LIGHT plays an important part in creating any BALANCED photography, but how do you go about CAPTURING the planet’s BIGGEST light source on camera?
The sun, a fireball of heat and light, can be tricky to capture in a correctly exposed shot — not in the least because it’s impossible to look directly at it. Get it right, though, and the sun can become a formidable but eye-pleasing addition to most photos. Whether it’s emanating beams of light with intense splendour or exploiting silhouettes to create drama, you can make the most of the sun’s unique properties using nothing more than your regular photography setup.
SEE THE LIGHT
At the risk of stating the obvious, you should never look into the sun with the naked eye, nor through any kind of lens. Instead, compose your photograph using the LCD screen at the back of the camera and the Live View mode, to keep your eyes safe.
DODGING LENS FLARE
When taking shots into the sun, a broad wash of light can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the overall effect you’re hoping to create. If you’re after the faded, bleached-out look, shooting into the sun can give your images a sense of romanticism; if this isn’t what you’re after, though, there are a few things you can try.
Moving the camera a smidgeon in any direction will alter the angle at which the light hits the sensor. This should help diminish or eradicate lens flare. Cupping your hand around the lens top or adding a lens hood will block any dominating light overwhelming the end result. Lens hoods are a handy piece of kit to have. They offer up protection to your lens and don’t cost the earth. Another approach is to use what’s available in the surrounding landscape to reframe the shot: a building, the hillside, a standalone tree — anything that will obstruct the light.
You can give your image drama and a touch of curiosity with a simple but contrasting sun-induced silhouette. Note that sunrise, sunset, and golden hour (the hours just before sunrise and sunset) are ideal windows for shooting silhouettes when the sun position is low.
1. Situate an identifiable subject to form a clear outline in front of the sun. 2. Under-expose the subject by ensuring your camera’s exposure is based on the brightest section of your background. 3. Large areas of space free of distracting elements are optimal for this technique. Define and then separate. 4. Point the camera at the brightest point using centred, spot, or partial metering off the sky.
Compose again and take the shot. Fine-tune in post-processing.
A great golden halo effect can be accomplished when you frame the sun in just the right way. This technique uses that big ball of fire in the sky to backlight your image, which can give your finished photograph a feeling of comfort and warmth.
• Get in mode: Shoot in Manual; it prohibits any overcompensation from your camera and will leave the subject in silhouette, which is not what we’re after here.
• Get in focus: Shooting directly into the sun can mean the Autofocus mode will struggle; you’ll find it’s easier to focus in Manual.
• Get the angle: Ensuring the sun is behind the subject will keep a blown-out result at bay while defining the subject’s features. When you backlight at just the right angle, a lower sun will bestow a stunning highlight around the subject. If the sun’s not as low as you’d like, lie on the ground and shoot from there. Inexpensive strobes or reflectors will rebound light in more shaded spots to generate a more vibrant, well-balanced image. Trial various settings and vantage points until you get the desired effect.
ADD IN SOME FLARE
Starbursts or sun stars are achieved by the light entering a small aperture to then be spliced over the aperture blades. The more blades your lens has, the more starburst points you will get.
• Whether you go for crisply defined sunbeams or softer ones is entirely your choice. Small apertures (f/22) give rise to sharper rays while wider ones (f/5.6) produce diffused rays. Opting for Auto ISO and Aperture Priority will enable you to play around to your heart’s content. • Enhance your image by positioning a subject to somewhat obscure the sun. Moving around the subject enables the sun to kiss it, peep out, and radiate at more aesthetic angles. With a bit of practice, you’ll work out how much sun to allow in shot for the most pleasing sun-star result. • When the sun is only partially included, say, just it’s bottom third, you’ll produce a softer outcome; when there’s mist, haze, and clouds, use these to diffuse the light accordingly and create a beautiful glow.
Experimenting with techniques for shooting into the sun can expand your repertoire and open up a world of living art. The odd camera attachment can be invaluable against the sun’s intensity, but those don’t have to come with an eye-watering price tag.
Choose the mood you wish to convey from the start; it will keep you focused, be it something that’s shining white-hot, pleasantly illuminated, or gently glowing. What will follow may be streams of light pouring through the clouds onto sparkling water or shafts of sunlight washing over a wildflower meadow. The possibilities are endless.
Whatever kind of light comes forth on any given day, the treasures from shooting into the sun really are worth your time, commitment, and patience.
Jason Spafford loves all things adventure travel, where the perfect end to the perfect day is throwing down a sleeping bag and setting up the tripod somewhere in the wilderness. That, and a cuppa. With an infatuation for chasing light in big open spaces comes the pursuit of photography, which has been his passion for 30-plus years. Through his work, Jason aims to engage folks with nature’s backyard while promoting the preservation of wild places. His internationally published portfolio captures two decades of adventure travel, landscape, and commercial photography.
Follow him on Instagram (@fourwheelednomad) or see www.fourwheelednomad.com for more photographic adventures and inspiration.