Lens Flare Free Editorial Essays

The built-in lens flares in Adobe products are quite long-in-the-tooth, but there are a bunch of tutorials, 3rd-party tools, and real world examples to help you get beyond the common look. Plus, two more noteworthy plug-in comparisons have been added to the Tools section.

 

Tutorials
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The very basics can be found in Adding a Lens Flare Effect at Adobe Press, and in AE Help pages Apply tracking data to a new target and About alpha channels and mattes.

Ben Rollason posted a tutorial video, Lens Flare in AE and Premultiplication Explained.

A recent tutorial by VinhSon Nguyen aims to Breathe Life Back Into After Effects Lens Flares. This more recent tutorial is inspired by Harry Frank's tutorial below and adds additional controls:

 

Several years ago, Graymachine posted Breath life into stale Lens Flares, which explained “using shapes, Trapcode Shine (or the built-in CC Lightburst), and expressions to breath new life into the old AE Lens Flare”. It comes with a CS3 project that has Brainstorm variations from Shape ‘points' and Position and Trapcode Shine Colors:

 

Grant Swanson shows you one way to think outside the box in his After Effects tutorial video, Anamorphic Lens Flare. He used the Glow filter with Glow Dimensions set to “Horizontal” only and several refinements to quickly get a different look without 3rd-party filters.

Compositing Problem-Solving in After Effects by Daniel Bryant used the Tint effect to tone the old Lens Flare effect, and adds some nice masking basics too.

Mike Borup later posted a tutorial for his cheap preset that enhances the very basic lens flare built into AE; see Flare Plus: After Effects Lens Flare Preset.

“Ch-Ch-Check It” also has an AE tutorial to Create Custom Lens Flares (No Plugins Needed):

 

Michael Park posted a tutorial on how to create a Harry Potter “lumos” wand effect, with the added bonus of tips on After Effects tracking, a zoom blurred Lens Flare, and homemade animated chroma hoop without 3rd party filters.

Tibor Miklos wrote a tutorial for AEtuts, Switch On This Casino Style Text Effect Tonight, which uses Video Copilot Optical Flares on a ton of layers and CC Particle World to create a distinctive look (preview below). He also did Illuminate A Lovely Logo Light Reveal, which features the ever popular 'flare leading a particle write-on'.

Optical Flares (noted below) comes with an advanced tutorial that builds a light wall.

Andrew Kramer posted several suggestions answering a question on a tutorial in Lens Flare on 3D Lights?, which includes an expression on the Flare Center (thisComp.layer(“Light name”).toComp([0,0,0]);) mentioned in a 2008 VCP tutorial on bump maps. Video Copilot Optical Flares was the first tool to roll this functionality into a plug-in. Below, Felt Tips showed something similar in Quick After Effects Expressions #2 – Glue a lens flare to a light and circle it:

 

Add Anamorphic Lens Flares to Video is an After Effects tutorial by Next Wave DV. Host Tony Reale uses flares from Video Copilot Optical Flares to show how and why to use flares:

“This is a great alternative to spending thousands of dollars on anamorphic lenses for your camera. The results are very realistic and highly customizable. I also show you how to add realistic handheld camera shake to your footage. This can be very important when working with DSLR footage since most DSLRs have rolling shutter problems that create a “jello-cam” effect when moved quickly.”

 

3rd Party Tools

Three leading tools for flares in After Effects — Optical Flares, Knoll Light Factory Pro, and GenArts Sapphire Lens Flare — have design and compositing features more advanced than other options. They're all impressive, and feature complete custom design, tons of presets, 3D lens flares with AE Lights, 2D + 3D occlusion or obscuration, edge flare-ups, auto-tracking, auto-animation, textures, etc. Boris Continuum Complete appears to have many similar features now too (take a peek after 34 min in a BCC8 webinar).

 

Longtime AE lens flare connoisseur Mylenium followed up with an ambitious lens flare plug-in comparison chart in Full Flares ahead! — updated in April 2013. You have to zoom way in to read, but little escapes Lutz's critical gaze. Expository excerpts from the PDFs would likely give this work the audience it deserves, but dig in now for valuable nuggets even if you disagree with some opinions.

