Shoot right into the sun

NPhoto - - Special Feature -

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

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