The Star Trek series and movies really love their lens flare.

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Does the organic picture actually taken by the camera have this lens flare in it? Or is it added to the image in post-production?

Are there rolls of film/RAW files that don't have it, that would allow a "Director's (well not JJ Abrams) Cut" that dropped it?

How hard would it be to digitally add lens flare to shows that don't have it, like Downton Abbey or The Orville?

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    @Harper - Reinstate Monica Only some Star Trek movies and series made in the 21st century use a lot of lens flares. Other and older Star Trek movies and series back to 1966 avoid lens flares. Dec 8, 2019 at 19:38
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    @KateGregory Hey, modern Star Trek isn't completely obsessed with lens flare. Sometimes it switches to "so dark and gloomy you can't tell what's going on" instead. Dec 9, 2019 at 9:04
  • I don't think there would be "rolls of film" for these productions; I think the industry has gone fully digital, with film used only for certain niche "art" productions.
    – Anthony X
    Jun 20, 2020 at 18:43

4 Answers 4


According to the Business Insider article Why 'Star Trek' Has so Much Lens Flare it was all done in-camera and it was all intentional.

"There are so many movies from my childhood that had those that when we were shooting 'Star Trek' I remember saying to Dan Mindel, the DP [director of photography], 'It would be so much fun if we' — I didn't think we were going to have quite that number of them, but it became this thing, and it was ridiculous," he said.

Abrams recalled Mindel bringing in these giant powerful halogen spotlights called "best in show" on set and they would use them while filming.

"It became this weird kind of artform of how to make the perfect lens flares with different kind of lenses," said Abrams. "And it was just this thing that sort of felt like it was a kind of visual system for the movie."

So unfortunately there isn't a version without the lens flare. Abrams did apologize for the overuse of lens flare after his wife complained that the lens flare was so bad in Star Trek Into Darkness she was unable to distinguish who was on screen.

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    And even though Bad Robot doesn't produce the Star Trek TV series (as Discovery is pictured above), Alexander Kurtzman does and he has worked with Bad Robot/Abrams a lot in the past, including the 2009 Star Trek feature film. Dec 8, 2019 at 3:23
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    I recall a bonus-material interview with one of the VFX folks who realized that they were going to have to go back into all the VFX/CGI shots to add digital lens flare to match all the flares in the live shots. Dec 9, 2019 at 19:07
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    @RossPresser Just note that you will never actually see lens flare with just your eyes. It is a result of light hitting the glass at a steep enough angle that it internally refracts/reflects, creating duplicate shadow light sources. What you will see is actually not much in real life, because the light source isn't in your field of vision. If the light source can cause lens flare, it's quite far off to the side and it normally wouldn't bother you too much.
    – Nelson
    Dec 10, 2019 at 3:57
  • @Nelson Very well. I guess the headaches were caused by the intense light that Abrams was using all over the damn bridge, and the lens flares were a small side effect from the cases where that intense light source was off to the side. Either way, I wouldn't ride on any spaceship that Abrams had so much as looked at. Dec 10, 2019 at 18:37

Regarding the difficulty of adding lens flare...

Adding digital lens flare is very simple.

Many common editing software have ways to do it. It is as simple as choosing the point of origin of the lens flare, its type (with respect to the camera recording, like 105mm).

Videocopilot (a nice resource for Adobe After Effects tutorials) even released a plug-in for AAE that allows a user to create many other types of lens flares.

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    The question wasn't whether it can be done digitally, the question was whether it actually was done or not.
    – vsz
    Dec 9, 2019 at 7:59
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    @vsz "How hard would it be to digitally add lens flare to shows that don't have it, like Downton Abbey or The Orville?" was in fact part of my question. This answers it nicely +1. Dec 9, 2019 at 8:17
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    ...and that's why @Harper-ReinstateMonica there shouldn't be more than one question asked. Now we have 2 partial answers covering different questions. I think Legion600's answer covers the main question but this one is also correct. You can't accept both.
    – Luciano
    Dec 9, 2019 at 15:40
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    Just to weigh in on the debate, I certainly agree that Legion600's answer covers the main OP inquiries. This is a partial answer, with some trivia from my own experience (as I've learned video editing from VideoCopilot tutorials). I hope it has helped the OP, but I don't expect it to be marked as the accepted answer.
    – BlueMoon93
    Dec 9, 2019 at 22:31
  • Just to add a bit to this, the reason this is easy is because lens flare is an artifact of geometry within the lens, and thus does not interact with the scene in any way beyond the scene being the source of the light (and the source may be off screen in many cases). A realistic looking lens flare doesn't need to skirt around real objects as other atmospheric lighting effects (such as fog) would need to do.
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 11, 2019 at 0:05

Your questions don't ask about the new Star Trek specifically, but you do mention it in the context for the questions, so I'm going to answer both in general, and for New Trek specifically.

Does the organic picture actually taken by the camera have this lens flare in it? Or is it added to the image in post-production?

Lens flare is caused by the fact that the lenses used in cameras aren't perfect, and so some light is reflected off of the surface of the lens, and thus winds up somewhere the designer of the lens assembly didn't want it to go. Hence the name: it's a flare of light caused by a lens. It can be simulated, though, so there's no guarantee that any particular lens flare you see is natural.

As far as New Trek is concerned, as mentioned in other answers, Abrams liked the look of lens flare, so he had some bright lights brought in to deliberately engender it. It was all done in-camera.

Are there rolls of film/RAW files that don't have it, that would allow a "Director's (well not JJ Abrams) Cut" that dropped it?

Most people don't like lens flare. So, in the general case, probably 99% of lens flare you see is "natural", unavoidable flare that's recorded directly to the raw film.

In the case of New Trek, as mentioned above and in other answers, all the flare was done with actual lights on-set, so it can't be removed.

How hard would it be to digitally add lens flare to shows that don't have it, like Downton Abbey or The Orville?

All shows that were recorded with a real camera (i.e. not computer-generated or otherwise animated) have lens flare. It's just a side effect of living in an imperfect world. It's just not noticeable in most shows, because the lighting guys take steps to avoid and minimize it. But its incredibly easy to add in post, if you decide your scene doesn't have enough. Most video editing software can add it automatically. It's also simple enough to do manually.

  • Yes, new Trek is definitely on-point! Dec 10, 2019 at 21:58
  • So let me get this straight... J.J. Abrams deliberately added lens flare, despite the fact that most people don't like lens flare? Is he trying to get people to hate him or just ignorant of his viewers preferences???
    – Michael
    Dec 10, 2019 at 22:56
  • @Michael Yeah, pretty much. Rumor has it that his own wife, when she saw the rough cut of "Into Darkness", forced him to try and digitally remove some of the lens flare. In 2015 he promised fans that he would cut back on it for "The Force Awakens". Dec 11, 2019 at 1:36

Old cinematographer here. Above answers are partially correct. History of lens flare:

  1. First lens flares were undoubtedly accidental (light reflecting between elements of lenses).
  2. Somebody liked the fx, so carefully set up camera angle so lens would capture light in this way.
  3. Flare filters were produced, that attached to camera lens, so vitually any shot could incorporate a flare.
  4. Now, software can add a flare anywhere, in any scene, even in total darkness, and after the scene is shot.

As with most sfx nowadays, it takes little skill, which is why filmakers like Scorcese scorn movies that rely on technical stuff to impress.


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