Also, Michele Yamazaki started a useful comparison series, Indepth: Lens Flare Plug-ins for After Effects (in 5 parts) at Toolfarm, a concern long associated with Red Giant Software. Of course, you can do your own reality checks with tryout filters.

 

Video Copilot's After Effects filter Optical Flares is a deep filter with a low price, and includes a good number of demos and advanced tutorials, plus access to the Video Copilot Preset Network for sharing lens flare presets. Video Copilot has also released Pro Presets 2 for Optical Flares, which includes 50 new presets, 10 After Effect template projects, 7 professional fonts, and 3 new video tutorials. And as you'd expect there's a nice video product tour and other demos. Here's a partial demo:

 

John Knoll's Knoll Lens Flare Pro set the standard for lens flares long ago, but rested on its laurels. After Optical Flares reinvigorized the scene, Knoll and Red Giant responded with a massive upgrade for the venerable lens flare plug-in, now Knoll Light Factory. With extra “believable” flares, new light behaviors, “more realistic scenes,” and a host of other features, KLF is also reduced in price. Explained in-depth by Harry Frank, it's hard to tell if the new version of KLF has reached parity or leapfrogged the other sets.

Red Giant had posted the David Vincent's Knoll Light Factory Pro & Editors Training DVD to introduce the set. They also have plenty of additional video tutorials as well:

 

GenArts Sapphire now has features very similar to Optical Flares and Knoll Light Factory, plus it can be used in NLEs. The tutorials are not as numerous or deep as offered by the other 2 big products, but there are several, including Sapphire v.6 LensFlare and Flare Designer Tutorial, GenArts Sapphire v.6 3D LensFlare for After Effects, and Sapphire v.6 LensFlare Occlusion Tutorial:

 

 

Usage

Overuse of lens flares is too common, even when they rise above the common cliche of the Photoshop default. But individual flare elements can be used as the base, as seen almost everywhere, or as elements of design. Use in more realistic shots may take some extra observation and self-control. For a wrinkle, check out the not dissimilar effects of user-induced imperfections in Light leaks, free lensing, and lens wacking, a roundup on PVC.

MixingLight.com, which has a free trial, has video tutorials including The Lens Flare: Make Blown-out Highlights Look Intentional. Also posted, Narrative Grading: Time of Day on using lens flares, color temperature, and brightness and using windows to create longer shadows, to manipulate viewer impressions. 

There's a lot going on beyond the basics with lighting, camera filters and lenses, etc. that lens flares can become obsessions to avoid, create, and recreate with shaders and filters. One good resource for further study is Mylenium's Building a Lensflare with Expressions, which looked at the components of lens flares very effectively. Another good resource is a cache of QuickTime movies of real world lens flares by Claudio Miranda, and a newer batch of unique ones from Peter Prevec in Lens Flares.

Notes On Video collected some nice Lens Testing continued – Resources.

More recently there was a SIGGRAPH 2011 paper, Physically-Based Real-Time Lens Flare Rendering, which has a video:

 

 

Later, Neumann Films released 4K Anamorphic Flares, which contains over 20GB of organic lens flares filmed on the RED Epic. Also, VashiVisuals discussed budget items in The 4 Best Lenses for Amazing Lens Flare. Here's an excerpt from that article, as well as How to Shoot Your Own Lens Flares by Charles Yeager:

 

Another obvious resource is J.J. Abrams' “ridiculous” use of kinetic halos in the latest Star Trek movie (Andrew Kramer did the titles). See various discussions of these mostly in-camera effects done by cinematographer Dan Mindel in Where No DP Has Gone Before at ICG Magazine, and more about ILM custom matching “SunSpot” CG in Back on Trek (Flare madness) at Millimeter and Star Trek Returns at Post Magazine. Later, Jacob T. Swinney made CINEMA COMPILATION: Lens Flares, with extracts from recents movies.

