The sun. Without it, life would be impossible. It brings us warmth and energy. For a landscape photographer, it is responsible for many sleep deprived days.
The sun provides photographers with the light we yearn for. However, shooting into the sun can be very challenging. Here are some tips on getting successful images when the sun is in front of your lens.
HDR (High Dynamic Range)
Taking multiple exposures and combining and tonemapping them can yield nice results. Below is a composite of 5 exposures shot at 1/3-stop increments. All processing here was done in Photomatix Pro directly from the RAW images.
Minimize the sun
Minimizing the sun will create better exposures with less blown out highlights. Many times the sun will be in the frame but partially behind as object (like the tree in the example below).
When the entire sun is in the frame, it, and a lot of the area surrounding it can be blown out. Here’s where under-exposing can be your friend. It will allow greater detail around the sun and provide nice warm colors in the image. Having the entire sun in the frame can also magnify lens flare (more on flare below).
Below is an image with the entire sun in the frame shot at 1/15s (ISO 100 and f/22):
Here is the same image shot at 1/40s (1-2/3rds stop difference).
As you can see, the under-exposed example shows far greater detail in the sun and its surroundings. The colors are much warmer too.
Shooting RAW will allow you to recover a more lost highlight and shadow detail. It will also allow you to better correct white balance.
Lens flare is the light scattered in a lens and manifests itself as either visible artifacts or as a haze across the image. Artifacts are usually spots or streaks of the color spectrum. The haze makes the image look “washed out” by reducing contrast and color saturation.
Pro-quality lenses usually have special coatings to help reduce lens flare.
Below is an example of lens flare. There are color spots and even light streaks in this image making it unusable (unless you like a lot of lens flare). The solution for this image was to drop the exposure down from 4 sec to 2 sec (reducing exposure in post processing will not reduce the flare artifacts).
4 second exposure
2 second exposure
If you’re unsure what exposure to take, take multiple exposures. There will most likely be one or two keepers in the bunch and you can also use some (or all) of them for HDR.
Circular polarizers can help in many ways. They will reduce light up to 2 stops and if you’re shooting around water, they will reduce reflections on the water surface and wet objects. They can also enhance colors.
A starbust is the result of light diffraction from a light source caused by the slight bending of light waves around small obstacles and the spreading out of light waves past small openings. As light passes into your camera through a small opening (i.e. a small aperture), it bends around the edges of the aperture blades and creates the “star” look. The number of rays from each starburst is related to the number of aperture blades in your lens. So experiment with different apertures when there is a light source within your frame (such as the sun). Generally speaking, the smaller the light source, the better the starburst. This also depends on the brightness of the light source.
The image below was shot at f/22 and only a sliver of the sun was visible through the branches of this fabulous tree.
Protect your eyes
Don’t look directly into the sun even through the view finder. Use live view to compose your shot. In the image shown in the header, I composed the shot before the sun was visible.
Canon EOS-1 Dx
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
Hoya Pro1 Digital circular polarizer
Manfrotto 055 Tripod
Kirk BH-1 ballhead
Processed in Lightroom 4 (custom preset, white balance adjustments, split toning)