Google Pixel lens flare: What it is, and how to avoid it

One thing is clear: when you're taking pictures with your Pixel of scenes that have one main source of bright light, you can often see what's known as "lens flare." It is definitely A Thing, but how widely this is happening and how unusual it is compared to other cameras (phone or not) is rather overblown.

To better understand what lens flare is, how it happens and how to help avoid it when shooting with your Pixel, we have a comprehensive explanation for you. Read on.

What is lens flare?

Lens flare is a well-known characteristic of cameras by which light enters the lens and when passing through multiple lens elements refracts and produces harsh light artifacting on the resulting image. Lens flare is most pronounced on larger, longer lenses, like zoom lenses on DSLRs. But it's important to note that camera phones aren't impervious to flare just because their lenses are small — these small cameras still have several lens elements that trap light and sometimes create interesting light artifacts.

Each camera sensor and lens handles flare in a different way — the Pixel's camera most often exhibits a faint white/pink/purple ring near the edges of the frame. Some cameras show it as more of a tight circle in the frame or a series of circles cascading across the image. The Pixel's lens flare is most pronounced in situations when most cameras produces lens flare, such as looking directly at the sun or in scenes where an image is dominated by a single strong source of light from the side.

How to avoid lens flare on the Pixel

Google Pixel XL

Now that you know just what lens flare is, how do you "fix" lens flare on your Pixel? Well, there are several parts to this — and unfortunately there isn't a silver bullet to fix it entirely. It's important to note right off the top that having your Pixel replaced is not a potential fix, as all Pixels have the same lens flare characteristics.

Lens flare will never disappear entirely, but you can do a few things to avoid it.

When it comes to lens flare, your only real hope is to recognize when it could happen and hope to avoid situations that most often produce the types of lens flare that the Pixel is susceptible to. As noted above, the big scenes that create lens flare are those in which you're looking directly at the bright sun or are indoors with a strong source of light on the edge of your screen.

Beyond simply not shooting these sorts of scenes (which may not be an option), you can work to minimize the effect of the lens flare. When shooting toward the bright sun, it will help to put the sun off-axis or in the corner of the frame. If you're shooting indoors with a bright source of light, let the light come from behind the camera rather than directly off to the side. Not only will these two methods help better balance the lighting and color of the entire shot, it will also reduce or eliminate the lens flare.

If you're still finding that your Pixel is exhibiting far too much lens flare for your liking, an additional fix is on the way in the form of a software update, actually. Google has acknowledged that many Pixel owners are unhappy with the lens flare, and is working to have the camera software identify and synthetically remove egregious lens flare when you shoot in HDR+ (as the Pixel is set to by default). The software update should be arriving in the coming weeks.

Between the forthcoming software update and some extra thought while shooting, you'll be able to reduce the occurrences of lens flare in your photos from the Pixel. Now and then you're still likely to take a shot that has it, but that's going to happen on any camera at some point — work to remove it when possible, and embrace it and keep the photos even when it happens!

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.