News flash! J.J. Abrams apologizes for overusing lens flare: 'I know it's too much'. One would hope that the new Star Wars movies will also have its fair share of lens flares — or did the Star Wars lobby get to him?!

Finally, it's interesting to see how the idea grew for 3D lens flares in After Effects. From at least 2004, there were forum requests for help to go beyond parenting to a 3D layer. AE expression guru Dan Ebberts provided examples at MotionScript and explained a bit more about layer space transforms, which were also discussed by Chris Meyer not long ago at PVC.

A few years later Mylenium's 2007 Building a Lensflare with Expressions (and Trent Armstrong's Making Light Disappear & Reappear Behind Objects Using Expressions) appeared at Creative Cow. The toComp expression appeared in Knoll-related tutorials by at least 2008. Then in 2009, Andrew Kramer spread the idea further in Lens Flare on 3D Lights? and the race was on to incorporate 3D lens flares into an After Effects filter.


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Download Free 4K Anamorphic Lens Flares

  • Download free lens flares for video
  • Learn how to successfully use lens flares in your edit
  • Customised lens flare plugins and effects reviewed

When it comes to adding cool looking anamorphic lens flare effects to your projects, made most famous by director JJ Abram over-use, there are three ways to do it.

  1. Shoot with anamorphic lenses and capture light streaks in camera
  2. Add an overlay layer of a pre-shot anamorphic lens flare
  3. Create an animated or computer generated lens flare that dynamically interacts with your light sources

In this post you’ll find tutorials, tips and freebies for options 2 and 3, although you may already have the ability to add lens flares to your project right from inside your NLE or grading app of choice. We’ll get to that too.

Free 4K Lens Flares

High quality free lens flares are fairly hard to come by online. In putting this post together it’s been a bit of a challenge to find freebies worth drawing your attention to, however, the VFX Central Anomaly Lens Flare pack is one of the few exceptions.

>> Download Free Anomaly 4K Lens Flare <<

Used on the exceptionally well-crafted film Anomaly (check it out in full here) directed by Salomon Ligthelm and Dan DiFelice, the collection of 53 anamorphic lens flares were captured on a Red Epic in 4K resolution. You can see them in action in the VFX reel above.

You can download a freebie from their 53 element 4K (3296 x 1350) lens flare and bokeh pack and save 25% off the normal $100 price by signing up to their newsletter.

UPDATE 2018 – You need to sign up to the VFX Central newsletter to access the free lens flare now, but you can also grab yourself a 2K fire explosion, 4K loop-able embers and a 4K dust drop effect – among other things!)

Aaron from VFXCentral was kind enough to also offer my readers a chance to save 25% off all of their products with thediscount code:25offv2‘.

So make sure you take advantage of the opportunity!

VFX Central Anomaly 4K Lens Flare

>> Download Free Anomaly 4K Lens Flare <<

In this short tutorial from Aaron of VFX Central you can learn how to composite the lens flares convincingly in FCPX, Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve.

Aaron shares a helpful tip at the end of the tutorial which is that to get the most out of these kind of flares you need to ensure that your flare and bokeh both compliment the shot and that the motion of the elements you’re compositing match the general motion of your camera movement. It’s all too easy to slap something on and without the required consideration.

Rampant Design Free 4K Lens Flares and More!

>> Download Free 4K Lens Flares from Rampant Design <<

Rampant Design have a paid suite of 4K lens flares (see paid section below) but they also give a ton of free 4K lens flares, film burns, light leaks, overlays, animated mattes and a lot more.

In fact there are over 40+ free 4K ‘Effects Kits’, including 4K lens flares, sampled directly from their $99 Studio Flares pack, which contains a whopping 511 organic flares.

In the video tutorial above Sean Mullen, founder of Rampant Design, demonstrates how to download their library of freebies (click this link) as well as how to composite them into your shot.

The price for all these freebies is signing up to their newsletter, which I have done previously.

One question that Sean tackles in the video is; why would I want to download 4K elements if I only work in HD?

The answer is: flexibility.

