine shoot.

Want to Learn More?

Erik will be sharing all of his techniques, insight, and experience with you, in the Bahamas on May 13-17th for the Fstoppers 2015 Workshops! You'll be shooting with Erik, a full team, professional models, and all the latest natural light and strobe gear for 2 days solid at the Atlantis Resort & Casino. You'll walk away with the knowledge to create killer images in any lighting condition and whole new portfolio. 

Reserve Your Spot Here:

Erik Valind Fstoppers Workshop 2015

Erik Valind's picture

Erik Valind is a New York City based commercial photographer who shares his knowledge in various publications, as an author, online as a CreativeLIVE and KelbyOne instructor, as well as through workshops and seminars across the country.

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Sweet! Thanks for this helpful tip Erik. Such a huge impact on the photos, awesome.

Did the same thing last year. Used a flash as a kicker and to simulate sunlight. No gells, just the flash.

No kicker Flash (pardon the dutch angle)

With kicker:

Quick and easy. :)

Makes a nice difference! I will gel the flash to match the color temp of the ambient light too if needed.

Erik, is it necessary to worry about your wb setting if you are shooting RAW?

No, but you get the advantage of seeing a more 'correct' photo already in your camera during shoot.

Awesome post! I love to do this with a blue light also for a super cinematic look. Especially if you gel your key orange!

this is sooo cool! thanks a lot, erik! what about the zoom, do you use it close or wide?

Its good!!! Thanks!!