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Friday, October 30, 2009

Beware Of The Sun?

A Burning Question • What’s A Pro Camera? • Prints From The Dark Side • When Things Get Wet

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A sunburst becomes the focal point of this image of a sand tufa at the edge of Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierra of California. It’s common for me to put the sun directly within the frame in many of my landscape images. To this date, I haven’t incurred any damage to my cameras. It still makes sense to be careful when having the camera pointed at the sun for an extended period of time.

A Burning Question
Q I recently “went digital” with a Nikon D90. While exploring the user’s manual, I was surprised to read a warning to keep the sun well out of the frame when shooting backlit subjects. It stated on page XIV in the “For Your Safety” section, “Keep the sun well out of the frame when shooting backlit subjects. Sunlight focused into the camera when the sun is in or close to the frame could cause a fire.” Could you please explain why this happens? I guess this means no more sunset shots (with the sun showing) and no more “starburst” effects.
L. Wallace
Via the Internet

A First, I can’t speak for Nikon’s motivation in adding this caution to their manuals. What I can say is that I’ve had thousands of Nikon shooters in my workshops, and just about every one of them has photographed a number of sunsets, sunrises and sunburst effects. Not one camera has suffered any evident damage from including the sun in the image. On my part, I’ve taken 4000-frame time-lapse sequences with my Canon equipment, where the sun was included in the frame for at least part of the series, with no discernable harm.

That said, it’s possible to damage your camera if you point it, with lens attached, directly at the sun for an extended length of time. Whether you’re intentionally shooting a really, really long exposure in broad daylight (why would you do that?) or whether you casually set your camera down on a rock with the lens pointed at the sky, the effect is the same as directing the sun through a magnifying glass onto combustible material. Keep in mind that the lens, not attached to the camera and uncapped at both ends, has the same potential for fire-starting as the aforementioned magnifying glass.

There are combustible materials inside many, if not most, D-SLR bodies. A strip of foam often is placed to cushion the mirror as it slaps up during exposure. In some cameras, there are plastic components that can be melted or deformed under high temperatures. The rule I follow is to always cover the lens with the lens cap (if I can find it) when the camera isn’t in use. This will protect it from other calamities as well.

There’s another safety aspect related to cameras and the sun. Just like my mother always told me, never look directly at the sun, even through your camera’s viewfinder, because it can damage your eyes. Listen to my mom.


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