Lens flare is usually to be avoided. It happens when you point your camera towards the sun, or any other bright source of light and get starbursts, circles, or blobs of light introduced into the frame. Sometimes, these light artifacts are desired, for artistic effect. More often than not, they interfere with a critical portion of the image and prove to be quite distracting.
Other times, when the bright light source is just outside the frame and the light rays are striking the front of the lens tangentially, you end up with a low-contrast and hazy photograph (for more information on lens flare, please read here).
Yet, despite what I’ve written above, I find that bright backlighting can often be dramatic, so I find myself frequently photographing things against the sun. I do it taking my chances that flare won’t interfere with the image.
In the photo below, the undesirable effects of lens flare are found in abundance:
(please click on image below)
As you can see, the bottom right corner of the frame contains spurious green discs, an orange starburst, and red arcs of light that were not part of the original scene. The rest of the image is washed out with less than normal contrast.
Is this photo ruined? Many would say so, but I would disagree. I find all of the “faults” in this specific example are not interfering with the subject and are, in fact, contributing to the overall emotional appeal of the image. The stray spangles of light remind me of the brilliant sunlight on the particular day I took this photo and lend an almost magical quality to the portrait. The image speaks to me of summer, and I am taken there when viewing it.
Often it is through such “mistakes” that our photos become more interesting. Noise, blurriness, tilted horizons, etc., are often distractions but sometimes they can serve to enhance a photo.
We live in a digital age that allows us to experiment with little loss, so there is little reason not to experiment.