Updated: Dec 19, 2018
Everyone is wanting to get the natural lens flares for their video. For some reason, it's the most sought after effect in film right now. I guess in this day and age, futuristic and cinematic mean lens flares. Is it hard to get a natural flare? No. Is it hard to get a natural flare to look good on film? Yes. Tons of people have tried (in Michael Bay's case, tried too much) and most have succeeded, but what do you need to get it?
Most cinematographers, especially me in the beginning of my career, have resorted to getting the effect via Video Copilot's Optical Flare Plugin. It's definitely not a bad plug in to have in your tool bag, but if you're wanting natural flares, then eventually this isn't going to satisfy you. Another thing to take in to consideration is that this isn't a free plugin. Other editing programs have their own version of lens flares and they look ok, but it's not the cinematic quality most of us are wanting. Eventually, you'll realize that the only thing that will look good to you, is the real thing.
Now, you can say, "Oh, you need to get this.." or, "Oh, you have to buy that..", but chances are you already have something you can use. That's the good news, the bad news is you may have to rig a few things. All you'll need is a lens hood and some fishing wire!
You may have just read that and said to your self, "What the hell!?!?! Fishing wire???" That's what I said too when I first found that out. Here's what you do.
First, you'll get the lens hood and your fishing wire and you'll tape the wire to each side of the hood. It doesn't matter what angle you put it at because you can move the lens hood, just make sure you put it on the small side of the lens hood and on the outside. Next, you'll mount the lens hood in the compact mode, meaning that you'll put the wide part of the lens hood toward the camera instead of facing out. That's all there is to it!!
The only thing you'll need to practice with is having your shot in focus and in frame because with the mount facing in, you won't be able to control the lens zoom or focus as well as before. If you're using a prime lens, then you'll just need to worry about the focus.
Obviously, you can't have a lens hood on most prime lenses, but there's another trick and this one will get you a soda out of it! Go to your local gas station or restaurant, get your favorite soda to go in a styrofoam cup, drink it, and don't throw the cup away. If you already have some styrofoam cups at home, then you can save yourself a trip! Here's what you do, you take the bottom of the cup and cut out a hole in the shape of your lens and make sure it's a snug fit so it wont move too much. If you want to tape it to the lens to make sure it doesn't move, then go for it. You'll then tape the wire to the styrofoam and you're done!
You can now play around with your camera and a flashlight to see what effect the fishing wire has in your shot. When I did it for the first time, I kept pointing the camera in different positions outside because it made my outside shots look a little more epic than usual. This is by no means a 100% solution to big budget films, but it will work for your home project!
That's the "Super Duper, I'm on an extreme budget, I just want to film something cool without spending anything, I'm bored so I decided to try it" cheap way to do this. Granted, it still may not look exactly how you want, but it'll give you the effect your looking for without spending hardly any money, if any at all.
Next time you have a vision for a project and you envision it a certain way, always remember to ask yourself this question, "What do I have with me right now that will work.." That question get's me through projects all the time and it's a good philosophy for life too. Make do with what you have now, it may be the only thing you'll ever get.
What do you think of my advice? Let me know in the comments!