The far larger 4K element means you’ve got, literally, more room to manoeuvre, compositing either parts of the flare or the whole scaled flare. This really helps you to blend the flare into the shot convincingly.

Sean shares a fistful of other tips on getting more from the flares in the rest of the video.

>> Download Free 4K Lens Flares from Rampant Design <<

More Free Lens Flares

The only other real source of quality free lens flares that I could find was from a sub section of this collection of free HD resources from Projector Films. Each one is delivered as a 1080p Pro Res mov or H.264 mp4.

Jump to this page to see the full collection and get a detailed description of each element, or hit the following links to directly download my favourites of the free lens flares.

If you like what you see, be sure to head over to Projector films for the rest and even donate to them as a thank you!

>> Classic lens flare sweep <<

>> Twitching lens flare <<

>> Light facets lens flare <<

Download Anamorphic Lens Flare Packs

If you are using lens flares a lot in your editing projects – say if you’re cutting a lot of music videos, trailers or commercials, then you might want to invest in a full suite of lens flares to add to your editing toolkit. Here are a couple of suggestions on where to look for pre-built lens flares to add to your project in a flash.

Rocketstock.com

The new 4K Radium lens flare pack from Rocketstock.com features the following elements, which you can see in action in the promo video above.

  • 70 organic video lens flares
  • 25 transitions
  • 10 accent streaks (for titles)
  • 15 title backgrounds

It’s currently on sale at just $99 for all 120 elements, which makes them less than a buck each!

The download is pretty light at 4.5GB so you won’t be waiting around for the download as much as some of the other solutions. The pack also includes some video tutorials on how to use and customise the shots in your edit too.

Buy Radium – $99

Radium from Rocketstock.com

Rampant Design Tools

Epic effects supplier Rampant Design has a huge selection of products to choose from on their website. Their Studio Flares pack features a whopping 531 individual organic flares filmed on a Red Epic, which are featured in the promo video above.

You can choose to download the flares in a variety of resolutions, each with an corresponding price increase. But at just $99 for 531 2K flares, the Studio Flares from Rampant Design is definitely the most cost effective of the paid for packs in this list.

Upping the resolution to 4K doubles the price to $199 but also provides you with the option of ordering the pack on a USB 3 drive for Mac or Windows.

It’s nice that you can download a PDF contact sheet of each of the 531 flares to get some sense of what you’re going to get, although it’s not quite as effective as MotionVFX’s preview gifs (but then again, they only have to demo 50 files).

Buy Studio Flares – $99

UPDATE – Natural Flares

Rampant Design also has a second set of flares that could come in handy. The Natural Flares pack is a much more streamlined set of 85 organic flares that have a much more natural look to them, rather than the anamorphic sci-fi feel of the Studio Flares pack.

The pricing works in the same way as the Studio Flares pack, in that it starts at $99 for a 2K resolution Pro Res download. $199 for 4K (4096 x 2160) Pro Res download and $499 for a USB-3 drive of 5K (5120 x 2700) Pro Res files.

To my eye you’re potentially going to get more use out of the natural flares as they provide a much subtler and more naturalistic polish to your shots, but the Studio Flares pack is obviously a lot better value for money if you’re simply counting files to dollars!

Again you can download a PDF preview sheet to see what you’re going to get. It’s also worth noting that there is no overlap between the packs, they’re completely different sets of flares.

Rampant have also recently released the Rampant Previewer app, which is a free app for iPhone and iPad that lets you look inside any of their products, and preview every single file.

This is hugely helpful and, I think, makes for a much more confident purchase. It works well on the iPad too as you get a much bigger preview window than on an iPhone (obviously). Download the free Rampant Preview App here.

Buy Natural Flares

Rampant Design’s sales page for the Studio Flares pack also features a couple of helpful tutorials on how to use the flares inside of Premiere Pro and FCPX.

Motionvfx

MotionVFX has a pack of 50 organic anamorphic 4K lens flares available for $99. The files have been shot on a Phantom Flex and are delivered in Pro Res 422 HQ and weighing in at hearty 61 GB.

