Lens flares – In motion

All that we have seen about lens flares since the beginning of this series can be put in motion. Lens flares can be made to gradually flood the screen or to strafe the audience’s eyes with flickering glows. Used as a fade in or a fade out, a lens flare can also effectively open or close a shot.



In Christine (J. Carpenter, 1983), two bad guys in a car are being chased by another car following them. At first, the central area of the frame is dark (read more in Off-centered characters – You have company), then the headlights show up. Finally, the camera slightly moves upwards to let lens flares enter the screen. That way, the audience feels the increase in the intruder’s aggressiveness towards the characters. Moreover, the characters appear victimized by the transparent veil the lens flares create over their faces (read more in Overlays – Transparent veils (Part 1)).

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In Alien (R. Scott, 1979), two characters are proceeding with maintenance and repair of the space ship they used to land on a hostile planet. They all want to get away from there as soon as possible. Flickering lens flares depict the atmosphere of an engine room (i.e. welding equipment, sparkles), adding drama to an otherwise quiet scene. They also intermittently ‘wash out’ the characters which victimizes them, as seen above (read more in Overlays – Transparent veils (Part 1)).

In Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (J. Cameron, 1991), young John Connor rides a motorbike with his friend Tim as a passenger. They are on their way to spend money John has just stolen. A strong lens flare intermittently obfuscates the screen from the right as they go, adding tension to the shot. This flickering effect brings out the lawless and desperate way of life of two young offenders.

In Little Big Man (A. Penn, 1970), Jack Crabb witnesses soldiers slaughtering a Cheyenne camp by surprise. Two similar shots have been stitched together here. In each shot, the sun is part of the frame and creates stark lens flares, intermittently obfuscating the dark silhouettes of the assailants. This effect highlights the brutality of the assault.

In Dances with Wolves (K. Costner, 1990), a Sioux warrior jumps off his horse to assault a soldier (off screen). As the camera pans with the character, lens flares intermittently fill the screen, which brings out the extreme violence of the character’s mindset and action.


Opening and closing a shot

In The Matrix (A. & L. Wachowski, 1999), an ‘agent’ points his gun at Neo — of whom this shot is the POV. We’ve come across this effect before (read more in part 1 and part 2). A character occludes the sun with his head to remove a lens flare, which abruptly unveils his face and increases contrast. To some extent, the transparent veil caused by the lens flare acts as a fade in (from white), which is a way to ‘open’ the shot and make it more punchy.


Conversely, Platoon (O. Stone, 1986) ends with this last shot of Chris Taylor in a helicopter as he evacuates his camp. A huge lens flare floods the screen until the image is completely washed out, highlighting the character’s confusion (read more in Lens flares – Memories, confusion, unreality). This effect acts as a natural fade out (to white), loosing the character and closing both the shot and the movie.


“…to find a goodness…”


TAYLOR (V.O., cont’d)
“…and meaning to this life.”


What’s up?

Lens flares are nothing but overlays and obstacles. They can be staged in time to flood the screen, strafe the audience’s eyes, even open or close a shot like fade ins and fade outs. Now that we have put lens flares in motion, let’s do the same with other kinds of overlays and obstacles.


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