One of our favorite techniques for creating lens flare is shooting though a metal tube. And our favorite medium of metal for this technique is copper. Why copper? The idea itself (creating lens flare with a metal tube) belongs to Sam Hurd, one of our favorite wedding photographers and one of SLR Lounge’s “Top 100 Wedding Photographers (2016).”
Sam uses an aluminum pipe for this technique, one of the many things he talks about when speaking at conferences or teaching at his very popular workshop, The Epic Workshop. But when we initially went to our local hardware store to score an aluminum pipe, they didn’t have any. So we went with what they had: copper. And we quickly fell in love with the color and quality of the flare that a copper pipe produces.
The basics behind this technique are fairly simplistic: get a piece of metal tubing, hold it in front of your lens, and shoot your subjects with the sun behind them. That’s about it, essentially. And, that said, whether you’ve been trying this technique out with minimal success or haven’t tried it at all (but would like to give it a go), here are our tips for creating lens flare with metal.
(50mm, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/2000 sec.)
1. Switch to Live View
This is a simple but very necessary tip. You need to switch to live view when using this technique. When you do, you’ll have a larger viewing area to see what you’re creating, and you’ll also be able to move the flare around the frame more easily.
(50mm, ISO 100, f/2.2, 1/1250 sec.)
2. Timing & Conditions are (Basically) Everything
You can’t just put the tube in front of your lens and shoot. You have to consider the position of the sun, whether the sky is clear or cloudy, how bright the sun is, etc. As an example, when shooting an engagement adventure last fall, we used this technique and literally created what we thought was a ring that was on fire. If you want something that looks similar, you need everything relative to your timing and the lighting conditions to be perfect (in our situation, it had just stopped raining and the light from the setting sun was breaking through the clouds).
(50mm, ISO 64, f/1.8, 1/200 sec. [SB-910, camera right])
Also, you have to get a basic understanding of the type of flare that certain lighting conditions will produce: a bright sun will produce a bright flare, a pink sunset will produce a pink flare, and a sun that is nearly set will result in a more copper-looking flare . . .
(50mm, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/200 sec. [SB-910, camera right])
3. Practice Makes Perfect (Kind of)
We just stated that you can’t simply put the metal tube in front of your lens and shoot; you won’t magically get a flare because you put metal in front of your lens. You absolutely have to consider where the sun is at, how bright it is, etc. At the same time, you need to practice (so, in a sense, you kind of have to put the metal tube in front of your lens and shoot). Of course, we all know that practice makes perfect. But we also all know that practicing doesn’t always mean it’ll work out, or that you’ll be successful. Sometimes you’ll nail it; sometimes you won’t. Don’t sweat it. Practice it.
(50mm, ISO 100, f/12, 1/200 sec. [AlienBees, gridded & camera right])
We use this technique when shooting weddings, where, despite shooting 15+ hours on a wedding day, we’re following timelines that don’t always allow for “experimentation” or extra time to use every technique we’re able to execute. Still, after we nail some portraits, we’ll definitely throw each other our prisms, copper pipes, or even a convex lens in order to add an artistic aspect to our shots. So have fun. And Make it rad!
(Related: 5 Tips for Photography in Familiar Locations)
We thought a few additional pointers would be appropriate since you took the time to read this article and make it to the conclusion (they’re things we discovered when practicing this technique):
Watch your eyes. You’ll do a fair amount of staring into the sun so if you start seeing spots take a break; Experiment with different materials and different sizes (we favor a 3/4” length piece of copper pipe that has a 1” diameter); practice with different lenses. We found our Nikon 50mm f/1.4, which is currently $50 off at B&H, is the best option, and smooth out/grind down the edges on the metal tube you’re going to use, unless you like handling jagged metal…
Finally, we want to mention that you should absolutely listen to Sam’s podcast, The Epic Podcast. And we’d love to see some of your lens flare shots (using a metal tube): you can add them to the comments below or post them in our ever-growing Facebook Community Group.