Sunday, January 21, 2007

Shooting into the sun

After I had reviewed one of Roger’s photos and fixed it in a prior post here, he mentioned that he imagined that it would be possible to get some interesting photos by shooting into the sun and not sticking to the maxim of shooting with the sun over one’s shoulder all the time.

The answer is a qualified yes. You can get some very interesting photos while shooting into the sun, but you have to keep several things in mind when you do so:

Shooting into the sun will mess up your automatic exposure big time, and you must compensate. Don’t shoot into the sun unless you have an extremely interesting shape to silhouette against the sky. If you want any detail at all in the object against the sun, you either need a flash or a special filter.

Compensating your exposure When the sun is going to be a major part of one of my photos, I’ll take a meter reading of the sky above the sun with the sun just out of the frame. This generally gives an accurate portrayal of the sky and will create a solid silhouette of whatever else is in the frame. The exception is when shooting flowers and foliage, which are translucent and glow beautifully when backlit. (Top photo) Any time you are using the sun to backlight a photo, whether it's in the photo or not, an exposure value (EV) of +2 is called for.

Interesting silhouette If you're going for a silhouette, it has to be very recognizable and interesting. It needs to be just as obvious to the viewer of your photo as it was to you. Keep it as simple as possible. (Second photo) Try positioning your subject directly over the orb of the sun for interesting effects (Top and bottom photos).

Want detail? If you’re close enough to the silhouetted object to use your flash, do so. But remember, too much flash will give your photo a “faked” look and too little flash will leave your subject in the dark. Improve your odds by using the portrait setting of your digital camera if it has one. Bracket your shots (shoot a picture each at one f-stop above and below your metered setting) if you are using a manual flash. (Third photo) You can also use a sheet of white poster board or foam board to reflect light back onto the subject.

If your subject is too far for flash, another option is the use of a graduated neutral density filter, if your camera is able to accept filters. A grad ND filter is dark on about a third of the filter’s surface and gradually fades to clear at about the halfway point. Positioning the dark side of the filter over the sky allows you to open your f-stop by up to four stops (depending on the strength of the filter) to give more exposure to objects on the ground. (Second and bottom photos were shot using graduated neutral density filters)

Most of all, experiment and have fun.

Click on pictures to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Photos! Love the first two!


January 22, 2007 at 1:28 AM  
Blogger panthrcat said...

wow I love your work here, particularily the morning glory shot with the sun behind it's delicate petals,, very good!!

April 11, 2009 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I love the shot of the cows. Awesome!



June 4, 2009 at 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Alexandru Vita said...

Great article, useful tips.
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:

November 4, 2010 at 7:08 AM  

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