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What is "The Trick" with Shooting into the Sun?

crossover37crossover37 Member
edited April 2013 in portraits & people
I try shooting in the sun right before sunset but I rarely get what I want (I shoot at this time to get even light on the environment and long shadows, and it's easier on my flash). If I put the sun in the top left of right corner of the frame I get washed out photos.

If I have it anywhere clearly in the in the shot it still washes out photos (unless blocked by something).

The only way I can get the flare to be less intense (I'm looking for the backlighting more than the flare) is if I really point the camera away from the sun but then that causes harsh light on the side of the face (unless I ask the subject to move their head so the back of the head is facing the sun).

Should I just put the sun behind the subject's head (this is difficult with children though because I have to be flat on the ground)? Is it better when the sun is higher so it's not in my shot as much?

What's the aha moment I'm missing? Also, if you know of any videos or articles that explains it that would be great. I looked but couldn't find much, everyone says to just increase your shutter speed and low iso and such...I know that much.


  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2013
    If you say 'right before sunset' which means sun is low in sky on horizon and want to include sun, it definitely will need to be controlled, as you know, by manual ambient, then flash applied to subject.

    In those situations I'd be placing the sun behind them a bit, not necessarily dead center behind, but have that nice background and light subject with flash, only way to even out the lighting.

    If on the other hand you wanted 'daylight' sun in the frame, while still high is sky you could almost get away with it on just ambient and touch of fill flash, depends how the subject is position, and how much you are prepared for sun to be blown out.

    Sun high & behind, you'd need a bit more then fill, unless you are happy for it to blow out, but, if you wanted the sun 'starburst' you'd have to really close down ambient by probably around 1 stop on normal daylight, and definitely would need flash to be dominant.

    Personally, in your scenario, I'd place sun behind and light them from front, much much easier to control, no harsh lighting on face.

    eg attached, lucky on the day with some 'rays' which literally lasted around 2 mins before disappearing.

  • Side note: the sun or a flash when directly visible will produce flare and there is a very high likelihood your photo will be washed out and or have contrast reduced. Hide the sun or flash behind something to avoid that.

    Hint: lens shades help

  • JerryJerry Member
    Side note 2: The "secret" with getting the rays from the sun is to have it partially blocked by whatever object (tree, mountain etc)
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    1. Remove the filter.

    2. Use small apertures

    3. er ... what lenses are you shooting with?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Do you want flare or do you want to avoid it?
  • crossover37crossover37 Member
    edited April 2013
    Thanks for the input and great shot Trev! Here are some details I should highlight:

    1) The sun was setting with about 20 minutes left before dropping below the horizon so the shot I was trying to take was one of my 1 year old daughter in a basket and I was taking in the vertical position laying on the ground. The sun was in the top left corner of my frame, out of view. I underexposed her a little by using a faster shutter speed and lower ISO and used my flash to light her hoping that would solve the washed out photo problem but it didn’t.

    2) My aperture was at about f2.0 so that may be one of my issues that I’m having but I do want the background out of focus so would I need to use a ND filter to get away with this? I’ve done it in the past where I used a nearly wide open aperture with no ND and got good results. The problem I have is knowing where to place the sun so I can get nice rim light without washing out my photo. Is it better to have the sun in the frame but further away from the corner?

    3) I do have a lens hood on all my lenses and I don't have any filters on them.

    4) I was using a Canon 85mm f1.8 but I also use a Sigma 50mm f1.4

    5) I want to avoid the flare; I want nice rim light. I think I know how to get the flare, by placing the sun in the corner or the frame partially in view...correct me if I'm wrong please.

    Take a look at the photos toward the bottom with the sun in the frame. I can never seem to get that for some reason, my photos always wash out badly. http://www.burchphotography.com/2011/08/18/hanleyfarmweddingalexdan/
  • a shot describing what I'm meaning is attached
  • wow trev that shot is spectacular! what kind of flash did u use as a main light? was it modified?
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited April 2013
    Thank Naftoli,

    I used a Quantum T5D-R with a 19" Norman Octabox [which fits into the Quantum head] but I could not get enough ooomph against that sun with the diffuser in place, and since the Quantums are barebulb and therefore bounce around a lot in the softbox which was lined silver I took off the diffusion panel on front [it only has the 1 diffuser on it] and that produced the extra 2/3rds-1stop of light I needed.

    I had them set up, light power set [manual], and I moved to camera left to pick up some crud on beach which was in frame, and was about to actually move back into the frame more [camera position] when all of a sudden I noticed the rays pop, so I stayed where I was as that was the strongest point I could see, fired off a dozen shots, moved slightly more camera right to frame them against the sun more, got some more, and I reckon it was done and dusted in 2 mins or less flat with the rays.

    From that first sun shot to fully 'sunset' was around 5-6 mins tops.

  • Total amateur here, but I am wondering if a focal length closer to the longer end of a 70-200 lens with a smaller aperture would work better. Would still likely achieve the shallow depth of field you are looking for without allowing so much light into the lens.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Depends on the 'scene' you are after soccer206; a portrait type or do you want to tell a story with a wide frame.

    Once you go wider you will be sacrificing something in the image and depends on positioning, flash [if using] and angle of camera to sun.
  • Oh, I agree Trev. I was addressing the OP who, based on his jpg, seemed to want a portrait (not storytelling). The longer focal length I was suggesting would decrease the depth of field even with a slightly larger aperture would it not? Based on that, it would then be easier to balance the light.
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    Yep, correct, depending on distance to subject and subject to background of course.
  • crossover37crossover37 Member
    edited May 2013
    Ok so I'll use smaller apertures, that seems to be the likely answer. I do shoot wide open a lot which may be causing my photos to be washed out.

    Thanks everyone.
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