The website is really well put together with hoverable gifs that give you a preview of every single lens flare, which lets you get a good sense of what you’re actually buying. It’s also nice that the 4K resolution is actually genuinely 4K (4096 x 2304) rather than UHD.

You can download a sample flare but it is watermarked, it would have been nice if this was was a genuine freebie, but at least you can ‘try before you buy’.

Buy mAnamorphic – $99

Lens Flare Plugins and Effects

Video Copilot’s Optical Flares is the daddy of lens flare plugins available for After Effects users. Created by Andrew Kramer and his team it’s a hugely comprehensive way to add 3D lens flares to your scene with a host of animated parameters.

While we’re on the subject of great plugins and because you’re on the hunt for freebies it’s well worth taking the time to rummage through the Video Copilot blog to find some of the many freebies Andrew has given away including:

The feature set is so deep that you’ll really want to take some time browsing the Optical Flares page, especially the ‘key features’ section which links to a 16 part video tutorial series guiding you through every part of the plugin, to get a true sense of all that it can do for you.

Some of the plugin’s highlights include on-lens simulations of dust and scratches, 3D occlusion (light behind layers is blocked), chromatic aberration, auto light shimmering and more.

The core of Optical Flares are 12 individual objects that make up each flare and can be adjusted and animated to create entirely bespoke lens flares to suit your project.

The major benefit of a plugin like this that you can a) customise everything and b) have it seamlessly interact with your shot (or fake that it clever ways) as opposed to simply slapping one layer of video on top of another.

Depending on the effect you are trying to achieve, a simple video layer flare might work a treat. But if you’re serious about lens flares, this is the plugin for you!

Also, if you don’t have time to get into the nitty gritty of customising the flares, you can purchase a bundle featuring one or two flare preset packs. The pricing breaks down as follows:

  • Plugin with 60 presets and 90 minutes of bonus video tutorials ($124.95)
  • The full plugin as above with an additional Pro preset pack of 50 flares ($139.95)
  • The full plugin with Pro Presets 1 and 2 – totalling 160 pre set flares ($160)

The main plugin is for After Effects but there’s also a version available for Nuke too.

Buy Optical Flares for After Effects

Custom Lens Flare Tutorials

DaVinci Resolve Studio 12.5.2 now features a fully GPU accelerated lens flare effect, so if you happen to own the full $999 version you can create as many customised lens flares as you like!

The lens flare effect is not as fully featured as something like Video Copilot’s Optical Flares, but with the acquisition and development of Fusion we’ll hopefully see more and more high-end features migrate across to Resolve too.

It’s one of three effects that aren’t part of the free version of Resolve (along with grain and lens blur), which is part of Blackmagic’s way of enticing you to upgrade.

I’m also pretty sure we’ll see people selling packs of Resolve lens flare presets fairly soon, but in the mean time there are numerous presets that ship with Resolve too.

To learn how to incorporate Resolve effects into your scene check out this episode of the always excellent Resolve in a Rush from Alexis Van Hurkman. Alexis uses the new point tracker to ‘stick’ the flare into the shot and match it’s motion.

I originally included this video in this massive round up of Resolve 12.5 tutorials, which features several other tutorials on using Resolve FX.

For one of the best tutorials I’ve seen on using Resolve’s built in lens flare OFX effect check out this 12 minute video tutorial from professional colorist Dan Moran over on MixingLight.com.

Dan shares a bevy of tips on how to best customise, composite and grade lens flares, with a subtle hand, into your shots. You’ll need to be a member to watch this though, or you get 24 hours of free access with a Mixing Light test drive.

After Effects Lens Flare Tutorial

In this highly viewed tutorial by Eli from ch-ch-checkit.com you can learn a few useful tricks on how to customise the in-built lens flare effect that ships with After Effects.

The tutorial isn’t perfect, and it could be a heck of a lot shorter but it is still worth watching if you’re trying to create a decent looking, bespoke lens flare with only After Effects at your disposal.

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