Stray Light in Photography. What is it and how can you control it?

In today’s article I explain what stray light is and how you can control it. We will focus on how to avoid it because although you may not always want to do it, it is important that you learn how to achieve it. So you can be the one who decides what appears in your photo and when.

You stay? Great, although before continuing I have to recommend this mega guide so that you can delve into the subject of lighting in photography whenever you need it.

What is stray light?

Stray light is any light that enters the lens in an uncontrolled manner. The one that we have not looked for in principle. It manifests itself in the form of flares, halos, flashes or mist-like whitish curtains that are produced when light falls directly on the objective.

Let’s see an example.

Now you may be thinking: “But flares and sparkles are also very creative, aren’t they?”

Indeed, that is why I told you at the beginning that you will not always want to avoid them. But there will be times when you do not want them to appear in the frame and it is important that you know how to achieve it, so that you are the one who makes the final decision, who controls the photo. Surely you want to be the one to dominate the light and not for the light to dominate you, right? 😉

How to avoid stray light?

Once you know what stray light is, I’m going to tell you how you can avoid it.

Keep optics clean

One of the reasons why the flares or flashes become more evident is that the lens has traces of dust, grease, scratches, etc. Keeping your lenses clean and in perfect condition will help prevent stray light from spoiling your photo.

Avoid wide and telephoto lenses

These types of optics are more prone to stray light. If you don’t mind using one lens or the other and you have the chance, avoid it to keep stray light at bay.

bypass filters

We know that filters have their advantages and offer very interesting aspects. However, adding a filter to your optics and leaving that gap between the filter and the lens is like rolling out the red carpet for stray light to shimmer across it to your photo.

And if you decide to put more than one filter like I’ve ever seen, I won’t even tell you. Unless you want to protect the lens from splashes or similar, or you need it for a specific effect, do not use any filter and you will have more control over stray light.

On the other hand, if you have to put a filter yes or yes, for whatever reason, and you have the option of putting it in different slots, always put it in the one closest to the objective, the more space there is between both crystals, the greater the probability that the parasitic light roams freely.

Use quality goals

Another resource to eliminate bothersome flares and other stray light effects is to use the highest quality lens you have. The worse the quality of the optics, the more chances you have that the effects of stray light will be evident.

use a sunshade

If putting a filter is to protect the lens from scratches and bumps, I have to tell you that there is something more effective and that, in addition, it will help you stop stray light. It is a parasol.

It is a fairly cheap accessory compared to the utilities it has (it can save your lens from a fall, for example 😉 ).

You should also know that petal-shaped sunshades offer additional protection.

Be careful with flash and backgrounds

Being in a studio with white backgrounds and a flash, it is also possible that stray light appears, spoiling the portrait or what you want to photograph.

If this is your case, move your subject away from the background and make sure that the flash does not hit it too closely. It is also convenient that you eliminate the lights that are not illuminating the subject or that are not necessary. And that on light backgrounds you only illuminate the area that will appear in the frame.

Prevent light from reaching the lens directly

If you can position yourself somewhere in the shade, take advantage of a branch, extend your arm like an Inspector Gadget to protect the lens, use cardboard to block the light, etc., you will reduce the effects of stray light.

take the sun out of the frame

When you include the sun within the frame of your photograph, you are inviting all the effects at once. It’s like telling them “Hey! You, come, there’s a party!”

If you don’t want the party to break out in your photo, and none of the above works for you, you’ll have to do without the sun.

Changing the angle or perspective solves many problems in life, this photographic one too.

Cover the viewfinder in long night exposures

Believe it or not, stray light also sneaks through the viewfinder and can ruin one of your long-exposure photos that you’ve put so much care into.

To avoid this, use the viewfinder cover that may have come with your camera and you didn’t even know what it was or what it was for 😉 . In case you don’t know what it is, I leave you an image. It is something like this or very similar.

creative elements

The same tips that I have given you to avoid flares, flashes and others, you can invert them and use them in your favor when you are precisely looking to enhance these effects in a creative way.

Well, although they earned a terrible reputation a few years ago, luckily, this trend was reversed and now we love them, in fact, it could even be said that they are fashionable. And it is that they bring warmth to the image, dynamism, spark and even a point of naturalness or spontaneity. They produce beautiful and dreamlike images.

There are many examples that you can find in which these effects become co-stars in the scene. Here is one among many:

That is why I recommend that you practice and learn to dominate them so that you can decide when they will and when they will not appear in your photo. And, above all, stop making excuses, go out and take pictures, with or without parasitic light ;).

Before saying goodbye, let me ask you a favor, if you liked this article, be sure to share it on your favorite social network. Thanks and see you soon!