What Are the Color Circles in My Photo?

When you point your camera toward the sun or any bright light source, there is a good chance of getting lens flare in your picture. Lens flare occurs when light rays shine directly on the front of the lens. Flare appears as color circles or "rainbows" radiating in a line from the sun or as a white haze over the whole image.

Lens flare causing color circles radiating from the sun
Sunset, Jumpoff Rock, Hendersonville, North Carolina
1/100 second, f/22, ISO 1600, 24mm

Lens flare can be both something to avoid or something to include on purpose for the mood it can lend to your picture. If you want to produce flare, be sure to include the sun or other light source either in the frame or just outside it. Having a bright object like the sun in the frame fools your camera's meter into thinking the scene is brighter than it actually is. So you need to increase the exposure by one or two stops (+1 or +2) using exposure compensation.

Window light flares across an old chair
Bodie State Historic Park, California
Scanned from 35mm film

To prevent lens flare, you need to keep the sun from hitting the front of the lens. This might mean turning the camera slightly away from the light, using a lens hood, or shading the lens with your hand or hat. Just be aware that if you point the camera straight at the sun, a lens hood does not help.

Learn more about lighting and exposure in my digital photography classes at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here for spring and summer 2019 class registration.