Shoot right into the sun
What ’s the Big Idea?
You’ve probably been told never to shoot into the sun, and it was not that long ago that film and camera manufacturers were telling us to keep the sun at our back in order to get a good exposure. This advice is partly correct, but it tends to produce boring, flatly-lit landscapes. Shadowfree landscapes are easy to expose for, but the lack of contrast will result in a lifeless image. My favourite types of lighting are backlighting and side lighting. Shooting into the sun can produce dramatic results, with sunbursts and lens flare to add depth and help direct the viewer’s gaze.
Shooting into the sun has its issues, though. The main problem is the increased contrast. Then there’s knowing how to meter this tricky lighting situation, as well as potential problems with flare, but there are ways to overcome all this.
What ’s the Key?
Let’s talk about controlling contrast first. When you point your Nikon at a sunrise or sunset, the sky will be very bright and the landscape very dark. The easiest way to resolve this is to use graduated neutral density filters. These come in varying degrees of density and transition. For this image of the standing stones of Callanish, I used a three-stop, soft grad over the sky to stop it from completely blowing out. A soft grad works better when you’re shooting an uneven horizon like this; if you use a hard grad the filter will darken any object above the horizon line, making it more obvious.
When metering a scene like this, I also apply some exposure compensation. This is because a D-SLR’s metering system will always try to render a scene as an average mid-tone by default, which in a shot like this will result in bright skies turning a murky mid-grey. The solution is to over-expose (ie let in more light) to compensate. One stop of over-exposure (+1EV) is a good starting point. In this case the sky was so bright I had to overexpose by 1.7 stops (+1.7EV) in order to ensure the sky was bright enough (but without being blown out).
Finally, lens flare can sometimes be a bonus, acting as a leading line that directs the viewer through the image. At other times, though, it can distract from the main subject. To help combat flare, keep your lenses clean and use a prime lens. Even though today’s zoom lens technology and special coatings help reduce lens flare, a prime lens has fewer elements for light to go through, so there is less chance of it producing flare. If needed, shield the lens with your hand or use a lens hood. Sometimes, however, there isn’t any way to avoid the sun shining into your lens, so you will have to remove any flare in Photoshop.
Sunbursts can be captured by setting a small aperture