Sunday, August 1, 2010

Shooting Into the Sun

The sun is an amazing tool in photography, but it can be a tricky tool to use especially when you camera is facing it.  Discussed below are some techniques you can use to capture wonderful scenes with the sun not only illuminating, but also in it!  

Safety First
First and foremost keep safety in mind when photographing the sun.  Looking through a camera lens provides no protection from the sun's rays.  Be sure to wear proper eye protection and take frequent breaks.  Remember, looking directly into the sun can cause damage to your eyes.

You Camera Settings
When photographing sunlight make sure your ISO is set to the lowest setting possible for the lightning conditions, which may be the lowest setting on your camera.  Adjust your aperture according to your scene.  The shutter speed will need to be adjusted according to how much you would like to expose your photograph.  Faster (larger number) for an underexposure or focus on the sun/sky and slower (smaller number) for an over exposure or focus on the foreground.

What is Metering and How to Do It
This is a big topic and I am only going to touch on it briefly.  Metering refers to adjusting the camera's exposure of your image.  On your SLR you can see the metering bar telling you how under/over exposed the scene through your lens is according to your camera settings.

Unless you are in Manual mode you won't see the exposure meter change with your camera settings.  In all the other camera modes your SLR will adjust the exposure meter automatically according to the aperture and shutter speed.

The Golden Hour(s)
The absolute best time to photograph the sun, and my favorite times to photograph in general, is roughly an hour or two before sunset and after sunrise.  That time of day is called the Golden Hour, not only because it is the best time, but also because that is when the Earth is illuminated with the golden, longer wavelengths of sunshine.  The light is less intense to the naked eye, shadows are less harsh, and its much more photogenic in general.  If you are going to take photos at any point during the day try and include the golden hour in your time frame.  

How to take Silhouettes
A silhouette is the foreground very underexposed, so underexposed that all details are lost and the subjects appear black against the sky.  Often times a camera's automatic settings will generate silhouettes as camera's tend to meter towards the brightest objects.  If you are using manual mode you will want your scene over exposed or at a level exposure, depending on how bright and direct the sun is, to create a silhouette.  You do not have to have the sun directly in your image to create a silhouette, but the subject does have to be back lit (meaning the light is behind it). 

Taking advantage of the Foreground.
One of my favorite techniques when photographing the sun is to utilize objects in the foreground to slightly block the sun.  The object could be anything, such as a cloud or tree branches.  This technique often produces a great back lit image, tones down the intensity of the sun, and reduces unwanted sun flares from direct sunlight.  A similar technique is having the sun just barely out of the photograph rather than in it, but doing that you are more likely to have sun flares (those round reddish/orange circles) appear in your image.

Exposing the Foreground
If you want to expose the foreground you are essential taking the opposite of the silhouette and metering based on the ground rather than the brightness of the sky.  You will want to have more light in your photograph so that the foreground is illuminated, meaning a longer shutter time.  This requires a fine balance of lighting and an understanding that you may have to sacrifice details in the sky to expose darkened areas of the foreground.  Often times the sky will end up very over exposed and washed out.  Without doing an HDR image you cannot have a totally exposed image in direct light and have both the sky and foreground in true contrast.

Sometimes it can be very frustrating seeing a beautiful scene with the sun right in front of you and wondering why you can't quite capture it with your camera!  Remember to experiment with your settings, not just shutter speeds and aperture, but your exposure and placement of the sun.  There are countless ways to include sunlight in your photo and you'll find a way that works for you and your scene!

If you have any other questions or are stumped by my explanations please don't hesitate to ask me to help you or to clarify something.  I'd be happy to!


  1. WOW thanks for the tips! This would be very helpful and I didn't even know about that 'golden hours' so that's why I never seems to get a decent enough sun pictures :D Love this and your pictures are breathtakingly beautiful.

  2. Excellent post Jen! One of these days, you'll have to explain to me how to do the HDR thing. :)

    Love the photos!

  3. The "Golden Hour" is such a beautiful time for portraits as well - the light brings such a magical feel to the picture! :)
    Great post!

  4. Love these photos and the tips too! Thanks!
    I am a new follower. Through Blog Frog....

  5. Good post. I could add that when dealing with flare, setting a wide aperture (f/2.8, f/3.5 etc) can sometimes create an unpleasant wash-out effect. You should reduce the aperture size to f/22 or lower if you can. The sun will now look like a star!
    Read more in my similar blog post:


I love and appreciate all comments! If you have a question please ask away and I will certainly reply.