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What is a lens flare?

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As sunlight moved across North American skies during the 2023 annular solar eclipse, eager enthusiasts aimed their cameras at the cosmic alignment. Many of the resulting images included crescent-shaped echoes of light.

These are lens flares, Minute Physics explains, “the thing that happens when you point a camera towards a particularly bright light source and you get a glow or streaks or disks… or eclipses?”

lens flare
Lens flares occur when stray light bounces around inside the lens, reflecting off the camera’s interior elements. Sometimes the lens flare adds ambiance to the scene and other times, it’s an unwanted artifact in the image. Either way, there’s some interesting light science involved:

“The eclipse lens flares are cool in two really different ways:

“First, they allow you to actually take an image of a partial or annular eclipse without fancy photographic filters to darken the sun!β€”Though my lawyer tells me that you should never look directly at the sun or point a camera at it for an extended period of time without a proper solar filter.

“And second, eclipse lens flares reveal some really interesting facts about lens flares in general.”

Watch the Minute Physics video above to learn more.

the lens flare shape
Then watch these hand-picked videos:
β€’ Strange and beautiful shadows created by the annular solar eclipse
β€’ How to make a box pinhole projector, an easy NASA tutorial
β€’Β The science of solar eclipses: How do solar and lunar eclipses work?
β€’Β Henry Fox Talbot, the First Photographs, and the Pioneers of Photography

Bonus: Why are Stars Star-Shaped?

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